Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Leveson & the Price of Press Freedom

RECENTLY the editor of 'The Oldie', Richard Ingrams, responding to the Leveson report, said that in order to get to the truth a journalist ought to be always willing 'to break the law!' Years ago, Bernard Levin wrote that a journalist to do a proper job must be prepared to be 'irresponsible'. Conversely, on the 1st, March, 2013, Peter Good, on the libcom web site wrote: 'Hiding behind the shield of “Free Speech” to exclude acts of licence fits well with the age of the Levenson (sic) report.... Freedom (as opposed to license) carries a degree of responsibility.'

Richard Ingrams is a Tory and High Anglican who used to edit Private Eye, and Bernard Levin was a Jewish journalist on The Times and The Spectator, and both are arguing for freedom of the press and media. Oddly, Peter Good, that curious thing an English 'anarchist', seems to be happily trying to place restraints on freedom of the media.

Is it possible for the press and media to have too much freedom? Peter Good clearly thinks so, and he writes '(t)he reptiles of the Murdoch press ruthlessly hacked into peoples' private lives and publicly re-shaped the most lurid details.'

We don't have to condone the methods of the Murdoch press and media to worry about the placing of further statutory laws on press freedom.  Our laws on defamation, and to some extent our Contempt of Court laws, are already regarded as Draconian. The problem of the Murdoch media has more to do with the problem of ownership than with that of freedom or licence.

Professor Mick Temple in a chapter in the book 'After Leveson' writes:
'Senior politicians have for too long responded like Pavlov's dogs to the temporary obsessions of newspapers like The Sun and Daily Mail, and are so afraid of powerful press barons like Rupert Murdoch that they openly court their approval and support in return for policy pay-offs.' 

The thing is that governments, institutions, parties, 'anarchists' and any other political tendency, must at all times be ready to have what the northern anarchist Jimmy Pinkerton called 'the floodlight of publicity' thrust upon them. And when that happens, as in the case of Bob Miller and his obituary, we should all remember what George Orwell wrote: 'If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.'

I do hope that I am not misrepresenting Peter Good's position. Hitherto, I had always understood him to be a civil libertarian on matters of press freedom, but it could well be, as Jimmy Pinkerton also said, 'That in the same way that Christianity doesn't depend upon the Christians; so anarchism doesn't depend upon the anarchists'.  In England, it may well depend more on the likes of High Tories like Richard Ingrams and Private Eye.  Certainly, judging by the recent conduct of socalled 'anarchists' in this country at bookfairs in both Manchester and London, and the shyness of publications like Freedom in dealing with the these issues, we must conclude that they are as frighten as the politicians in dealing with Murdoch when it comes to the bully boy in London who is behaving like a latter-day Arturo Ui.


Anonymous said...

I think what Peter Good is saying (and I'm aware that of his contributions to the early Northern Voices, is that when it comes to media there's responsibility. Northern Voices has crept into this area with its controversial obituary and whilst retribution can never be condoned had the responsibility to exercise respect to someone's memory been shown the situation wouldn't have occurred.

The biggest issue that hasn't been addressed is the "thirst" for total rubbish and dribble in the main media. WHilst people want to see Jordans knickers when she gets out of a taxi the press will happily oblige!

barry said...

I fully concur with the comment that retribution can never be condoned. Furthermore the obituary has been criticised on grounds of taste. But there is no excuse for the attacks on supporters of the NAN at both the London and Manchester Bookfairs. In the current post Leveson climate it is really important to defend the principle of freedom of the press and not resort to threats, intimidation and violence to silence views and opinions that we find unpalable.