David Cameron halts press regulation talks. Good on him

Cameron actually gets it. A free press must be defended, if anything against public hypocrisy

Simon Miller
On 15 March 2013 10:32

Sometimes David Cameron amazes me. Every time you think the privileged so-and-so has lost it, he comes out with an action that you never expected.

Granted, the reasons behind his ditching of cross-party talks on regulation may not be entirely pure, but I do think that, essentially, he understands the concept that the state should have no role in regulating a free press unless it has actually broken the law.

Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But believe me, this is more fundamental then you think.

As soon as a government gets a hold, that’s it; an ever-growing mission creep begins. You simply cannot allow any government to start putting the press under its own control. What starts off as benign soon mutates into a useful tool to hide things.

As an aside, if this does go through, what’s to stop an “extreme-right-wing” government coming in and shackling the BBC and the Guardian? That might sound amusing (though certainly wrong), but that’s the thing about these worthies, they cannot, or at least refuse to, actually look at the consequences of their actions.

Just like Lord Puttman trying to destroy what looks like a useful piece of legislation with the Defamation Bill, these people have no idea what the result could be.

There seems to be a bizarre view – no doubt propagated by the likes of the Beeb and the Guardian – that journalism is somehow a noble art. It is not. It is Grub Street; it is a trade. All journalists would love to come up with a Woodward and Bernstein-type investigation; we would love to be like Paul Foot. But the vast majority of us work in a job.

This job is dependent on readers. As Private Eye’s editor – the magazine that would be destroyed by Leveson by the way – Ian Hislop asked at the enquiry: have you asked the public?

The public buy the papers; the public made the Mail Online the most popular news site in the world. The likes of Hugh Grant love to court the papers when it comes to publicity but it’s when they are caught in a lay-by that the public really grab the news.

Like free speech, the power ultimately should rest with the consumer. If the public didn’t like the picture-laden side bar on the Mail Online, they wouldn’t click. If they hadn’t wanted to know about Diana’s eating disorders and dalliances, they wouldn't have bought the papers. And that’s the key.

Papers are a commercial business. If readership/clicks go down, advertising dries up. If that happens, you can bet there will be a sea-change in news coverage.

Like everything else in today’s society, the responsibilities of the public are excised or ignored. The base hypocrisy of the public is brushed over as long as it suits an agenda.

Cameron seems to have done the right thing judging from the reaction. Those idiots in the opposition parties – yes, I know technically one is in the coalition – are pandering to their opinion polls, thinking that it will gain them popularity. But here’s the thing: The majority of people want mass immigration stopped; the majority of people want hanging returned; the majority of people want our relationship with Europe redefined wither through exit or renegotiation.

If politicians really wanted to be popular they would enact policies that make their left-of-centre, PPE souls shiver.

But that cannot exist in their world, where the vast majority of politicians think they are in a safe seat and so treat those outside Westminster with contempt – unless of course they want your vote. And there you have it: It suits them to have a controlled press.

Our political class would love things to be more like France. Aside from the embarrassment of being caught out, those feckless troughers in WC2 look enviously over the Channel where the likes of Mitterrand managed to keep the press under wraps to such an extent that he broke constitutional law by having cancer in office, let alone the job creation of illegitimate off-charges of his.

That’s the thing about a free press. You need the boy pointing out the lack of clothes; you need someone pointing out what the public thinks. The press lends accountability, and it is this accountability that the likes of Clegg and Miliband don’t want.

Good on Dave.

Simon Miller is a Contributing Editor to the Commentator

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