Press Ganged

OK, hands up anyone who understands what is now going on with the implementation of the Leveson recommendations?

No? No, me neither.

It all seemed so simple when Lord Justice Leveson issued his report into the conduct and ethics of the press, and seemed to come to a reasonable and balanced set of conclusions (even though Ian Hislop might disagree, and has some decent arguments for doing so).

The Prime Minister, before Leveson reported, promised to implement his findings, unless they were “bonkers”, which they didn’t turn out to be. And yet the PM began to back away from this, coming up instead with his Royal Charter proposal, which unfortunately is underpinned by the Privy Council. Ed Milliband and the Clegg-creature decided that this was a good time to turn the heat up on him and cried foul. Not because of any great sense of justice, but because it would open a self-inflicted wound for Cameron.

So, one the one hand, Cameron met the newspaper editors in camera, while the night before the issue was to go to the Commons, miraculously,the three parties tied up a deal with the Hacked Off group and everyone was a winner.

Except no. Because the Prime Minister is adamant that the deal is not underpinned by statute. While Clegg and Millibot insist it is, and Hacked Off are willing to accept the compromise. What originally looked like a principled stand by Millband now looks like a rather cheap piece of political opportunism.  The deeply unedifying sight of all the main parties rushing around on Monday claiming “victory” was a pretty nauseating one, to be honest, and only served to illustrate exactly why we hold party politics in such contempt now.

Meanwhile, the rest of us look around and wonder exactly what kind of regulation the press will subject itself to, and indeed how many of them will even take part in this hastily cobbled together scheme. We run the risk of significant parts of the press refusing to sign up to this package and having this shiny new regulator become an immediate white elephant. And then business will return to normal, with the worst excesses of the press brushed off and largely forgotten. You can even see it coming.

I think the New Statesman‘s Rafael Behr sums up the whole sorry, tawdry mess rather well in a blog post. Ironically, of course, that post may itself be subject to policing by a new regulator. Or it may not, because no one can really make up their minds about what online content will be subject to regulation, or even whether it will be at all.  The whole thing is an utter bloody mess, though I’m not sure I really expected anything more.

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