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Leave the British Press Alone -- No "Royal' Charter, No Regulation

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Michael Collins


From The Guardia.co.uk by
Screen shot Guardian

Great Britain's three political parties just made a deal to provide a degree of regulation for the British press. The deal produces a Royal Charter that establishes a press regulator at arms-length from the government plus a regulation regime that the major media companies can join.

The charter is an outgrowth of the Leveson Commission established to get to the bottom of the press abuses in the phone hacking scandal that resurfaced in 2011. Thousands of crime victims, celebrities, and lower profile citizens had their phone hacked by the press and private detectives working for the Murdoch papers and other media outlets. The London Metropolitan Police (the Met) colluded with the Murdoch papers both by ignoring obvious criminal behavior and by using police resources to track and snoop on the news targets of the tabloids.

Why would a news organization join the voluntary regulatory regime if it's voluntary? Good question. It's not exactly voluntary. Let's say The Mirror tabloid failed to join the regulatory organization. Any court cases brought against that paper/company would be subject to extraordinary damages compared to a media outlet that committed the very same transgression but happened to be part of the self-regulatory regime.

There are too many bad elements of this effort to list right now but let's start with just two.

First, the Leveson Commission was corrupted by Lord Leveson, the handpicked judge responsible for holding the inquiry into press abuse and making recommendations for correcting the problem. I wrote this in at the height of the commissions inquiry, the day that disgraced Prime Minister Tony Blair testified before the commission, Rupert Watch, Lord Justice Damns Inquiry, May 30, 2012 (if you were one of the twelve people who read it, thank you!).

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The Queens Council assigned to Leveson's inquiry, Robert Jay, had an effective method of cross examination that was deliberately interrupted by Leveson when Jay had Blair set up for some very uncomfortable questions. Blair, as you may recall, came to power with the support of nihilist media baron Rupert Murdoch. When Jay was about to put the squeeze on Blair in a serious way, Leveson interrupted the questioning and began a love fest with the former PM. He talked about how wonderful it would be if he could work with dear Tony. He was so over the top, it seemed like he'd start making out with Blair. Jay's questioning was interrupted for good. After the love fest, Blair exited the stage, once again free from any consequences.

The Leveson Commission had its highest profile witness in its sights, the witness was vulnerable, and the material to be exposed represented a paradigm for political-press collusion. But, alas, Lord Leveson fell in love and his affections squelched the search for truth.

Second, there is no need to address the phone hacking scandal with a special regulator. Electronic spying of this type is illegal in Great Britain. The courts have awarded several hundred million in damages against Murdoch and the cases keep coming. However, the police and prosecutors have failed entirely in an effort to apply criminal law to obvious crimes. There were a few arrests and a couple of convictions. The list of probable perpetrators is so much longer than those indicted an investigated, one has to wonder if something's up.

Yes, indeed, there is something up. To describe the Met as a banana republic police force is more accurate than fanciful. Police ignored phone hacking despite several revealing investigations. They took money from the tabloids. They used their resources to track people of interest to the tabloids. Prosecutions are few and far between, particularly of corrupt police.

Toughen up hacking laws and prosecute some corruption. That will regulate the illegal activities of the wrong doers. It's a good thing. They will have more time to focus on real news in a scandal rich environment.

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The British press is an awesome beast. The news organizations actually compete with each other to get the news and exclusives on major stories. Why? Because that's their job - to generate stories that people want to read causing them to purchase newspapers. It's a unique phenomenon in global journalism, a voracious, hard hitting press. The fact that various British governments fail to follow up even in the slightest by correcting the problems eposed is not the fault of the press.

The real shame here is simple. The British people deserve a government that is as aggressive as its press in uncovering the corruptions of the times. The press delivers time and again and the government fumbles the ball. That's their job, self-protection and a preservation of the corrupt status quo at any cost.

END

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