The Royal Charter: the British press as scapegoat.

I’ve blogged about this before but, I suspect to nobody’s great surprise, the Privy Council has adopted the Royal Charter which creates a sort of half-arsed voluntary regulatory system for the press.  What a dismal farce.

In reality, the fact that Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks et al are on trial at the moment demonstrates that the British media already has all the regulation it needs via the criminal law.  What is really required is a thorough renovation of our defamation laws which would prevent the rich and guilty from hiding behind them and give access to ordinary people to use them against press intrusion without prohibitive costs.  That isn’t going to happen.  The media behaved badly in the permissive environment created by New Labour and its spin machine, which created an environment in which ‘communication’ (for which read ‘spin’) was king and  mutually agreeable relationships between spinners and press had to be maintained; disgustingly, institutions like the police and the military gleefully joined in.

Now it’s all blown up, the press – who weren’t much more than facilitators – are getting it in the neck, but only the clumsiest of their establishment collaborators have been caught out: many of the rest seem to be supplying the commentary.

The reality is that press doesn’t need regulation or even self-regulation on an industry wide basis, it needs to be given the freedom to hold the establishment to account in the knowledge that if it transgresses the law, it will actually be held to account by the judicial system.

But that won’t happen.

Harmless Drudgery

I’ve finally – and no doubt to my agent’s delight – finished revising my old fitness book ‘Fighting Fit’ for an ebook edition.  We’re hoping to get it online in the next month or so in time for the Christmas rush.

If you can’t wait that long, Orion produced a new print edition a couple of months back (with a new cover design, no less) which Amazon will happily sell you:

Hacked Off? Yes I am.

Hugh Grant, 1976 Top of the Form contestant

Hugh Grant, 1976 Top of the Form contestant

Here’s some trivia:  I was at school with Hugh Grant (he was known as ‘Hughie’ in those days) and we made our national media debuts together as members of the not-quite-all-conquering Latymer Upper School ‘Top of the Form’ team on BBC radio in 1976 (we were knocked out in the semi-finals).

Strange as it may seem, I don’t recall restrictions on the freedom of the press being a big issue for him back then.  Of course, at that time I was a small, spotty 12 year old whilst he was a suave and masterful 16 and probably not inclined to be cross-examined about his nascent social authoritarianism by a peri-pubescent smart-arse.  With hindsight, I should have insisted.

I know it isn’t just me who thinks this but the idea that that we – as a supposedly, modern forward-looking democracy – should want to impose what are, to all intents and purposes, statutory restrictions on our press above and beyond those which already exist in criminal and civil law seems to me to be utterly ludicrous.  Even more ludicrous is that parliament has apparently ceded control of this process to the Privy Council, a constitutional anachronism that should have been ditched in 1689 or thereabouts.

Hugh Grant seems to me to be a decent enough guy who, like most of us, has made the odd mistake in life but without any sinister motive.  I can see why he’s pissed off that journalists assumed they could dig around the most private areas of his life with impunity.  It would piss anybody off.  That’s why he’s a good poster boy for the ‘Hacked Off’ campaign.

But at the end of the day, tough shit.  If Hughie doesn’t like what’s being written about him, he can sue whoever published it and test its legality in the courts; and if he is suspicious about how the information was obtained, he can make a complaint to the police.  I absolutely guarantee that in the wake of Leveson, they will take an interest.

The fact is that a rowdy and sometimes offensive press is a critical part of a modern, progressive democracy.  When it oversteps the mark – as it certainly has done – we have plenty of legal avenues to follow to obtain redress, as people like the Dowlers, Chris Jeffries and, indeed, Hughie Grant have shown.

Benedict Brogan has argued today that ‘Hacked Off’ is a leftist political operation to clip the wings of the centre-right media; he’s probably right but I suspect a deeper reason is that the political Left in Britain remain traumatised by the reality that a significant number of ordinary working people, of all ethnicities, are conservative with both a small and a big ‘C’.  Leftists think that this is a consequence of the existence of the centre-right press and want to stifle it; in reality, the popularity of the centre-right press simply reflects the fact that a very large number of people share those values.  Rothermere, Murdoch and company haven’t made themselves rich by leading public tastes, but by following them.

Stephen King

I’m going to hold up my hands and admit to a great liking for Stephen King.  I’m currently ploughing my way through ‘Doctor Sleep‘, the sequel to ‘The Shining’ and while it’s cheesy and melodramatic in parts, it’s also absolutely gripping.

Hyperbole aside, he is the Charles Dickens de nos jours.  An epic storyteller who manipulates his readers and tugs at the heartstrings, just like a proper writer is meant to.