Journalist and broadcaster
In Praise of a Free Press
Do you regard it as acceptable for a newspaper to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for stolen information relating to the financial affairs of people in the public eye?
How about publishing information obtained from police officers who are not officially entitled to make it available and which is vehemently denied by the parties directly involved?
If you answered No to the first question, that would mean we’d never have learned about MPs’ fraudulent expenses claims. (The Daily Telegraph paid a reported £300,000 for a CD containing the MPs’ expenses information, which had been either stolen or improperly copied.)
If you answered No to the second question, it would mean we’d never have learned about industrial-scale phone-hacking at the News of the World and elsewhere. (The Guardian got its information from police, lawyers and others, speaking anonymously and unattributably.)
Were we entitled to know about expenses-fiddling MPs and phone-hacking journalists? Of course we were. Is that what we expect from a free press? Of course it is.
It looks this weekend as if the bizarre late-night press regulation deal stitched up by a handful of politicians and a bunch of Hacked Off campaigners in the small hours of last Monday morning has been virtually strangled at birth. For which, I suggest, we should all be truly thankful.
It was the wrong answer to the wrong question. I agree with Simon Jenkins, who wrote in The Guardian on Wednesday: “A few innocent victims of press unfairness may gain redress. But the cheering across town this week is from the rich, the celebrated and the powerful, with parliamentarians in the van.”
Of course, I feel for the McCanns, Christopher Jefferies, Charlotte Church, and many, many others who have been shamefully and disgracefully treated by newspapers. (For some reason, I’m afraid I have close to zero sympathy with Hugh Grant.)
But it is never a good idea to allow victims to determine retribution. That’s why court-rooms replaced lynch mobs. And frankly, we should be very worried indeed when we see politicians and celebrities united in media-hate and thirsting for legislative revenge.
There is, in fact, a very easy way to ensure that journalists don’t break the law: get the police to do the job they’re paid to do, rather than taking back-handers, sometimes several thousands of pounds, from reporters looking for a good story. It really is as simple as that.
topread full blog piece
(posted by PL)