Opinion: We’ve reached the “Ain’t you got any homes to go to?” stage at the Last Chance Saloon

Last Chance SaloonThe Newspaper Society is kicking up an almighty fuss about the proposed press Royal Charter. Historically, their biggest campaign has been to avoid tax on newspapers. So let’s not kid ourselves. This is the most self-serving grouping (which is fair enough).

We are told that the Royal Charter has been dreamed up by politicians to impose a state press regulator. Roll on the 30th October, when hopefully this sort of ridiculous hyperbole will diminish as the Mexican stand-off ends.

Actually, elected legislators pass the laws in this country. It seems newspapers have to be reminded. It’s funny how newspapers, who, when it suits them, often harp on about the democratic sanctity of parliament, suddenly convert parliament into “politicians” the moment their oligopoly is threatened with even the mildest form of voluntary, independent post-publication self-regulation.

Three key points:

1. The Royal Charter does not set up a press regulator. It sets up an independent verification panel to check the propriety of voluntary, independent, post-publication self-regulator or self-regulators. Note the plural.

2. If elements or all of the press do not decide to create or join such voluntary, independent, post-publication self-regulators as are verified compliant by the independent verification panel, then so be it. You can’t use the word “voluntary” and then complain when papers voluntarily decide not to create or join such bodies. In that case, the press must take the resulting legal ramifications. That’s fine and dandy.

3. Why, oh why, oh why did parliament not pass the legal clause, proposed by Brian Leveson, to guarantee the freedom of the press. Scrub that. I know why. It’s because legislators were scared stiff of the press. Despite the fact that there are already scores of laws which affect journalists, parliamentarians were scared to introduce the one law which would guarantee their freedom. They’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. This is complete madness and has led to the Newspaper Socity to be able to complain that the Royal Charter would violate the American Constitution.

It’s been noted that large elements of the British press have signed up to the Irish Press Council, which is similar to what’s being proposed by the Royal Charter. Although it doesn’t suit my case, I would point out that this was done in Ireland only after over a year of intensive negotiations with the press. It would have been good to have similar negotiations here, but perhaps that wasn’t possible.

The press have been drinking at Last Chance Saloon so long they’ve seen it turned into a listed monument. It’s time to face down these vested interests in order to uphold the rights of individuals to obtain decent redress where appropriate.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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14 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 14th Oct '13 - 12:10pm

    Liberals should of course be opposed to state regulation of the Press – which this is.
    Once the regulator is set up it will only be a matter of time before it is deciding what papers can print.
    Index on Censorship said last week:

    “In response to reports that the UK newspaper industry’s Royal Charter proposal will be rejected tomorrow, Index on Censorship Chief Executive Kirsty Hughes said today:
    Unconfirmed reports that the Privy Council will reject the newspaper industry’s royal charter proposal should not mean that the political party proposal for a regulator will be waved through. A truly independent self regulator should not be created by politicians. Now is the time to open transparent discussions with the aim of creating genuine independent self-regulation that will ensure the protection of free speech in the UK.”
    Since the start of the Leveson Inquiry into UK press standards, Index has warned that there should be no political interference in determining the characteristics or establishment of a press regulator. Establishing press regulation by Royal Charter could allow politicians to meddle in press regulation and threaten media freedom in the UK.”

    http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/10/index-censorship-calls-new-transparent-discussions-press-regulation/

  • How would it be if the TUC declared that government regulation of the fundamental right to free association of working people was an affront to civil liberties, that all trade union laws should therefore be abolished, and that henceforth the unions would not recognise the illicit authority claimed by the government and the police?

    How would it be if business declared that government regulation of so-called “health and safety” was a fundamental infringement of free market liberty, and that henceforth all HSE inspectors attempting to access factories would therefore be thrown out?

    How is it that the newspaper industry thinks it can get away with equally outrageous claims?

  • @Simon McGrath: Why introduce an “only a matter of time” argument if the case against is strong enough as it is? We were told it would only be a matter of time before fishing is banned, after killing with hounds was banned, but I don’t see any sign of angling being banned as yet.

    I always find that one of the advantages of Liberals/liberals is that they are able to independently assess statements such as “Liberals should be opposed to this “.

    After decades of the abuse of individuals (eg Chris Jeffries and the McCanns) and excruciating failed attempts at self-regulation by the press, we are talking about introducing a basic ability for individuals to obtain fair apologies. That is all. The Royal Charter uses a commissioner for public appointments to set up an independent verification panel. The press are then free to set up their own independent, voluntary, post-publication regulatory bodies which operate entirely independently within some very basic criteria.

    I and many other proud Liberals/liberals are able to understand that this modicum of balance between the rights of individuals for a fair apology and the freedom of the press is perfectly in order.

  • @ David Allen

    Your argument about Trade Unions doesn’t hold up. Being a trade union gives you extra rights as an organisation in return for those rights you have to accept restrictions.

    If you want to have a legally recognised strike you have to ballot members by secret ballot. If you don’t want to do that you can call a strike but your members will not be protected by the Trade union Law Protection and will be breaking their contracts.

    What special legal privilege does a Newspaper have by being a Newspaper over me starting printing stories on my printer, simply none.

    In the same way a newspaper should have the same restriction on speech as I do.

    The legal abuses were criminal and should be dealt with by criminal law. If there are concerns about privacy then we may want to produce a right to privacy which will give clear rights not the kind of ambiguity that a regulator will generate.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 15th Oct '13 - 9:50am

    I completely agree, Paul.

  • What problem are we trying to fix with this, are people not going to court over the matters that kicked this off?

    *but something must be done*.

    Meh.

  • @ Paul Walter

    You appear to be missing the facts:

    Chris Jeffries – Mistreated by press,
    Chris Jeffries – Sues press,
    Chris Jeffries – accepts apology and “substantial damages” for Libel from: Sun, Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and the Scotsman

    So how exactly will this regulator ensure a “proper apology” and what is wrong with the current apology?

    If memory serves me correctly the McCans also sued papers and won receiving apologies and damages (though checking the details is messier in a short time as there are multiple actions in different countries).

    Also –
    People illegally accessed people’s personal data.
    People are being investigated and prosecuted for accessing people personal data.

    As “fake” says what is the problem we are trying to fix?

    Also remember if there is regulator who investigates and rules accessing the courts will be slower and less effective, if the regulator has already fined a paper will it be harder to get no win no fee lawyers to take your case as the chance of a win and a court settlement will be much less.

    As I said if you want more privacy protection that should be a legal right, if you are concerned the courts are too inaccessible try and devise a tribunal system. A regulator is not the solution and will have more unintended consequences than you can imagine.

  • David Evans 15th Oct '13 - 2:33pm

    Psi
    I think you are missing the undercurrent. It isn’t the few (relatively) successful high-profile civil actions that prove the current system works, but the dozens that don’t get pursued because of cost etc that prove it doesn’t. Of course the latter are not widely publicised, but they are there. That is where the injustice in the current system lies.

  • David Evans

    I am aware fo that fact but that is not the example being referred to above. If people wish to use examples of cases where people have successfully sued papers, they cannot claim it is a reason to create a regulator. If people want to refer to phone hacking again that is a crime and is being investigated and prosecuted.

    In relation to the lower profile cases that is why I suggest that we are talking about a right to privacy (which could have defined limits, easy for all to understand) and if the concern is lack of access to the courts a tribunal service could be established (as with employment law).

    You have to be very careful creating regulators, you can create confusion over jurisdictions over particular issues. Regulators guidelines are very different to a hard and fast Law that everyone can be certain about.

    If you want an example of why people should be suspicious look at jean Evans comment above, claiming the Daily Mail lies (no examples sighted) and it certainly reads like a desire to get “revenge” on a paper that doesn’t share her views. I often disagree with the Mail but I recognise that it is a difference interpretation of facts (and weighting given to the facts) that is a difference of opinion and I can believe I am right and they are wrong but that does not make them “liars.” It all smacks of people wanting to enforce their own interpretation of “balance” on private individuals (editors or reporters). These authoritarian types tried prodding at the Blogs and Websites but were chased off, how long would it take them to come back for a second bite?

    The Newspaper industry in its current form will be dead within 15 years a large number of papers are currently in severe loss making positions now. Let them die.

  • @psi normal citizens, such as CJ, shouldn’t have to go to court to get apologies

    @fake as above, but we are not talking hacking here.

  • David Allen 15th Oct '13 - 4:49pm

    Psi,

    It might be that if there were no crime of burglary, some people would successfully recover their stolen goods by taking civil action through the courts. But, their success wouldn’t really mean that we don’t need to make burglary a crime, would it now?

    Besides which – Yes, Chris Jefferies had the motivation and the capability to sue with success. Edward Snowden, Ralph Miliband, and Karl Marx, not to mention the generic professions of teacher, social worker, health and safety expert, asylum lawyer, etc etc, would have no similar capability to sue the Mail when it prints downright terminological inexactitudes.

  • **psi normal citizens shouldn’t have to go to court to get apologies**

    Uh uh.

    Not really understanding the point of courts are you?

    Courts are to stop people being able to run about with unchecked power demanding what they want, either through threat of violence, or threat of penury, and to ensure things are run sensibly in rule of the law.

    Either the regulator does a proper thorough job and investigation of issues, at no cost to the accused, or/and awards costs to victims/appropriate (in which case it’s just doing what a court does, so what’s the point?)

    Or it doesn’t, and we have opportunities of back hand deals, papers snipped by threat of penury, nudge nudge wink wink relationships, and just bad judgment calls “I don’t like the daily mail”, so bias.

  • @ Pail Walter

    “@psi normal citizens, such as CJ, shouldn’t have to go to court to get apologies”

    Citizens shouldn’t have to go to a regulator to get an apology but some times people dig in and there needs to be a dispute resolution mechanism. The fairest way is a common set of laws, not the fuzzy, sometimes creeping boundary, of a regulator.

    @ David Allen

    So wrong but so little time to explain, I’ll pick one for the moment

    “Ralph Miliband, and Karl Marx”

    So you are going to have a regulator arbitrate on the opinions of the dead.

    In that case we better shut down all higher education research and publications. If the libel law is chilling on academic debate your ideal of a regulator deciding if the historical views/motivations of historic thinkers have been misrepresented the whole thing will grind to a halt under the weight of trying to arbitrate the “true view” of ideas and historical events.

    Quite simply what you are expecting this regulator to do will not happen, there is not the capacity in any regulator for that.

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