How British Control Freaks Exploited a Scandal To Impose Press Regulations

In a fascinating piece for the spiked review of books, Mick Hume finds strong clues as to the source not only of Britain's sudden push for press regulation but also the details of the rules proposed by the Leveson Inquiry. The road map is essentially laid out for him in a screed titled, Everybody’s Hacked Off: Why We Don’t Have the Press We Deserve and What To Do About It, by Brian Cathcart, who is a journalism professor and the founder of the Hacked Off campaign, a group that came together to press for media curbs in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that killed off the News of the World. As Hume describes, Cathcart has long been a champion of press regulation, and the high-profile fuss gave him and a small group of allies an opportunity to hand political figures a pre-packaged solution to a "problem" that doesn't really exist. And yeah, there's a lesson in there for everybody.

Britain's phone-hacking scandal involved real misbehavior on the part of both journalists and government officials, but that conduct was already illegal — and some police officials were themselves implicated. So the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking, which morphed into an inquisition into journalistic practices, is now proposing further regulations and oversight to prevent activity that was already illegal, and which was enabled, in part, by the last batch of people meant to prevent it.

That's not the point of Hume's piece, though. He uses his review of Cathcart's book to explain how a demoralized press and defensive, unprincipled politicians were essentially rolled by a small group of radical advocates for media control.

In July 2011, the Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. The resulting wave of outrage caused panic in high places, leading to the closure of the NotW. Cathcart describes how his little group, then effectively a two-man band, took advantage of this disarray by demanding – and getting – audiences with all the political-party leaders, taking the Dowler family with them. Hacked Off demanded, and got, a public inquiry. What is more, he says, they demanded that the inquiry should look into not just the phone-hacking scandal, but the entire ‘culture, ethics and practices of the press’. That was the exact brief that prime minister David Cameron gave Lord Justice Leveson when he appointed the judge to head the inquiry.

Once Leveson began his public hearings, the Hacked Off lobby was allowed to set the tone from the very start, with the first witnesses called being their high-profile and celebrity supporters such as [Hugh] Grant and [Steve] Coogan, to denounce the crimes of the tabloids they accused of creating a ‘culture of pure evil’. At the end of all this, Leveson produced a report based on the Hacked Off version of events and proposals centred on all of the demands listed in Cathcart’s book, for a new regulator underpinned by the law with the ‘clout’ to police and punish the press. The only real difference is that Cathcart wants a statute to ‘compel’ newspapers to sign up to the new system – an explicit form of state licensing of the press unseen in Britain for more than 300 years. Leveson instead proposed a statutory-backed regulator that could punish financially those that failed to submit – a sort of informal system of licensing by the back door. But his entire report was infused with the spirit of Hacked Off’s demands.

The whole thing was eased along by the lack of a strong lobby, in Britain, for protecting free speech and freedom of the press. Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, a sort of anemic, other-side-of-the-pond counterpart to the ACLU, actually participated in the Leveson inquiry. (Liberty is the sort of group that makes you really appreciate the ACLU, warts and all.)

Cathcart's own words, quoted from his book, offer an enlightening peek at the mind-set behind the push for controls on the press.

Cathcart’s discussion of the ‘public interest’ rather gives the game away here. What does this oft-cited concept mean? ‘Well’, says Cathcart, ‘to start with it is obviously not the same thing as what interests the public…. That would legitimise all kinds of gratuitous cruelty and dishonesty, reviving the morality that permitted bear-baiting and public executions’.

The latest candidate for press-regulator, by the way, is the Privy Council — a secretive, 800-year-old body that hasn't convened in decades and whose members are selected for life.

Read Hume's whole article for a scary insight into how easily fundamental freedoms can be undermined when their defenders lose heart (and interest) and their opponents are organized and prepared to exploit an opportunity (Hrumph ... hrumph ... Newtown ... hrumph).

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  • sarcasmic||

    Introduction by a guy who would rather get a knob job from a fugly hooker than bang Elizabeth Hurley?

    I'm sorry, but I put no value on anything that man has to say.

  • ||

    How...Control Freaks Exploited a Scandal To Impose...Regulations

    This seems familiar for some reason.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Disaster Capitalism!

    Never let a crisis go to waste!

  • Almanian.||

    when their defenders lose heart (and interest) and their opponents are organized and prepared to exploit an opportunity (Hrumph ... hrumph ... Newtown ... hrumph).

    Yeah, I've thought of this. BIG difference. 2nd amendment freaks (like me) in the US will NEVER lose heart - or interest. Look at the immediate reaction to even ANTICIPATED changes (Ima get me MOAR AR15's and Glock mags before the bastards even TRY to band them).

    Now, 1st amendment in the US? That worries me. Cause...CITIZENS UNITED KOCHPORASHUNZ AREN'T PEOPLE ZOMFGLOLWUT?!!!

  • Almanian.||

    Also, evry time I read something like this out of Britan I can't help but get a real warm fuzzy over 1776. MotherFUCKER those people are just on a different wavelength from us.

    Thanks, US Independence guys! warts and all

  • Caleb Turberville||

    What bothers me most about Britain's rush towards a more tightly regulated media is that Steve Coogan (perhaps Britain's best comedic actor?) was a vocal advocate for regulation.

    Scratch another limey for my list of heroes. Oh well, at least Richard Dawkins had the balls to properly criticize the radical feminist takeover of New Atheism.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    ...For those keeping score, my list of heroes now has only two limeys: Dawkins and Christopher Guest.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's the Lord Haden-Guest.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    That makes it Jamie Lee Curtis, The Lady Haden-Guest...Which doesn't seem too ridiculous to me. She deserved recognition for Halloween, Trading Places, and True Lies. So be it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    A Fish Called Wanda.

  • Paul.||

    Here we go again.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Dawkins is a tool.

  • ||

    That's disappointing, considering how funny this is.

  • Trespassers W||

    I can't view it. But that had better be Alan Partridge talking over football highlights. "He's got a foot like a traction engine!"

  • Obese American||

    That was LIQUID FOOTBALL!

  • nicole||

    Yeah, I'm going to have to pretend I never read that part or it will ruin the joys of Tristram Shandy, among others.

  • ||

    Tristram

    Are you still playing Diablo 3?? Loser.

  • ||

    nicole is absolutely determined to get her witch doctor through playthrough 2.

  • ||

    You idiot, that's stupid. She obviously plays the supremely whorey female demon hunter.

  • nicole||

    It's true that I always play the most whorish female character available, but I do not play Diablo of any kind.

  • Killazontherun||

    This is you without even having to play pretend, right nicole?

  • nicole||

    No, that's Epi. He likes his skirts much shorter than I do.

  • Killazontherun||

    Ha! And s/he said it was a serum laced tranq dart that made him flatulent. It was the Chicago style pizza all along.

  • Voros McCracken||

    "It's true that I always play the most whorish female character available"

    In video games now that's pretty much all of them.

  • Loki||

    Would that be a female who hunts demons, or a hunter a hunter of female demons? The latter sounds kind of kinky.

  • Loki||

    Sometimes I stutter I stutter when I type when I type.

  • ||

    No, I always play the most whorish female character possible. Idiot.

  • nicole||

    Not everyone plays Borderlands. Idiot.

  • ||

    Then they're idiots.

  • ||

    Everyone that counts does.

  • nicole||

    Well then that's why there are no female libertarians, isn't it?

  • Killazontherun||

    I'm guessing she just found the peg leg from Diablo 2. That was one of the most joyful moments of the series. That kid would rob you blind.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Could be playing Diablo 2, you know.

  • Sevo||

    "The whole thing was eased along by the lack of a strong lobby, in Britain, for protecting free speech and freedom of the press."

    The Brits think those things are what the royal family grants. There's a reason we told them to take a hike.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    I remember the first time monarchy sounded stupid to me was when I kept hearing Diana referred to as "Princess Diana", not only after she had died, but also after she had divorced Prince Charles

    I felt like I was living in some little girl's fantasy world, all of a sudden.

  • nicole||

    I felt like I was living in some little girl's fantasy world, all of a sudden.

    WHICH IS WHY MONARCHY IS AWESOME

    (Not really, of course)

  • nicole||

    Actually, speaking of monarchy and little girls' fantasy worlds...apparently crazy people send real wedding invitations to Princess Kate. And, of course, our very own monarch, King Obama.

  • A Serious Man||

    I wouldn't invite King Barack to my wedding since he might to try to invoke his royal right to primae noctis.

  • Killazontherun||

    The first time someone's bride told him, 'it's big and everything, but its like you have no idea what you are doing with it. Kind of like your presidency', he would stop evoking that right.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    racist

  • Killazontherun||

    And how!

  • nicole||

    I don't remember if it was in the national news or not but a few months back he went to the wedding of Valerie Jarrett's daughter. My bf went to high school with her. I said something about how it would be seriously awful to have the president at your wedding, what with the Secret Service and general hassle, even if you were a statist. He's like, "Yeah...unless you are some crazy, power-hungry bitch. And she is." They were not friends.

  • ||

    Yeah...unless you are some crazy, power-hungry bitch. And she is.

    What. A. Surprise.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Jesus, they just found a way to make marriage an even more disgusting institution.

  • ||

    Hugh's just upset because FoE refused his offer of marriage. Though I admit that FoE laughing was a little harsh.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's my own fault for assuming that someone with one eye swelled shut with stys and who smelled like tannery garbage couldn't find anyone better.

  • Killazontherun||

    I heard someone just the other day blaming the press for her death. I had to make the necessary correction. Nope. Big douche of a boyfriend showing off his studly powers of controlling others got her killed.

  • Killazontherun||

    The People's Princess!!!

    Demonic laughter screams through my mind every time I hear that neologism.

  • A Serious Man||

    "But a president? (scoffs) Well why not shoot a president?"

  • Sevo||

    Repeat of a morning links post, but worth it:
    Brain-dead Berkeley prof thinks "Shall make no law" means he gets to define what those laws should be:
    "The Supreme Court must change the cost-benefit analysis it applies in these types of First Amendment cases."
    Really. He wrote that.
    http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/.....166234.php

  • ||

    They must?

  • Paul.||

    Yes, they must!

  • ||

    I didnt make it half way through but it is clearly an attack on violence in video games. Captain zero announces that we should be looking at gun control, violent games, blah blah...and these guys come out of the woodwork shilling for exactly what he wants. WTF?

  • Killazontherun||

    Eat the Rich Academic.

  • ||

    "Everybody’s Hacked Off: Why We Don’t Have the Press We Deserve and What To Do About It"

    Change 'Press' to 'Country' and this is the perfect title to Mikes Seidman's screed on giving up on the U.S Constitution. I just saw the mendacious douchebag interviewed on Fox, who was stupid enough to give him not only a public forum but gave him no serious challenge. I nearly put a bullet through the TV.

    I notice he is long on platitudes and short on details of what a post-constitutional 'Country that we want' would look like. It is clear that the left wants a dictatorship and this vile bastard is just softening the ground for them.

    I notice also that in the British example, the movement to stifle free speech was led by a member of the press, and in the case of Seidman, advocating ditching the constitution is being made by a professor of constitutional law.

    I wonder what the chances are that Cathcart is a member of the Fabian Society?

  • Paul.||

    I notice he is long on platitudes and short on details of what a post-constitutional 'Country that we want' would look like.

    This is precisely how the country will be run. He doesn't need details. Our post-constitutional country will be entirely run with platitudes.

  • T||

    Somebody refrresh my memory, since I'm too lazy to google. Didn't the Privy Council also nominally run the Star Chamber? Or am I as confused as always?

  • nicole||

    Yep.

  • Paul.||

    I thought the Privy Council ran the bathrooms.

  • Paul.||

    That's not the point of Hume's piece, though. He uses his review of Cathcart's book to explain how a demoralized press and defensive, unprincipled politicians were essentially rolled by a small group of radical advocates for media gun control.

    It's so easy it's almost cheating.

  • Gladstone||

    So England is giving up on all the liberties they fought centuries to get?

    And people wonder how dictatorships form.

  • Robert||

    Read the article, still don't understand. What motiv'n could someone possibly have to have some body s/he doesn't control restrict the press? Who could possibly believe that press restriction is a good in and of itself, regardless of what direction it takes? It just doesn't add up.

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