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The Laz Word...on gagging the press

Be careful what you wish for, says Larry Neild

Written by . Published on December 3rd 2012.

The Laz Word...on gagging the press

PEOPLE scurrying to handcuff, blindfold and gag the press ought to take a step back and be careful what they wish for.

Yes, a small number of journalists have been men (and women) behaving badly, and it may well turn out some will end up behind bars.

'There's a simple way of avoiding media exposure: if you don‘t do it, nobody can write about it'

But the restraints and controls on the press being demanded by actor Hugh Grant, the parents of Madeleine McCann and others, pose a serious threat to a free and democratic society.

The anguish faced by the parents of Madeleine and other victims of the worse excesses of the media are understandable. Yet it is hard to see how legislation will help. A proposed regulator or successor to the Press Complaints Commission will only become involved in individual stories after publication, perhaps with powers to impose ‘fines’ of up to £1m.

In almost five decades of working as a journalist I have seen the impact of newspapers being hauled before the PCC …. No editor, no management and no journalist wants to be hauled before such a body for the equivalent of being publicly pilloried.  

Not so long ago a local councillor in Liverpool approached me and said …. Watch us carefully, keep an eye on everything we do, You are the opposition.

Such power! I think not, but the point being made was that in Liverpool, with a powerful administration and a weak opposition, the local media must share the job of watching and monitoring decision makers.

The vast majority of journalists read in horror some of the extreme activities of some sections of the profession, activities alien to all but a few.

Hugh GrantHugh GrantExposure of such deeds has led to the closure of the world’s biggest selling paper, the News of the World, and the arrest of a number of journalists.

So for the worse excesses of ‘news gathering’ the system already works, and there are existing laws to control it.

The Leveson report says newspapers can continue to report if their stories are in the public interest. Then it suggests a proposed Press Regulator will have responsibility for decreeing what is in the public interest. So who will regulate or monitor the regulator?

Editors, and indeed journalists will not be allowed to serve on any new regulatory body. If people were aware of the level of training journalists have to undergo in law, ethics, code of conduct etc, they would expect, if not demand,  the involvement of journalists.

Despite recent examples, it is rare for newspapers to be sued for defamation.

Public figures and celebs are at times embarrassed by revelations of some of their activities.  There is a simple way of avoiding such media exposure …. if you don‘t do it, nobody can write about it.

There are people in power and influential celebrities eager to shackle and even silence newspapers.

We live in a new frontier age where social media sites are awash with information, often rumour, speculation or lies. Who can we believe?

Brian LevesonBrian LevesonNewspapers and on-line publications such as Liverpool Confidential are rarely wrong … because we already know we are subject to the laws of libel, a code of conduct and ethics and censure…. And the law.

People who have lived or worked in countries where there is state control of the media will be aware of the dangers and the risks.

The UK media has been given a bloody nose, shock waves have been sent through every newsroom. Lessons have been learned. Does anybody think for one moment the media is unaware it is on trial. But if the media is itself ‘imprisoned’ everybody suffers the punishment.

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousDecember 3rd 2012.

The proposed changes are not censorship and so do not infringe on the press' ability to hold politicians to account or to print public interest stories. Our democracy will be safe!!

If levesons proposals do go ahead the press will be subject to some new laws about what they may print that will be enforced by an independent regulator (self regulation having failed). I dont see why this isnt reasonable everyone else has to abide by some laws and professional rules why not the press?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 4th 2012.

Well said.

Jd MoranDecember 5th 2012.

I have to laugh at the suggestion that the press is "the Opposition" given how cosy and, at times, incestuous consecutive Governments have been with the Murdoch press.

Also, why should the press be treated any differently to, say, television?

Katie54December 5th 2012.

The problem is that self-regulation has repeatedly failed. So a properly independent regulator does seem to be the only solution. The idea that this would threaten the freedom of the press is ridiculous. What about privacy? The press at the moment confuse people being interested in something with something that it is in the public interest to print. It isn't when it is titillating, prurient, unsubstantiated rubbish - particularly when they do not appear to feel the need to give people a chance to deny or explain - all that training notwithstanding.
And the fact that few journalists have been sued for defamation doesn't mean much, when you consider the horrendous legal costs of this kind of thing. Far too expensive for most people. I don't have much sympathy for "celebrities", who use the press as it suits them, but this is about protecting normal people against unwarranted and hugely upsetting intrusions into their lives. They need a proper remedy.
As for being "the Opposition", I would hope that this is true for local issues at least. The fact that our elected Mayor has considerable power, and appears happy to use it to bully Labour councillors who do not toe the line means that we don't have enough proper scrutiny of his and the council's actions. Having a majority, however overwhelming, does not mean you do not have to explain yourself properly.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan WalkerDecember 6th 2012.

Will the 'independent' regulator be independent of government? Who will stop politicians interfering behind the scenes to prevent embarrassing stories seeing the light of day...

I can think of some shifty characters closer to home who move behind the scenes to stop the truth being told...

AnonymousDecember 5th 2012.

Doesn't Joe Anderson just ban whichever media outley from briefings if they don't toe the line?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 6th 2012.

'Uncle Joe' Anderson seems to model himself on another reviled socialist leader, 'Uncle Joe Stalin'. The business of working hand in hand with big business is raping the city. The latest enterprise is the race to become the first local authority in the UK to use 'the cloud' for the computerisation. Yes, in a modern world ....
The problem is that in this time of austerity such a system is horrendously expensive and it gives further control to BT to run our city as a commercial enterprise. What is the point of having elected representatives if a business is going to make all the decisions.

AnonymousDecember 6th 2012.

If he does perhaps we need a law to prevent him doing it. Offical council / govt press conferences / Briefings should be open to all journalists.

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