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Time to get tough with the refuseniks in the press industry

How much further are we going to be pushed around by a hardline, self-serving, unregenerate cabal of newspaper owners masquerading under the figleaf of press freedom when their real motive is the preservation at any cost of their own power and non-accountability? Leveson conducted a year’s intense inquiry into press regulation after the huge phone-hacking scandal and produced a monumental analysis of nearly 1,000 pages arguing for an intricately balanced system of oversight which studiously avoided any hint of political control and invited voluntary press participation in independent self-regulation.

The newspaper publishers turned it down flat. One wonders how they would have reacted if Burglars Incorporated had rejected the laws controlling burglary and insisted on writing their own rules for burglary supervision. Then when the political parties proposed a Royal Charter to remove the whole issue even further away from any whiff of political involvement, they rejected that. Then uninvited they suddenly produced their alternative Royal Charter and insisted it should be given priority over the Privy Council one, once again demanding to write their own laws irrespective of an elected Parliament or an elected Government.

Despite this defiance, Cameron insisted (in the face of Labour and LibDem disagreement) that another month be spent to make a final attempt to get press agreement. This last weekend it was revealed that the politicians had indeed made 3 further, highly significant concessions. Publishers would now be permitted to opt out of an arbitration scheme if they could prove it was causing them ‘serious financial harm’.

Complainants would now be charged a small fee to use the arbitration service. And third, very significantly, serving editors would now have more influence over the committee drawing up the code of practice, since the quotas limiting their membership to just a third would now be removed. For the fourth time the press refuseniks refused to budge, and provocatively said they would set up their own system of self-regulation.

Who do these people think they are? They put up two fingers to every attempt to meet their demands and insist that they, unlike any other organised group in society, have the right to operate in their own way regardless. They pride themselves as being the guardians of ‘freedom of the press’, but how can it be a free press when it is controlled by a clique of multi-millionaires who use their newspapers to disseminate their own ideology and prejudices?

That is not the cultivation of a free press so much as the purchase of a propaganda machine. The Privy Council Royal Charter is a very modest first step along the road to real reform if we are to have a genuinely free press. At the end of this month this procrastination and press intransigence must be drawn firmly to a close and the Royal Charter supported by Parliament and the nation implemented without any more ado.

One Comment

  1. Jon Williams says:

    Agree I can’t understand why there has been such a delay implementing a watered down Royal Charter!?

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