I'm making a U-turn on the Leveson report - and it's a new feeling (I originally voiced my support via my blog). I have been weighing this issue up for a while now, and as a reactionary, I signed the petition to get the issue of press regulation debated in the Houses of Parliament immediately after the Leveson report; a petition started by a pressure group supporting further regulation of the press, Hacked Off. I now know that - upon reflection, I was wrong to voice my support - at the possible detriment to our free press.
I'm pretty hacked off - in general yes, but for a more specific reason than my normal, damn the human race stuff - a bit like the pressure group. However, unlike Hacked Off, I'm not annoyed at the political parties for refusing to implement the Leveson Report in full, but I'm annoyed with Hacked Off, and their motives. Hacked Off has questions to answer.
At this juncture, I want to make something perfectly clear. This is not an attack on anyone - such as the Dowler family or the McCann family - who support tougher press regulation. I understand why they want as much, the press wronged them. These issues wouldn't be covered by a new regulator though. These crimes are already covered by the law, and are punishable as such. This is a scathing attack on the pressure group, and the over weighted vote that it holds; not its supporters.
To begin with, why was Hacked Off invited to deadline day discussions on press regulation, but industry members were not? A deal was thrashed out, and the press reacted violently - as they can in a free country - and if you don't believe me, look at the Sun's front page from budget day; a Tory paper, voicing opposition to Osborne and the government. Why? Because they didn't have the courtesy to include the press in discussions to reform the whole system; but a pressure group lobbying for change was. Absurdity of the highest order. Also, Hacked Off might wish to start revealing who's bankrolling their campaign. I for one am very concerned about their apparent inability to release this information. How harmful could it be in the public domain? Could it hurt their valiant quest?
Under the original proposals, I may not have been permitted to write this article, as the original regulator, wanted to include online publications; such as Twitter and blogs. The notorious blog 'Guido Fawkes' was appalled at this, along with a fellow Backbench Commentator Lily Jayne Summers and I. How can you regulate the Internet? The idea is not only preposterous and unworkable, but it is verging upon a scenario that occurs in other countries; one that we condemn. We in Britain, pride ourselves on our right to express our opinions freely, why are we trying to tamper with this?
Our press isn't perfect; see the Daily Mail. But people deserve the choice of what they read and by whom it's written. The Freedom of the Press is the one of the founding pillars of a democratic country, and attacking the press is a dangerous game to play. If you support Lord Justice Leveson's report, answer me this: what crimes committed by journalists could have been prevented by a new press regulator? Phone hacking, for example? An activity that is already illegal, and is a breach of the law anyway. A new regulator, however strict, cannot prevent journalists from operating from out with the law, and hence a tougher regulator is not helping, it is only infringing the press' ability to do its job effectively.
For all its mistakes, the British press does a fantastic job of holding people in high office to account; be that the Guardian and its offshore companies investigation; the Daily Telegraph and its uncovering of the expenses scandal; the Sun's campaign to tackle paedophilia; or the Daily Mirror's campaign against the Iraq war.
When considering the relevance of Lord Justice Leveson's report, we must think about the ever changing dynamic of news agencies, and the report's disproportionate effect on the regional press. Firstly, the regional press has done nothing wrong. Yet, it will still be unfairly punished by this report, because journalists work there; and - obviously - all journalists are bad people. Secondly, many people such as myself, comment on current affairs online, by blogs and microblogging sites such as Twitter. This report, doesn't tackle these aspects of our media, and is therefore a report that would have been relevant five or so years ago, not the present day.
It's taken me time, and I've had to have a serious think, reading appropriate articles, from the whole spectrum; from the Spectator, to the Guardian and everything in between. Scotland's own press regulation report went too far. With consideration, I've now reached the same conclusion about the Leveson report.
By Ronan Valentine