Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Gutter press

The press can be cruel, irreverent  and sometimes get it completely wrong. But it can also expose the vanity, venality and down right crookedness of the great and the so called “good.” A campaigning press is necessary. 

It was the Sunday Times that campaigned on the thalidomide scandal. It was the News of the World that wrote about the abuse in Ely hospital in Cardiff. It was the written press and television journalists that did much to expose the sexual abuse that were taking place in North Wales Care homes. It was the Daily Telegraph that showed how long the snouts were of many of our MPs.

The press also is entertaining. It shows us what our so called celebrities are up to. Hello and OK magazine give a view of how these celebs would want to be seen. Hopefully the tabloids show them for what they often are, vain hypocrites.

This is what a free press is about. Sometimes good, sometimes bad and hopefully entertaining. 

Now along comes Leveson and his proposals for greater regulation.  In an emotional spasm to the very clear abuse by a small minority of journalists and even smaller number of newspapers, the press will be regulated into tameness.  

And not just the nationals, the whole of our network of regional daily and weekly newspapers are going to be regulated. Some of them will be regulated out of existence. All because of the mistakes of a few.

Now Leveson has made some very positive statements about the need for a free press, but his proposals will inevitably lead to a press that is very firmly on a leash. The press are invited to establish an independent regulatory system underpinned by the law of the land. Even with a regulator of last resort in the form of OFCOM. 

Now all this sounds fine and dandy and undoubtedly that’s what the aggrieved victims want. But should our sympathy for them put in place a system that will gradually erode press freedom.

There are laws that can be accessed to prosecute what is said or written about people. OK, granted ordinary people can’t access the system because it’s costly. Access to justice to all, that's what’s needed, not an elaborate regulatory system. 
A regulatory system was introduced into housing in Wales, much of it as a reaction to abuse by just one housing association. The result, a sector that was prohibited from being innovative, became cautious and unadventurous. In truth the last thing that Wales needed from the sector. But that’s what it got. 
Regulators, because it’s their job, want safety and don’t want anyone to take risks. They’re happy just ticking boxes. Is that the kind of fourth estate that the country needs. 
No Pravda here should be the cry. Not a cry for more regulations.
Wales has just witnessed what politicians will do if they can get their way. Our First Minister tried to ban “Pobol y Cwm”, a Welsh language soap opera, because it  dealt with the controversial issue of badger culling. 
The truth is that politicians don’t believe in a free anything. They’re so tribal. All they want is to stamp on any opinion that’s not held by them or their party. 
Miliband and Clegg might be raising the banner on behalf of the victims but it’s in the nature of politicians to tie themselves to a populist band waggon. Mind you politicians were not so shy at courting the tabloids in the past. A pound to a penny that they’ll be up to the same old tricks next election time. It’s in the nature of the beast.
The country has privacy laws, laws against hacking, laws on data protecting, laws on bribery. Do we really need another law that in essence curbs a hard won freedom, the freedom of the press. Perhaps we need our law enforcers to do their job and leave journalists to do theirs.
To quote someone that this column doesn’t usually quote, Boris Johnston, “if you want clean gutters, you need a gutter press.”
What is needed is not regulation, but more plurality in the press. A spectrum of views, not just those of mainly right wing proprietors. If politicians are eager to pass laws on the press, let them break up the powerful interests of media barons.  It’s more freedom that’s needed, not less, a greater spread of views. 
This particularly applies to Wales. The press here is weak and the BBC is strong. Most Welsh people get their news from a London based press. It’s not healthy for our democracy. If you’re a Welsh speaker you only outlet for daily national and international news is through the broadcast media or the new media. There is no daily paper they can access in their own language. 
A free press and protection of the right to freedom of expression are essential to the health of a democracy. Investigative journalism is a vital means of exposing serious wrongdoing and holding public authorities to account. Now these are all missing from Welsh life. More regulation by a beefed up London based press regulator does nothing for the Welsh press. Leveson is a far cry from what’s needed here in Wales to help our fledgling democracy.


  1. It's a pity that the left's dislike of Murdoch is blinding them to the greater truth. The Dowler or Dacre slogan - using one family's tragedy to further a shoddy political aim - is particularly obnoxious.

    The one good thing would be if ordinary people could get cheap redress for slander. But that is basically a problem of our vilely expensive legal system. How about an inquiry into the self-regulating legal profession.

  2. 'Most Welsh people get their news from a London based press. It’s not healthy for our democracy. ... There is no daily paper they can access in their own language. '.

    You forget that there is a lot less news to report to Welsh speakers. Such people are not the same as English speakers and their interests are not the same either. Time and time again it has been proven that Welsh speakers attention and interest in national and international matters is slight.

    Gossip, yes. News, no.

    1. Who writes this ignorant stuff. Welsh speakers want the same news and the same amount of it as English speakers - just in Welsh. I thought gossip was news too.