Press regulation? Bring it on!
Should the state be doing more to protect the interests of the corrupt, powerful, mendacious, rapacious, self-serving establishment? I don’t think so. And neither, I suspect, do the vast majority of those useful idiots agitating for more stringent curbs on the media. Yet if Leveson’s statutory regulations are implemented, that will certainly be the net result. How do I know? Because I’ve experienced for myself the results of this law of unintended consequences at the hands of our current regulator the Press Complaints Commission.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe the PCC is run by decent, fair-minded people anxious to strike a balance between the need to preserve a free press and the need to defend the vulnerable from its wilder excesses. Its decisions – as I can personally testify – are often very sensible, sometimes even bravely counter-intuitive. I was genuinely surprised when it found in my favour after a complaint by the University of East Anglia. This wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the strength of my case. Rather, it was because the current establishment viewpoint – everywhere from the print media and television to the seats of academe to organisations like the Institute of Chartered Surveyors to local and national government – is so heavily biased in favour of the “man-made global warming consensus” that I didn’t think I’d get a fair hearing.
But I did. And that is to the PCC’s credit.
What isn’t to the PCC’s credit is the way it is used by vested interests as a bully pulpit to harass and intimidate journalists whose opinions those vested interests find inconvenient.
A journalist friend of mine suffers this with distressing frequency. Scarcely a month goes by when he is not being asked by his newspaper’s lawyer to provide detailed rebuttals to some vexatious complaint or other which has been made against him by some well-funded lobbyist on behalf of some dodgy industry or organisation – usually connected with the great Climate Change Gravy Train. These rebuttals take time. Unpaid time. My own response to the UEA’s complaint took up most of a weekend I’d been hoping to spend with my son back from boarding school. And to what end? All so that, eventually, the PCC could come to the conclusion that I had no case to answer; in other words, that this case should never have been brought.
Too right it bloody shouldn’t. In Climategate, the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit was caught red-handed in one of the biggest and justly notorious cases of malfeasance, incompetence and corruption in science history. Its department – the recipient of over £13 million in government grants: ie OUR money – was implicated in everything from the illegal breach of FOI laws to the persecution and harassment of dissenting scientists to the losing of vital data to the abuse of the scientific method. And never mind that it was supposedly vindicated by a number of whitewash inquiries: the naked truth remains – as authors such as Andrew Montford have clearly and unimpeachably demonstrated in books like Hiding The Decline – that UEA’s the CRU, several of its staff, and a number of their counterparts in the US, Australia and New Zealand were quite clearly guilty as sin.
Could the PCC have been expected to know this in advance? Probably not. Perhaps it imagined that the UEA was a thoroughly respectable institution which would never dream of vexatiously persecuting an innocent journalist for telling the truth. But, in a way, that only makes the point I’m trying to argue here even stronger, viz: whether unwittingly or not, our current media regulation system is being used, by and large, not to protect the little man from the ugly establishment but as a cynical way for that ugly establishment to try to entrench its power.
By “ugly establishment” I don’t, of course, mean the old, pretend-powerful establishment of popular caricature (belted earls, retired colonels from Tunbridge Wells, men in bowler hats, etc) . I mean the real establishment that rose to prominence under Tony Blair and now increasingly dominates our culture: the activist judges, the media lefty-luvvies, the bien-pensant axis of the Guardian and the BBC, the post-normal scientists, the corporatists and banksters. These are the types agitating most heavily for Leveson style regulation because they’re the ones who are not only going to be implementing it but whose grubby dealings are most likely to be concealed by it.
Toby Young – late of this parish and much-missed – summed it up perfectly in a Tweet today:
Problem with #leveson is that the people he wants to “guard the guardians” are the same people the guardians are supposed to keep in check.
Amen, bro. Press regulation is already quite dangerous and counterproductive enough as it is. Imagine how much more dangerous it would be if it actually had teeth.