Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My best pal is a journalist. I have accepted the less than occasional drink from journalists and even reciprocated when it was my round. Scottish Labour Action, an organisation of impeccable motive, prospered for many years on the basis of "off the record" briefings to journalists and, if we could plant a story with a tabloid, so much the better, as a lot more people would read it.

Politics and journalism are natural bedfellows. What has happened this week has got (expletive deleted) all to do with that.

If the Sunday Times tried to find out, by dubious means, if Gordon Brown had been allowed to purchase a house at a knock down price in the hope of future personal financial favours, that is legitimate investigative journalism. It wasn't true and they didn't publish. But if it had been true, then peripheral "law breaking" to establish the truth would have been of no interest to anyone; as indeed it was when the Parliamentary expenses scandal was exposed by the Telegraph on the basis of "stolen" data. At no point did Woodward and Bernstein pause to consider whether they were breaking the US equivalent of the Official Secrets Act, nor would we, any of us, have expected them to do.

And if some b list celebrity wants to hold themselves out as a model of marital fidelity to improve the value of their supermarket appearances while actually shagging anything in sight, then Hell mend them. Exposing them might not be my chosen occupation but it has a legitimate role, not least in defence of those genuinely entitled to the financial bonus of true moral virtue. And if the exposure sells newspapers, no harm to those who invested the time to seek it out. That's capitalism.

Everybody (and excepting Lord Ashcroft and and a handful of writers (I don't give them the distinction of "journalists")) understands the difference between that and what has caused so much genuine outrage in the last fortnight.

Some people can't help  becoming involved in the news. They didn't seek it and they almost certainly wouldn't have wanted it. But, such is the prurient interest of the public they are newsworthy nonetheless. Proper regulation of the press would have accepted that premise but, and I'm sorry to resort to cliche, distinguished between what interests the public and what is genuinely in the public interest.  It didn't,  but it failed to do so in the most cynical ways. It created an Editor's Code of Conduct which was beyond reproach but it then appointed (and well remunerated) guardians of that code who were, as the great V.I. Lenin put it, useful idiots: at worst because they feared losing that remuneration or, at worse still, because they were, actually and truly, just idiots.

But what of the politicians, charged with defending the public interest? Well they failed to act, not for support for these appaling activities but in the belief, at best, that they could trade the interests of the innocent for political support or, worse still, that if other innocent victims could be found, then they were less likely to become victims themselves. Innocent or otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with self regulation of professions, but professions have standards of entry and procedures by which those, once admitted, can nonetheless be expelled. That Clive Goodman, having served a prison sentence for illegal news gathering on one tabloid, was then employed on his release by a different tabloid is simply inconceivable to anyone with experience of other models of professional regulation. If I did that with a bent lawyer, I'd be struck off before you could say Andy Hayman.

So here's my suggestion for the regulation of the Press. It was my proposal when I sought inclusion on the Labour Party's panel of candidates in 1998 and it remains my solution today. We let the Press regulate themselves. BUT if a complaint is made to the PCC and rejected there is an appeal to the Courts. All however they can do is declare that the PCC has failed to apply its own rules (and award expenses). That's all; nothing else; just put it on the record. I fail to see how that would be an intrusion on press freedom; it only involves an objective commentary on the rules the press set for themselves. Indeed , if the PCC was actually applying these rules (Ho, ho, ho) it could have anything to fear from such an external monitor. Even the useful idiots.

That's it. Off to bed (with my wife).

Sorry, nearly forgot. In the midst of all these resignations and demanded resignations, why is Baroness Buscombe still in office?

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