The end of a free press?
What’s happening in the UK next week?
Well, to hear some people tell it, this is end of press freedom in the UK. On Wednesday, October 30th, there will be a convening of the Privy Council before the Queen. Following a centuries old tradition, the Privy Council members will stand before Her Majesty and recommend the adoption of a Royal Charter on press regulation.
The press owners’ body Pressbof – the Press Standards Board of Finance – has today launched a legal challenge to try to stop this happening. Lord Black, the executive director of the Telegraph Media Group, said that the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) had to make this move in the interests of preserving a free press. “As the issues at stake are so extraordinarily high – we are having to take this course of action.”
Pressbof submitted its own version of a regulator (IPSO – the Independent Press Standards Organisation) to the Privy Council in April, but this was rejected on October 8th. The Royal Charter going before the Queen next Wednesday is the one that all political parties support. Or (alternatively) the one ‘cobbled together by party leaders and victims’ group Hacked Off’.
What is Hacked Off? You can find out here.
And now the House of Lords (the upper house in the UK parliament) has got involved.
So, how did we get here …?
From 2005 through to 2007, a series of investigations into alleged mobile phone hacking and police bribery by the UK press concluded that these illegal practices were confined to a handful of ‘rogue journalists’, and was targeted exclusively at people in the public eye, such as celebrities and politicians. This series of investigations was managed by the media, and in particular by a body that was set up to monitor and control the excesses of the press: the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
By 2011, pressure from an increasing number of individuals who believed that they had been victims of phone hacking and other forms of press intrusion resulted in a full public enquiry. This was conducted by Lord Justice Leveson and became known as the ‘Leveson Inquiry’.
The Leveson Inquiry established that the technique of listening to stored, private voicemails was much more widely known and practised across the UK media industry than had previously been recognised, and had become widespread by 2002. In addition to celebrities and politicians, solicitors, police officers and ordinary members of the public had become targets. Victims gave evidence to the enquiry that they had been unable to work out how the press had obtained the information that was appearing in the newspapers. They had accused their friends, relatives and work colleagues of ‘leaking’ confidential details. Relationships had broken down or become strained, which added to the stress experienced by these people. The most notorious of the incidents reported to the enquiry was when an individual hacked into the mobile phone of a young girl – Millie Dowler – who had been abducted and murdered. It was alleged that this individual had deleted some of the voicemail messages, which led the girls’ parents to believe that she was still alive.
See this analysis by Hacked off as to the extent to which publications in the UK resorted to tactics that would be considered by most people to be intrusive, and which at times were also allegedly illegal.
As a result of the evidence presented to Leveson, the PCC came to be viewed (not for the first time) as being ineffectual. Hence the drive to put in place something that will actually work.
The media cry: “You can’t do this. It will be the end of a free press!”
The victims cry: “We need something that will protect us!”
So, where do you stand on this?
My new novel ‘Retribution’ deals with these issues and shows how the activities of the media can radically affect the lives of ordinary people. It is FREE all next week (October 28th through to November 1st). Download it from http://ViewBook.at/Retribution. Read the novel first, and then decide on which side of this debate you stand!
I’d love to hear your comments.