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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

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Confused? Bored? You shouldn’t be

It should have been relatively simple – relatively being the operative word. Crime and punishment usually is that way. You break the law, you’re named, shamed and you pay the price.

Look at it another way. When a gang of housebreakers is caught operating at night, the gang members are locked up. New law isn’t drawn up to keep the entire population indoors after dark.

So why then, when a handful of reporters (and they were a handful) are exposed as phone-hackers, sneak thieves, dupers, bribers and corrupters, should new law be introduced to deprive the entire population of its right to freedom of information?

Others with more intense political agendas and motivations will answer that. They’re doing so now, in a frenzied – bordering on hysterical – race to respond to the report by Lord Justice Leveson on press ethics.

There’s another operative word – ethics. Not criminality, because criminality should be dealt with by the police – and perhaps would have been had not some key police officers been involved in the criminality.

Culture and ethics was Lord Leveson’s brief, even though his inquiry was triggered by appalling and abhorrent crimes – exposed, incidentally, by disgusted journalists in an outraged free press.

Confused? You soon will be. Bored by it all? I’d put money on most people groaning before current political shenanigans even peak.

The Leveson ball has been thrown into the politicians’ court now and this is where the grubby stuff really starts. The judge recommended beefed-up independent regulation of press culture, practices and ethics – underpinned by new law to hold the regulators to politically defined account.

My, how that set the usual salivating suspects into overdrive. David Cameron didn’t like it. Law would curb the press freedom this country has prized for more than 300 years, he said. New law wasn’t needed and would be loaded with danger. maybe not in this government, perhaps not during the next but...

Ed Miliband couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. He quite fancied a grip on the people’s mouthpiece. But as opposition leader, that’s his job. He opposes.

And Nick Clegg, Cameron’s coalition partner, has manoeuvred himself into a predictable bargaining position for later, when the heat is on. You give me a bit of yours and I’ll give you some of mine. You scratch my back or I’ll stab yours.

Already we’re seeing how a free press – enshrined in Britain’s democracy for centuries – is being kicked around for political advantage. And they say we have nothing to fear? The vast majority of Britain’s newspapers are local and regional titles, staffed by decent, hard-working, committed and ethical journalists who obey the many laws which direct their conduct.

Actually – though what kick-started the Leveson Inquiry was law-breaking in the national press – most national media folks aren’t villains either.

But ask yourself this – if a criminal operates with blatant disobedience of existing law, are they really going to find a new inclination towards respect for a new one? Because politicians – who, as we all know, are universally trusted – say they must?

And as for freedom of information – misnomer being its operative word – that was enshrined in law in 2000.

Recognising that public authorities and institutions weren’t releasing information to which we all are entitled, law was introduced to make them offer it up, supposing the right kind of question was asked.

It would have been simpler, more transparent, quicker, accountable and cheaper to release it willingly in the first place. It belongs to us all, when all said and done.

But increasingly authorities and institutions are now referring the most routine enquiries to the delaying freedom of information process and – surprise, surprise – there’s a growing mood for doing away with even that formal system... too expensive to staff, too cumbersome.

Limiting access to information crucial to the everyday lives of ordinary people is already underway. The political foot is already in the door and it’s kicking hard.

Should it be allowed to muscle in and kick the door closed behind it, we’ll all be in the dark and very much the poorer for it.

Have your say

My Father always used to say the newspapers could always make a headlin it was easy all you had to do was ring a high profile person ask them something like are you having an affair with so and so,they say no and your headline is X denys affair with Y
result people buy paper because there is no fire without smoke ,the only thing to beleive in the papers is the football scores and I confirm them on sky sports

Posted by Davie s on 12 December 2012 at 07:51

Hi,

Derek (Dec 9, 22.12) - I will have a look at the headline you mention with regard to drink driving.

Ian
Online editor

Posted by Ian on 10 December 2012 at 08:30

View all 9 comments on this article

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