Coffee House The View from 22

The View from 22 — the fight for press freedom and an EU problem for Cameron

1 November 2012

What effect would any form of statutory regulation have on the press in this country? In this week’s cover feature, Nick Cohen writes that if the Leveson Inquiry recommends strong measures to curtail the press, they will not be practical thanks to the constant evolution of the media industry. On this week’s View from 22 podcast, Nick explains the problems of defining who exactly is the press and who are journalists:

‘You can’t say what a newspaper is and you can’t say who a journalist is. When I started in journalism, people used to say it was a trade, not a profession…that was true in theory but false in practice — you couldn’t be a journalist unless you worked for a state or private media conglomerate.

‘Laws on freedom of the press affect everyone, everyone can be a journalist. They affect people when they are on Twitter, when they are on Facebook, when they blog. We don’t know what Lord Leveson is going to say but the danger is that he has any kind of statutory regulation beyond all the problems of allowing political control (which people faught against over centuries) is that you have a two tier-legal system when we need one law for all.’

Kirsty Hughes, CEO of the Index on Censorship, believes it remains undecided which path Lord Leveson will take but warns against taking the first steps towards a state-controlled press:

‘Everybody is still worried about that [statutory regulation] , that is clearly the big dividing line with the debate around Leveson. He’s shown  interest in what they do in Ireland, but that’s a rather percular form of statutory. It’s in a law but it’s stil voluntary. There were some problematic issues around libel and defamation…I think there are still these age old issues around political control of the press.

‘If you have political control of the press, you are not in a free democratic state, you are in an authoritarian state. So I think those people — including Hugh Grant — that call for a ‘tiny dab’ of statutory are quite wrong. A tiny is a very important thin end of the wedge.’

In his political column this week, James Forsyth writes that despite a spring in their step following the recent bout of economic good news, the government has some significant challenges to face up to in the upcoming months. In particular,  dealing with Eurosceptic backbenchers is high up the agenda for David Cameron:

‘The vote on the EU budget is one of these votes that does not count for very much, it’s purely indicative. But it has become the latest trial of strength betwen David Cameron and his Eurosceptic banckbenchers. Cameron has a problem here, which is that there are 35 Tory MPs who will rebel with anything with Europe in the title. Cameron rather than boxing cleaver insists treating everything with Maastrict, a vote that actually matters.

‘The bind they have got themselves into is another testament to to fact the whips operation is not fit for purpose. One of the things that got lost in the whole Andrew Mitchell story is that Mictchell had been sent to the Whips’ Office for a very particular reason. No.10 and in particular No.11 felt the Whips’ Office didn’t have a grip that they needed someone tougher and someone with better intelligence and better reach into the right of the party and someone who had more authority to say to Downing Street, this is what the troops will wear, this is what they won’t wear. That has all gone. George Young won’t do anything of those things, as it comes painfully apparent this week.’

And which minister do our guests think has singled himself out this week? Listen with the embedded player below to find out who this new rising star is. You can also have the latest podcast delivered straight to your machine by subscribing through iTunes. As ever, we’d love to hear what you think, good or bad.

The View from 22 – 1 November 2012. Length 26:10
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Show comments
  • eeore

    So how would the proposed regulation deal with Jane Stanley reporting that WTC 7 had collapsed on 9/11, supposedly live, when the building in question can be seen standing behind her?

    Or the perception of Waco being about a bunch gun toting nutcases, when more sober investigations reveals a different story, that feeds into the story of the Vince Foster suicide that may have nothing to do with Whitewater.

    Will the proposed code allow for people to dissent from the organized line?

    Or is this simply a way that celebrities can organise blow jobs in back streets on their mobile phone?


    I would be very interested in knowing what exactly the NUJ allows and doesn’t allow its members to write. Can The Spectator oblige?

    • Rhoda Klapp

      You can find it on their website, I believe.

  • Justathought

    The roots of this rebellion preceded the new whip, so James has called that wrong.

    There should be no statutory intervention on press freedoms but those who break the criminal law should not avoid prosecution because of the position they hold in any organisation.

    If there is to be no agreement on new boundaries then it is essential that MP’s set out their stall on their EU position so that informal accommodation can be made with UKIP. Last night’s vote was as good an opportunity as any to stand up and be counted.

  • TomTom

    How about talking about Media Freedom in Turkey where Erdogan has journalists in jail ? Or in Greece where two TV presenters were removed for criticising a Minister; or where a newspaper editor goes on trial for printing the Lagarde List of 2000 Tax Fraudsters ? Why not look at the fact that journalists go on trial in countries the EU pretends are “democratic” and Erdogan struts around Berlin like Mussolini

    • dalai guevara

      Yes, why not report that after Croatia, it is Turkey who are also desperate to JOIN the EU?

    • TomTom

      Another Greek journalist arrested before he could even broadcast…….

  • dalai guevara

    Statutory regulation would be an unbelievable move for a country like the UK. What message would that send?

    OTOH, what is Morgan still doing on US TV? I thought he admitted live at Leveson to hacking? What is Yates doing in Bahrain, has he paid his champagne bill yet?

    We do not need new regs, what we need is enforcement of…the law.

  • RKing

    Cameron now reminds me of the description Sir Alec Douglas Home gave of Harold Wilson way back in the 60’s.

    Now Sir Alec had a speech impediment which made it difficult for him to pronounce his S’s so it came out rather strangley when he called Wilson a “Schlick tounged schmooth Schalesman” but how right he was.

    But it sums up Cameron to a tee I think!

  • Colonel Mustard

    All too often government sees statutory regulation as a rubber-stamping, fund-raising exercise. If political bloggers, for example, often the modern equivalent of 17th and 18th century pamphleteers, were required to “register” and pay some kind of licence fee or deposit, it would mean the death of a truly free press and the virtual control of all freedom of expression by the state.

    Any kind of statutory response will mean more bureaucracy, more control, more state interference in private activity and since there are already laws criminalising the activities that were the subject of the enquiry I cannot see any justification for further legislation – other than a cynical and repressive one. We had 13 years of scaremongering and dog-whistle hysteria driving unnecessary legislation replete with unintended and/or state-exploited consequences that undermined our freedoms. Please, no more!

    • Colonel Mustard

      I should also mention those dogma-driven ideological agendas that will seize on any such statutory regulation and exploit it as a means to shut down debate and stifle dissent.

      • dalai guevara

        Bang on, I should add here that it amazes me how much internet regulation has been secretly added over the years, all in the name of child protection of course, which is usually broadly speaking a ‘family issue’.

  • Vulture

    So James thinks the Government has a ‘spring in its step’ does he? The spring he refers to must be the artificial bionic legs that Dave is now wearing after his woeful regime shot itself in both feet (again) this week.
    >EU submission followed by entirely predictable defeat by its own MPs.. Check.
    > Wind Farm incoherence. Check.
    > Commissioning sad old statist Hezza to write a critical report. Check.
    > Child benefits cock-up. Check.
    And that’s just within one week! A successful one according to Dave Groupie James.
    God knows what an unsuccessful one would look like.

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