THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: Press should not be under state control

South Wales Argus: TOUGHER REGULATIONS: All newspapers are facing the backlash of the Leveson inquiry TOUGHER REGULATIONS: All newspapers are facing the backlash of the Leveson inquiry

BEFORE you read on, let me make one thing clear. The following is not an editor whingeing on behalf of his industry.

But it is an editor worrying for the future freedoms of this country.

Lord Leveson will next month deliver his recommendations for future regulation of the Press.

A fear that I share with many journalists around the country is that Leveson will call for some form of statutory regulation.

To quote a regional daily newspaper editor from another part of the UK: “Statutory regulation is a short trip to state control. Once the government measures public interest rather than the press or the courts the self-interest of ministers and political parties can hold sway.”

The heinous behaviour of the News of the World, particularly the unforgivable hacking of murdered Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, meant an inquiry into the behaviour of some elements of the Press was inevitable.

The words ‘some elements’ are the important part of that sentence.

The News of the World – and, let’s be honest, illegal phone hacking and the like will have happened in other parts of Fleet Street as well – broke the law.

Its journalists hacked into mobile phones, more often than not as simple fishing expeditions, in a bid to find embarrassing material about celebrities rather than genuine investigations in the public interest.

These people paid the police and criminals to give them information, again an illegal act.

In almost 30 years as a journalist I can honestly say I have never broken the law to obtain a story.

I have never hacked a phone (hell, I can barely work out how to access my own voice messages) and I have never paid anyone for information.

To my knowledge, the same applies to every journalist who has ever worked for me or with me.

We’re not perfect. We make plenty of mistakes. We upset people from time to time.

But we do not act against the law or with malice aforethought.

Yet if Leveson recommends statutory regulation, the Argus and every other printed publication in the UK will be subject to that regulation.

It would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The misbehaviour of a tiny percentage of Britain’s thousands of newspapers and magazines would result in the mass punishment of all of them.

That cannot be right, nor can it be good for the freedoms we all enjoy in this country.

A Press that is able to investigate and expose is one of those freedoms and we should all cherish it.

Cash for questions, MPs’ expenses, Watergate, the Profumo affair – all of these scandals were exposed by journalists. Some were exposed using methods that were not necessarily legal.

I am not advocating law-breaking as a basis for good journalism, but who would have complained if, for instance, phone hacking had exposed Jimmy Savile long before his death?

There is no doubt the regulation of the Press has to be reformed.

The Press Complaints Commission will be replaced because it is holed beneath the water line. The perception that it is a toothless regulator is now so great that it cannot survive.

I think the PCC has been treated unfairly. It works very well with regional newspapers as an arbiter and negotiator behind the scenes to the satisfaction of all concerned with a complaint.

Throughout my career, I am proud to say I have not had a single complaint made to the PCC upheld against me or my newspapers.

If a complaint was upheld it would be a badge of shame for me and my journalists. Unfortunately, many national newspapers simply paid lip service to the PCC.

Complaints upheld against them seemed to be a badge of honour.

A new regulator must have powers to fine, or even to suspend publication of, newspapers that transgress.

But statutory regulation is not the way forward. New laws – created by politicians with an axe to grind – are not the way forward.

Laws are already in place to stop the kind of methods the News of the World employed to get its stories.

That they were allowed to continue for so long was not a failing of Press regulation, but of those whose job it is to enforce the law.

Comments (3)

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9:32am Fri 19 Oct 12

Mervyn James says...

The trade off is investigative reporting and walking the thin line of privacy intrusions. Self-regualtion has clearly failed, the SUN paper still prints stuff that breaches people's privacy. The recent Hillsborough output was frankly repugnant and distressing for those families of the dead, and the hypocrisy was rampant. They are exploiting the aspect of investigative reporting to justify their illegality, so I would be in favour of enforced regulation. No self-regulation works, they will always try to push boundries.
The trade off is investigative reporting and walking the thin line of privacy intrusions. Self-regualtion has clearly failed, the SUN paper still prints stuff that breaches people's privacy. The recent Hillsborough output was frankly repugnant and distressing for those families of the dead, and the hypocrisy was rampant. They are exploiting the aspect of investigative reporting to justify their illegality, so I would be in favour of enforced regulation. No self-regulation works, they will always try to push boundries. Mervyn James

1:04pm Fri 19 Oct 12

Katie Re-Registered says...

Press should not be under state control? For a long time now, the casual observer might be forgiven for assuming that the state was under press control. When future prime ministers feel the need to cosy up to the likes of Murdoch and when it's big news when the likes of The Sun publicly declare that they have changed allegiances and no longer support Gordon Brown it's revealing to see just how much power the press has. Fears of getting into a situation reminscent of, for instance, the Argentina junta's 1970s 'dirty war' against journalists are somewhat ironic when Britain's press barons are so powerful that their make-or-break relationship to politicians is not unlike the power wielded by a handful of generals in a 1970s latin american banana republic itself(!) When you have a section of society with more political clout than us ordinary Jo/e Public then you have a 'junta' in all but name.

The paper press wield considerable power (for the time being at least as the internet and the d.i.y. journalism of digital media is rapidly taking over). However, all-too-often they have failed to take on board responsibility and the likes of the NOTW, The Sun, The - literally fascist - Daily Mail etc. have squandered and abused the power that they are accorded in a democracy by using it to abuse and print lies about the already weak, poor and disadvantaged much more than they *expose* those at the top. For most of the national newspapers - apart from The Guardian - have the same right-wing quasi-fascist political agenda. Ironic then, that they now bleat so loudly about their own rights when the very threat of losing them beckons as a result of their endeavours to destroy the rights of so many other people.

Now remind me again, how is it in the 'public interest' to throw up a headline on a day when scores of children are being blown apart in Syria which rages at the fact that a 10-year-old transsexual child has been allowed to go to school dressed as a girl and cites this as a grave injustice and the end of civilisation etc?

And hacking into people's telephones on suspicion - even if they turn out to be guilty - is a dangerous path to go down. I find it curious that in an editorial in which the premise is a caution against too much state control it, at the same time, seems to be suggesting that phone hacking can sometimes be quite useful after all. So, by this logic I'm sure that the DDR's Stasi could sometimes come in quite useful after all?
Press should not be under state control? For a long time now, the casual observer might be forgiven for assuming that the state was under press control. When future prime ministers feel the need to cosy up to the likes of Murdoch and when it's big news when the likes of The Sun publicly declare that they have changed allegiances and no longer support Gordon Brown it's revealing to see just how much power the press has. Fears of getting into a situation reminscent of, for instance, the Argentina junta's 1970s 'dirty war' against journalists are somewhat ironic when Britain's press barons are so powerful that their make-or-break relationship to politicians is not unlike the power wielded by a handful of generals in a 1970s latin american banana republic itself(!) When you have a section of society with more political clout than us ordinary Jo/e Public then you have a 'junta' in all but name. The paper press wield considerable power (for the time being at least as the internet and the d.i.y. journalism of digital media is rapidly taking over). However, all-too-often they have failed to take on board responsibility and the likes of the NOTW, The Sun, The - literally fascist - Daily Mail etc. have squandered and abused the power that they are accorded in a democracy by using it to abuse and print lies about the already weak, poor and disadvantaged much more than they *expose* those at the top. For most of the national newspapers - apart from The Guardian - have the same right-wing quasi-fascist political agenda. Ironic then, that they now bleat so loudly about their own rights when the very threat of losing them beckons as a result of their endeavours to destroy the rights of so many other people. Now remind me again, how is it in the 'public interest' to throw up a headline on a day when scores of children are being blown apart in Syria which rages at the fact that a 10-year-old transsexual child has been allowed to go to school dressed as a girl and cites this as a grave injustice and the end of civilisation etc? And hacking into people's telephones on suspicion - even if they turn out to be guilty - is a dangerous path to go down. I find it curious that in an editorial in which the premise is a caution against too much state control it, at the same time, seems to be suggesting that phone hacking can sometimes be quite useful after all. So, by this logic I'm sure that the DDR's Stasi could sometimes come in quite useful after all? Katie Re-Registered

1:16pm Fri 19 Oct 12

Katie Re-Registered says...

Sorry to double-post, but isn't this a very scary time for newspaper journalists at the moment? Not only are an increasing number of publications becoming digital-only - I think it was the US magazine 'Newsweek' - this week, but with the growth internet, journalism as a career in itself is likely to become irrelevant. The Net has shown that anyone can become a journalist and I guess the next biggest question that develops from this is: do we, as the general public, really need an intermediary between ourselves and the events around us when we can find out what's going on in the world from individual bloggers and those at the scene who upload events whilst, for instance, they are happening? Certainly, the views that are projected from the internet can be extremely distorted and politically-biased but, at the same time, what would anyone with the ability to read-between-the-lin
es call the spin produced by a tabloid like the Mail? I suppose instead of getting one political view of events - like we get with the right-wing tabloids - we're entering (already in) an environment where we're getting several thousand different spins on what is claimed to be 'The News'.

...So, I wonder, which is worse and which is better? Ultimately, it is imperative that we, as receivers of such information, should learn to question everything we're told and determine for ourselves it's veracity.
Sorry to double-post, but isn't this a very scary time for newspaper journalists at the moment? Not only are an increasing number of publications becoming digital-only - I think it was the US magazine 'Newsweek' - this week, but with the growth internet, journalism as a career in itself is likely to become irrelevant. The Net has shown that anyone can become a journalist and I guess the next biggest question that develops from this is: do we, as the general public, really need an intermediary between ourselves and the events around us when we can find out what's going on in the world from individual bloggers and those at the scene who upload events whilst, for instance, they are happening? Certainly, the views that are projected from the internet can be extremely distorted and politically-biased but, at the same time, what would anyone with the ability to read-between-the-lin es call the spin produced by a tabloid like the Mail? I suppose instead of getting one political view of events - like we get with the right-wing tabloids - we're entering (already in) an environment where we're getting several thousand different spins on what is claimed to be 'The News'. ...So, I wonder, which is worse and which is better? Ultimately, it is imperative that we, as receivers of such information, should learn to question everything we're told and determine for ourselves it's veracity. Katie Re-Registered

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