Hacked Off: The lobby group that appeared from nowhere - and assumed the moral high ground
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Tuesday 12 February 2013
The Hacked Off campaigners are not shy about proclaiming what they have achieved, and what work they still see ahead of them. In an almost evangelical tone, they claim that their high-profile lobbying helped force David Cameron into setting up the Leveson Inquiry, and that victims of press abuse were able to tell their story with Hacked Off’s help.
Founded by Professor Brian Cathcart, head of journalism at Kingston University and a former deputy editor of The Independent on Sunday, and Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust, the think tank which says it helps to foster high media standards “on behalf of the public”, Hacked Off has morphed into the organisation Downing Street fears it cannot ignore as it attempts to step quietly backwards into the long grass of press regulation.
The pressure group was initially backed by actor Hugh Grant, who last week gave it all of the substantial damages he received from the News International. Other funding came from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a series of anonymous donors. Although that anonymity somewhat weakens its democratic credentials, Hacked Off don’t see its quest that way. A better press for the group is an accountable, answerable press.
Its strategy is a hybrid attack on leaving things as they are, and claiming that the Leveson report is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the British media”. This has led to Hacked Off demonstrating outside No 10 – and finding itself being consulted inside.
Having gathered an 180,000-signature petition demanding a new press watchdog with sharpened legal teeth, delivered by the victims of Fleet Street’s worst excesses, the group believes it has the right to shout over the post-Leveson silence from No 10. Pressure brought by Hacked Off certainly helped to push the Prime Minister into a corner. Fleet Street’s ability to locate a long-lost contritional reflex was also pushed along by their self-proclaimed “Campaign for a Free and Accountable Press”.
Well-funded and dogged, Hacked Off regards itself as the voice of the past, present and potentially future victims of press abuse. Victims such as Kate and Gerry McCann, Christopher Jeffries and the parents of Milly Dowler are living reminders of past errors and the need for a future underpinned by regulation.
Most of all, Hacked Off trusts no one – least of all Mr Cameron and newspapers owners – to deliver the recommendations contained in the Leveson report.
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