The government decisions to ditch the resumption of the Leveson Inquiry, and to repeal the unused law to encourage the media to go to arbitration to settle complaints, are no surprise, but they are based on lies.
Culture secretary Matt Hancock said that he took the measures to protect press freedom, on the grounds that both further investigation by Leveson, and the new law — section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act –would damage the press and speed the demise of the newspaper industry.
It is not press freedom the government is protecting but the press owners — the companies responsible for
- the phone-hacking and bribery laid bare by the first stage of Leveson, for
- the prejudice and hatred aimed at anyone – racial, sexual or political groups – they don’t like
- and the decline of the local press as they slash their workforces and their coverage to preserve their profits
The section 40 law was passed by the Tory-led government in 2013 to guarantee cheap and easy access, through an arbitration process, to people seeking redress for unfair reporting without going to court. It posed no threat at all to responsible journalists who are prepared to treat their readers fairly.
The law was intended to encourage publishers to sign up with a regulator that complied with Leveson’s recommendations, notably that there be such an arbitration system. There is only one such regulator so far, called IMPRESS, and not a single national paper has joined it.
Instead nearly all of them, together with what’s left of the local press owned by the big corporate media groups, are members of IPSO, a sham regulator they set up themselves.
Hancock said IPSO was offering arbitration itself but that is not true. After four years of resisting it did launch a scheme last year but, among many other flaws, it is a voluntary scheme that publishers do not have to join, and can decline to co-operate in individual cases even if they do. That is not justice, not does it comply with Leveson. It has never had a single case!
The government has made it clearer than ever that in all the turmoil surrounding the future of the media it is backing the old Big Media corporations that got them into trouble in the first place.
As last week’s baseless attacks on Jeremy Corbyn showed, the wealthy corporate right-wing press are moving further and further away from popular opinion, while new small media struggle to offer a better service to the public. The government has declared it stands firmly with the old press barons and that is bad news for everyone.