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.