Friday, November 30, 2012

The press is neither free nor fair

The dispute over statutory (backed by Leveson, Miliband, Clegg) or non-statutory regulation of the press (Cameron) is really no dispute at all. Because regulated or not, the press will as a whole always remain hostile to the interests of ordinary people.

Phone hacking and paying off police officers for inside information was exposed at Leveson. But there was no way the report was going to stray into deeper issues. The report went soft on successive governments’ close ties to Murdoch’s empire. And the police were laughably more or less given a clean bill of health.

Some of Leveson’s proposals could even make it more difficult for investigative journalists to operate. In his proposals, the Leveson suggests major alterations to both the 1998 Data Protection Act and the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace).
Between them, journalists could become liable to prison sentences and their sources
be required to sign written agreements.

Ultimately, the press is neither free nor fair. The reasons are self-evident. Newspapers are owned by an assortment of Murdoch’s global corporation News International, Russian oligarchs (The Independent and the London Standard) or right-wing aristocrats like Viscount Rothermere.

He is chairman and controlling shareholder of the Daily Mail and General Trust PLCs, one of the largest media conglomerates with interests in newspapers, TV and radio in Europe, the United States and Australia.

Any regulatory system of the press will not make a jot of difference when it comes to the Daily Mail witch-hunting trade unionists, denying climate change is actually taking place (even though many of its readers are regularly flooded out by extreme weather) or scapegoating asylum seekers and migrant workers.

If we had had a regulatory system in place in 2003, would it have compelled the media to expose government lies in the run-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Of course not. Newspapers lapped up the Blair government’s falsehoods and helped create the spurious grounds for an invasion.

Not even the liberal Guardian could bring itself to oppose the war, which by any standards was illegal under international law and did not have the backing of the United Nations.

During major strikes, the media is at one in siding with the employers and the government. Which paper supported the strikes in 2011 by public sector workers defending their pension rights?

Rail union RMT general Secretary Bob Crow, who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, said it had uncovered “the level of collusion between press, politicians and the state to do over anyone seen as a threat to their interests and that includes the trade union movement.

"From the miners to the firefighters and right up to date with our struggles today on transport and public services, no stone has been left unturned in vilifying and slandering those with the guts to stand up and fight back."

Crow’s reference to the miners’ strike of 1984-5 is compelling. Urged on by the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock, papers like the Daily Mirror attacked miners’ leader Arthur Scargill throughout the dispute.

When it was over, the Mirror joined in a scurrilous denigration of Scargill over false allegations of misappropriation of funds. There was more than a little suspicion about the involvement of the dirty hand of the state in this infamous character assassination.

So when Miliband and Clegg urge on the very same state to get involved in “regulation” of the media, they are not proposing to remedy these kinds of wrongs.

In any case, what’s the use of an apology or a fine long after the event. The damage has already been done. In the hands of capitalist owners, the media can never be “free nor fair”. Always remember that.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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