Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Press unites against Labour-LibDem Leveson proposals

David Cameron has been the subject of much hostile coverage from a right-wing press apparently unhappy with the PM for not being right-wing enough. Today he is represented as an heroic figure, a true titan, single-handledly safeguarding British democracy from the terrors of state regulation of the press, whilst Miliband/Clegg (Labour/Lib Dems) are castigated as opportunistic anti-democratic hooligans with no sense of British history or traditions, taken in by the brazen buffoons of Hacked Off.

Which is one way to paraphrase today's extraordinary coverage of the ongoing parliamentary splits over how to implement Leveson's recommendations.
Roy Greenslade, as ever, provides a sharp summary of all this - you can see here a good example of what Chomsky's propoganda model referred to as "flak" (one of the five filters keeping radical or counter-hegemonic content out of mainstream discourse).
Political columnist Michael White also weighs in with a discussion of whether the PM is effectively in league with the Murdochs, fearing their wrath.

Cameron, the editors' press freedom hero, versus 'draconian' Miliband

Friday 15 March 2013
The majority of nationals lauded the prime minister for his opposition to statutory underpinning for a new press regulator

Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror’s headline on Friday.

Prime minister David Cameron might have enjoyed his national newspaper coverage this morning. It was predictable that his opposition to statutory underpinning for a new press regulator would be greeted by headlines in his favour.

Three examples: Cam showdown to save our free press (The Sun), Cameron refuses to introduce press laws (Daily Telegraph) and Cameron fights for press freedom (Daily Express). The Daily Mirror, no friend of Cameron, portrays him in its headline as a champion of freedom: PM faces Commons battle to stop newspapers being shackled by tougher law.
The "shackling" of the press is a theme picked up in several leading articles, where Cameron gets plenty of praise amid a great deal of criticism for Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
Statutory underpinning is unnecessary, says the Times, arguing in favour instead of Cameron's "ingenious… practical scheme" to use the royal charter as the regulator's backstop, which is "a reasonable compromise."
It accuses Miliband of weakness for acceding to the demands of the Hacked Off campaigners and contends: "He has started a press regulation bidding war and may find it is not one he can easily end."
The Times argues that lobbyists and politicians have "rejected compromise and continually changed their demands to make agreement impossible" and concludes: "This behaviour may provide short-term political advantage but it is not in the interests of independent regulation, a free press or the people of Britain."
The Daily Telegraph, in a full-length leader, rails against the possible imposition of a law and makes the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut argument advanced throughout the Leveson inquiry hearings:
"The allegedly criminal activities of some journalists on a few tabloid newspapers are being used by Labour and the Liberal Democrats as a justification to impose a statute-based regulatory structure on the entire industry.
This will not just affect the so-called 'red tops', but also newspapers like the Daily Telegraph – which has had nothing to do with hacking or illegal payments to public servants – as well as more than 1,200 financially straitened regional and local newspapers."
The Telegraph accuses Miliband of cynically using the families of Milly Dowler and Madeleine McCann to cripple the press and chill investigative journalism.
It believes Cameron's royal charter proposal is an adequate method to ensure that the regulator operates fairly on behalf of the public. Not that it is entirely happy with any oversight at all, calling on MPs to "vote for Mr Cameron's compromise as the lesser of two evils."
The Daily Mail's editorial, "A tawdry alliance and the threat to a free press", believes Labour and Lib-Dem politicians are "holding parliament to ransom" in order to get their way.
It says that Miliband's Labour party is engaged in "opportunistic opposition" to the government after being "hijacked by Hacked Off, a self-appointed cadre of press-hating zealots, tarnished celebrities and small-town academics."
And here is the sweetener for the prime minister:
"In stark contrast to Mr Miliband, Mr Cameron has taken a principled stand throughout while trying to reach a compromise that will satisfy all parties.
He is resolutely opposed to direct state regulation of the press… He wants a royal charter to back up a tough new system of independent regulation…
So now Mr Miliband must decide. Does he want to be remembered as the man prepared to sabotage parliamentary bills and sacrifice three centuries of press independence on the altar of political opportunism?"
The Daily Express weighs in with an editorial that might have been penned by Beaverbrook 60 years ago: "There lurks in the socialist soul a sense of grievance and desire to shackle a newspaper industry…" Socialist soul, eh?
Then it moves up to the 1980s by castigating Neil Kinnock before laying into his protege, Miliband, for seeking "draconian controls on the press that would see a state regulator put in place rather than a body set up by royal charter."
Praise is heaped on Cameron for his "principled stand in favour of basic press freedoms" and it calls on Clegg "to honour the finest traditions of liberalism" by supporting the prime minister.
The Sun leaves it to its associate editor, Trevor Kavanagh, to make the argument. Like the Mail, he is not happy about either option – royal charter or statutory underpinning. He sees it as "a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea."
Both "would mean surrendering the safeguard of a traditionally robust newspaper industry which for 300 years – and for all its faults – has been the defender of the ordinary citizen against the rich and powerful."
Without a free press, says Kavanagh, there will be more undiscovered corruption in our public life: "Think of the Hillsborough cover-up.." Excuse me? Was that a typographical error?
A Sun executive is pleading for press freedom over Hillsborough, the football tragedy that the paper itself effectively aided the police in covering up.
Oh Trevor, I would have expected a better argument than that from you. Wait until that paragraph is read out to parliament on Monday.
By contrast, the Independent, in calling for a compromise, says: "With so urgent a need for a tougher system of media regulation, a split between politicians and the press helps no one."
And the Guardian, upset that press freedom has become a political football, calls the royal charter idea to validate the regulator "a semi-legislative fudge." But it also urges politicians to look again at the issues in order to seek "common ground."

Leveson and the 'unholy alliances' on press regulation

Friday 15 March 2013

Did cross-party talks fail because Miliband caved in to pressure from Hacked Off – or Cameron from the media barons?

Hugh Grant
Hugh Grant has shown unexpected steel in his and Hacked Off’s campaign against the wilder forces in Fleet Street. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Who is to blame for the dramatic last-minute breakdown of the cross-party talks on press regulation that will pit David Cameron's forces against both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg's MPs – plus some of his own – on Monday in Westminster? Has Miliband caved in to threats from Hugh Grant, as we read in the Daily Beast? Or is Cameron under unseen pressure from the media barons, as we don't read in their newspapers?
To my mind, you only have to pose the question to know the answer. Hugh Grant has shown unexpected steel in his and Hacked Off's campaign against the wilder forces in Fleet Street. But he is a big girl's blouse when stood alongside Rupert Murdoch or Paul Dacre, veteran editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail and thereby the most influential journalist in Britain.
Even ex-MP Paul Goodman, clever grassroots Tory guru in his ConHome blog suggests that Cameron's gamble – will Unionist votes offset Tory defectors in Monday's votes? – underlines his weakness and further threatens his control of his own party and events.
Maybe. We'll see, but the rights and responsibilities of a free press are more important than mere parliamentary tactics or party management. It's pretty clear that both sides thought they were close to a deal on the structure of the new press self-regulation model and its powers, or rather who will control the exercise of those powers, the press itself or outsiders.
Tory newspapers such as the Mail and the Murdoch-owned Times say that Labour backed away after pressure from Grant and Co, forcing him to enter an "unholy alliance" with Clegg to destroy 300 years of press liberty. Like much else that date and the claim it underpins is pretty bogus. Licensing laws, seditious libel charges, stamp duty and much else kept the British press constrained for most of that time – they still do in some ways – though less tame and cowed than in most countries.
But it's at least as clear that the newspaper tycoons and their minions have been resisting any "dab" of statutory underpinning (the expression coined by George Eustace, a rightwing Tory rebel whom I rate for independent thinking) to the BBC-style royal charter/fudge Cameron's team envisaged – and Labour seemed close to accepting.
Who will draft those editors' guidelines, decide to impose those £1m fines and man the vital regulatory bodies? That was the second area of contention. Maria Miller, the largely untested culture secretary, sounded a bit shifty when interviewed by John Humphrys on Radio 4's Today programme. Why did Cameron pull the plug so unexpectedly now, MPs are asking. Does he have a plan or does he want to shift any blame for the final Leveson settlement on to Labour and the Lib Dems ahead of a 2015 election campaign in which he could promise to repeal it?
We don't know and I usually belong to the "cock-up, not conspiracy" camp. Real issues are at stake. Politicians would misbehave if they had any direct control over press regulation (which they won't), just as the police, once so cosy with the tabloids, are now conducting what looks like an over-zealous witchhunt in arresting reporters – an editor on Thursday – now that the rascals have fallen out with each other. It's not as if payments to coppers or phone hacking came as a complete shock to the Met. Likewise Jimmy Savile abuses, it is now confirmed. His celebrity status fixed the cops and the tabs – as well as the complacent BBC.
Are the press cowed by the Leveson "chill" effect? I doubt if football managers angrily rejecting disputed claims of fights in the dressing room or weekend piss-ups think so. Ditto the distinguished novelist Hilary Mantel, whose lecture on monarchy – and the abuse of princesses by the media – was ripped from context and itself abused. Does Andrew Mitchell MP, sacked as coalition chief whip on dodgy evidence by an "unholy alliance" (copyright Daily Mail) of coppers and tabloids feel protected by the Leveson chill?
How about the NHS chief Sir David Nicholson, who has a case to answer over hospital deaths but could scarcely be said to be protected by Leveson chill from the vindictive and partisan abuse hurled at him this past month by the Mail and catch-up Telegraph? The Sunday Times role in the Huhne affair can easily be defended (did it really try very hard to keep those damning tapes out of the clutches of the police lawyers?) in the public interest, though pretty unedifying. Not much chill factor there as the phone-hacking storm clouds gathered over Wapping. That's enough examples, there are others I've forgotten.
In his ConHome article, Paul Goodman warns that on Europe, immigration, benefit-bashing and other popular rightwing causes there are what he calls "taxpayer-financed lobby groups" waiting to put pressure on Tory tabloids to calm it all down. I know my tabloid friends feel persecuted on such topics already – though probably not as persecuted as the people their campaigns target.
In any case what about those other lobby groups, taxpayer-funded or not (charity giving is tax-deductible after all), which pound liberal causes in cahoots with the tabloids, day after day. Free schools may or may not prove to be a good idea (I am prepared to keep an open mind), but they are lobby-inspired and costing the taxpayer a LOT of money. We could say the same about marketisation of the NHS, couldn't we?
So those – such as TV presenter Anne Diamond – who say it's a shame that Leveson has been "politicised" are missing the point, though not as deliberately as today's Mail editorial, which deplores the action of cross-party MPs and peers (a Lords majority of 131) who seek to use parliamentary rules to "sabotage" government legislation by attaching Leveson-style amendments to the defamation bill or the regulations red tape bill, this to pile pressure for a deal on ministers. Of course it's political.
But aren't we all – Mail included – in favour of an assertive legislature and an upper house with no party majority that stands up to governments of all colours? We are and Lord Fowler – ex-journalist and Tory cabinet veteran – writes to the FT defending what peers did and urging parliament to accept Leveson-style remedies over a charter that will – says Fowler – prove as flawed as the BBC's.
Friday's Times editorial – compare it with the Guardian's more emollient tone – thunders against Miliband and the threat to press freedom, it claims to detect. Better to read the Mail, I think, because we know it's its editor's view, the authentic Dacre view. The last editor of the Times, James Harding, was recently sacked for unspecified failures – his paper has since won the Newspaper of the Year award – so what his acting-successor writes must, we can fairly assume, reflect the views of the old Tweeter in New York, whose dislike of Britain and of regulation have been consistent features of his remarkable career.
If you were being menaced by Hugh Grant or Rupert Murdoch which one would make you run faster?

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