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Leveson Heat Rises for the Press

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Since my post Leveson, the Press and Labour there have been further developments. The Prince Harry photos episode was hardly edifying for the press or the Royal Family. That the Sun editor could claim that publishing these photos of a silly over-privileged young man was somehow ‘about the freedom of the press’ should re-inforce my main point. The primary freedoms most of the current press industry are ultimately interested in are the freedom to make money and the freedom to promote their owners’ interests.

That News International in particular are an organisation whose values are seriously removed from human concerns was re-inforced today by the publication of a seriously awful picture of Cheryl Cole. She had been photographed through a car windscreen bleeding from the nose after an accident. For all the photographer knew at the time this image was taken, this woman had a basal skull fracture and was minutes from death. The fact that she is well known for her celebrity career gives only public prurience rather than public interest to this photograph.

The tendency for the press to close ranks in denial at the overall damage done by a press with skewed ambitions was emphasised yesterday in the Independent editor Chris Blackhurst’s BBC Radio 4 interview on the ‘Section 13’ letter he has received from the Leveson Inquiry outlining the criticisms likely to be made. Unable to give detail due to the confidential nature of this communication, Mr Blackhurst had to accept that Leveson certainly had plenty of evidence for his ‘point by point demolition’ of press behaviour. But nonetheless he was at pains to say that these were things that his newspaper and others ‘at that end of the market’ had not done. It should of course be noted that the circulation of the Independent is currently 84,000 and that of the Sun 2.5 million, so Leveson’s focus seems understandable!

Strangely Mr Blackhurst described newspapers as ‘an adornment to society’. This seems odd, since if newspapers are only an ‘adornment’, ie: something thatincreases the beauty or distinction, etc’, their freedom to say what they like at anyone’s expense seems hardly of such importance. On the other hand, if they are to be viewed in such trivial terms, the importance of their playing their true part instead of being corporate propaganda mouthpieces can also be downplayed.

He also defended newspapers’ ‘fantastic good work’ work done by ‘no-one else’ in exposing scandals, which ignores much important work done by the more independent UK broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4. It’s also fair to say that newspapers have been fairly selective in the ‘scandals’ they have covered. News International’s coverage of the phone-hacking and related scandals has often been evident by its absence. Systemic bank and corporate failure and wrongdoing have been slow to appear in the pages of most newspapers, and are in any case usually drowned out by celebrity exposes, scare stories and misrepresentation of the role of the EU.

In a bit of ‘whataboutery’ Mr Blackhurst also attempted to tar other industries with similar misdemeanours to those of the press. This is no doubt true, but completely ignores both the point I made in my previous post about the ‘dual effect of profit-led and promotion-led dominance’ as well as the claims of exceptionalism by the press that justify purely self-regulation. Indeed, get it right with the press and we are a lot more likely to hear what other corporations are up to.

Finally, back to the Royal Family, and a quote from Amol Rajan of the Independent’s daughter tabloid, the ‘i’:

But scolding posh aristos for partaking in strip billiards is a sign of the emotional infancy of a people too cowardly to vote for their head of state.


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