Tougher legislation will lead to judges becoming censors, says political blogger Guido Fawkes
So far Lord Justice Leveson has been angry with me, threatened me with jail, censored me, twice summoned me, argued with me at his inquiry and thrice ordered me to write for him — unpaid — 5,000 words so far. To be fair, I did publish Alastair Campbell’s evidence before he gave it to the inquiry and ignored Leveson’s subsequent stern orders to keep evidence to the inquiry secret, publishing all the bits of the Operation Motorman files [the information commissioner’s investigation into data protection breaches] that I could get my hands on. I also told him to his face that his inquiry will be judged a failure if no journalists named in the Operation Motorman investigation files are prosecuted — something Leveson disputes in a hand-wringing legal decision not to advise in favour of the prosecution of hundreds of illegal information blagging journalists.
Leveson has been given a tough job — squaring the press freedom circle with a public sense that the tabloids went too far with phone hacking and info blagging. Not forgetting that the broadsheets still want to be able to do a little bit of hacking and info blagging when it is in the public interest as determined by themselves. Nobody wants judicial or political control of the newspapers, and nobody is really convinced that the ferociously competitive tabloids will restrain themselves in the long run.
My initial opinion of Leveson was that the prime minister appointed him to make sure that all the media groups got it in the neck, not just News International — that is still my view of the politics of it all. Leveson and Jay have in my view figured out what has been going on and are far from naive. Self-important hacks like to jump on any evidence of lack of knowledge of their ink-stained ways to prove how they are misunderstood. When it came out that the inquiry lawyers had not realised that sub-editors wrote headlines, hacks were quickly tweeting self-satisfied harrumphs to the effect that no meaningful informed reform was possible because the lawyers didn’t even know journalists were not responsible for the headlines above their bylines. Hacks resent the whole process and the chilling effect it is having on press freedom. For example, my own sideline in broking political scandal stories to the Sunday tabloids is experiencing a bit of recession as editors fear to rock the boat at this sensitive period for the press.
Where will this all end? Leveson will recommend some sort of beefed up successor to the Press Complaints Commission. It may or may not have a statutory underpinning, something that I think should be avoided because legislation will inevitably lead to judges becoming censors. My admittedly minority view is that we don’t need more regulations or regulators; the hacking of Milly Dowler was illegal, information blagging was illegal, we just need to enforce the laws we have.
None of the forthcoming regulations will make a blind bit of difference to me. I realised early on that the British libel laws were too oppressive and based the Guido Fawkes Blog site offshore from the outset. Lord Black’s draft proposal on behalf of media proprietors for a contractually based regulator is not even designed to govern offshore sites like mine. In truth it would be in my commercial interest and distinct competitive advantage to see the British media heavily regulated, draconian privacy laws enacted and politically correct “media standards” enforced. All of which I would cheerfully ignore. It would, however, be a sad day for press freedom.
Guido Fawkes is the pen name of Paul Staines, who runs the Order Order political blog