Tom Watson has sent a round-robin email to his mates. In it is this phrase:
‘the campaign for a free and accountable press’
The two most important words in the Leveson media debate are ‘free’ and ‘accountable’. Both sides are dodging the one they don’t want.
The Leftist, minority Guardianista clique around Rusbridger have the Rotherham illness, in that for them the issue is simple: Left is right and Right is wrong. Many of us would be happier with an analysis that concluded ‘Left is old and arcane, and Right is older still and archaic’. Too long for the Blairite soundbite culture that mantra, but either way, my point is this: the Guardian NUJ position is a deliberate attempt to fudge the line between ‘social fairness’ and Stalinist State thought-control.
The Rightist, Barclay Brothers Torygraph view from Sark is summed up by an atypically potty piece from Ben Brogan this week, in which he asserts that the UK press pack is now ‘at the mercy of the Left’. Given the Left are (a) the Opposition, and (b) have 1.5 newspapers supporting them compared to 5.5 generally on the anti-Cameron 1922 Committee side, for once I’m unable to agree with Mr Brogan. Again, this is a different flavour of fudge, but it seeks to blur the line separating depraved thro-letterbox-yelling Newscorp grubs from genuine campaigning journalism.
To rephrase the famous TV jingle, “A finger of fudge is just enough to give your hacks a leak”.
As an alternative, here’s my simple requirement from the Leveson recommendations – before we plebs know what they are, because for some unexplained reason an implicated Old Estonian with an obvious conflict of interest has a right to know before we do:
1. There will be no ownership of press titles by nondoms and foreigners. If they want to take part in the debate, then press barons will be required to pay for their representation like everyone else.
2. If the media get something factually wrong, there will be no bullying libel-case threats, just a grovelling front-page-lead retraction. There will be no recourse to the Law, because the Law is for the rich alone. Any and all retractions will head all non-press UK media bulletins that same day.
3. The decision system for this process will be non-judicial. Instead, it will consist of a constantly changing quota sample of newspaper readers casting votes as to the validity or otherwise of the complaint at issue. In the result of a tie, the Monarch will have the casting vote. In the event of the Monarch having a conflict of interest, the Archbishop of Canterbury will have the casting vote. (I cannot think of a better antidote to gratuitous complaining)
4. There will be no super-injunctions allowed (beyond the security services) prior to publication, purely on the grounds that 1 and 2 above represent all the safeguards any reasonable citizen outside of MI5/6 might expect.
5. Any official State security officer found to have abused the super-injunction option will be publicly pelted with unripe melons, and forced to listen to the Twenty Golden Greats of Tiny Tim in perpetuity.
6. Apart from putting in place the statutes required to make all this happen, the State will not be allowed – in any shape or form, directly or indirectly – anywhere near any of the recommended process, because the State is nothing more than an alias for ‘unruly mob of controlling, incompetent sociopaths’.
Maximum media freedom alongside democratic punishment: in the Tabloid Age, who could ask for more?