Now I’m more than a little sceptical about Leveson: I think he’s firing the wrong bullet (regulation backed by statute) at a target that’s moving out of range (the ‘dead tree press’). However, I’m also deeply sceptical about the press’s ability to report facts straight.
Which leaves me a bit conflicted at this morning’s report: The minister and a warning to the Telegraph before expenses story.
On the one hand, you have a clear signal of the danger of letting politicians anywhere near having a say in how the press should be (self-)regulated, with culture secretary Maria Miller’s special advisor Joanna Hindley issuing a clear warning to Telegraph journalists to watch what they print:
“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about.”
And so it begins… This is how state regulation of the press would work in Britain: not through official statute, but through unofficial back-channel whispers. This is why Leveson’s/Hacked Off’s campaign for a ‘dab of statute’ has always missed the point of a free press: the belief that you can ‘underpin’ without undermining is deeply flawed.
However, it’s also not hard to see why Leveson and Hacked Off have ended up where they are, with the Telegraph inadvertently revealing its rather flexible attitude to fact-checking — it was, the paper confesses, only after the intervention by Maria Miller’s adviser,
The news group decided to delay publication in order to ensure the facts were correct.
How tedious! Imagine having to check what you’re about to print is accurate before printing a million copies of your paper! It’s political correctness gone mad!
In fact, it turns out that ‘having carried out further checks’, the newspaper was reassured ‘the story was accurate and decided to publish the article at the first opportunity’. Which is kind of the process I’d have hoped they might have gone down from the start…
And of course when it comes to slack fact-checking of MPs’ expenses the paper has form, having smeared Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson (among others) when publishing its exposé of some MPs’ abuses of the system.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.