There is only one thing worse than gutter journalism, and that is gutter politics. The British Government has decided that it knows better what people should or shouldn’t read in their newspapers or on the internet and thus becomes the first European government to endorse a system of full blown censorship.
Note: read Richard’s latest articles, “So what did you do in the Argentine Dirty War, Pope Francis?” and “Nazi-type eugenics introduced in the UK as ‘health service’ consigns patients – even babies – to death row”
In part, this is a fall-out from the massive phone-hacking scandal which wracked Rupert Murdoch’s press empire in the UK, provoked the closure of his flagship red top called The News of the World and continues to take a heavy toll among the scribblers of what used to be called Fleet Street.
The other side of the coin is effectively shutting down the Net by imposing penurious penalties on bloggers and web sites that refuse to co-operate with the new word order.
The accounts for the miraculous silence of all but one of the major dailies published in London. With the sole exception of the Daily Mail, buttoned lips are the order of the day. The daily rags cannot believe their luck: their chief enemy leeching readers and influence either takes the proffered keep-out-of-jail co-operation card or face enormous fines.
David Cameron is not a man of exemplary judgment. He is a perfect example of dog-and-bone politics. Once he gets hold of something, he refuses to let go, even though a modicum of common sense would tell him to drop it.
Thus at the height of the phone-hacking of well-known celebrities, he was still exchanging fraternal greetings with the former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brookes. She and her husband, Charlie Brookes, a wealthy stud trainer, have both been charged in connection with the affair.
As it happens, the pair belong to an exceptionally privileged country mansion set roosting in the PM’s charming Oxfordshire constituency, and unsurprisingly that has been quite sufficient to get the tongues wagging, particularly as some of the e – mails which Cameron sent to La Brookes from Downing Street were, insiders insist, ‘rather salacious.’
To spice matters further, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elizabeth, is another prominent member of the same exclusive country club and horsey circuit. Quintessentially English.
The prime minister thus has a direct – not to say rather compromised – interest in regulation of the press.
But the real seat of the forthcoming gagging of the media – which also targets, Chinese style, the content of foreign-registered blogs – dates to Murdoch’s attempt to grab full control of the B-Sky-B satellite platform. The greedy Aussie already owned a slice and wanted to bag the lot, which raised serious monopoly issues.
Cameron’s response was to openly back the Murdoch bid instead of sagely taking a back seat and allowing the monopoly commissioners to come up with a binding judgment. A neat demonstration of fingerprint-free politics. Not a bit of it. Cameron went to the wicket for the Murdoch team. Hence some of those gooey e-mails exchanged with the flame-haired Brookes, head girl at News International.
Now the nitty gritty.
The ruling Coalition – supported by the purely token ‘socialist’ opposition – has backed away from parliamentary legislation for the quite obvious reason that a press law might not escape a serious mauling – not to say defeat – in the awkwardly independent-minded and invariably cussed House of Lords.
So, using the ancient legislative device of retrieving a Royal Charter from mothballs of centuries, the government will create a complex system of media regulation to which the print media, broadcasters and ‘relevant publishers’ (that means the Net and blogs in particular) will ‘voluntarily submit’.
Both houses of parliament will not be asked to vote on the substance, simply to ‘take note’ of the existence of the Charter.
This is like offering the condemned man in front of the firing squad a see-through blindfold. Here’s what happens if the above organs refuse to co-operate.’
‘No newspaper or blogger would be forced to join the regulator, the Royal Charter system is a system of incentivisation.
However, those ‘relevant publishers’ that choose not to join the regulator would be subject to costs and could be subject to exemplary damages if taken to court. ‘Relevant publishers’ are specifically defined and could include blog sites that are written by multiple authors, have editorial control and are published in the course of business.’
That’s quite some ‘incentivisation’, wouldn’t you agree?
Whether this obvious stitch-up would survive a test case at the European Commission of Human Rights is another matter. Frankly, I think not. Is it any co-incidence therefore that the government recently declared its intention to take the UK out of the commission, patently before a test case lands in front of those famously feisty foreign judges.
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