Letter from the Editor: The press controls are flawed, but where is the alternative?

 

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Has there ever been a more cack-handed attempt at creating a new regulatory framework? What does it say about our political leaders that they think it fine to do such complex stuff in the dead of night, with pro-reform campaigners in attendance and no one to present a counter-argument?

All that has been achieved by the mess that is tighter press regulation is to provide ammunition to those who are resistant to change at any price. The way their faces changed must have been a joy to behold, as they first contemplated the detail of the new system, and then discovered how it was concocted by the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour, with Hacked Off zealots looking on.

Suddenly, they had their "in", and ever since we've been subjected to a firestorm of opposition, much of it hysterical. Throw in the fact that it remains unclear how some of the plans will work in practice and the recipe for chaos is set.

I approach the conundrum of additional press control from not desiring any at all. Already, we have libel and other laws that restrict our journalistic freedom to operate. Why add to them?

We also have a self-regulatory system that deals with thousands of complaints a year, most of them to the satisfaction of the reader (that does not mean the complainant always wins, rather that they have no grievance concerning their treatment). Again, why alter it?

The answer is because the existing structure has been unable to curb egregious practices. (I don't just mean phone hacking – one of the regrets of this entire debate is that the accessing of voicemails has overshadowed everything, when it's illegal and is, finally, being pursued by the police.) Because the current Press Complaints Commission has been found wanting. Because the standing of our trade has plummeted. Because the public mood demands better.

It strikes me that either we, as journalists, accept the need for reform or we don't. If we don't, we should be prepared to defy consistent opinion poll findings, the recommendations of a judicial inquiry, and the wishes of the three main political parties.

So far I've not heard or seen anything that convinces me that malpractice can be reduced, and our reputation improved, by doing nothing. It simply is not an option.

Having been forced to accept that we can't continue the way we are, what shape should the new system take, what strictures need to be applied? The issue has been chewed over remorselessly – in the Leveson Inquiry, at Westminster, in the pages of newspapers, and in meeting rooms and discussion groups up and down the land.

The result was the agreement we've now been presented with. In several respects it's flawed, and it may prove to be unworkable. But is there an alternative? Do those screaming critics have a suggestion that is acceptable to the public majority? I'd love them to come up with one.

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