These letters are published in the Tuesday 19 March 2013 edition of The Independent
Press freedom does not belong to the press, to use and abuse with impunity, and a press out of control is not the same thing as a free press. We need a system of press regulation that makes owners, editors and journalists accountable to their readers, and that is enforceable against owners, editors and journalists by those that they hurt.
To be independent and effective, the system of regulation must be supported by legislation, as proposed by Lord Justice Leveson.
When I skimmed the Leveson and McCluskey reports my mind turned to Juvenal’s iconic question: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Independence from the state is essential for a free press and if an administration can hold journalism to account, then who is left to hold that administration to account?
An unholy alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems and the unelected agitators of Hacked Off claim they seek press “accountability”. They believe there is a yawning gap between the public interest and what interests the public, and demand the power to determine the former and suppress the latter.
The essence of a free press is the ability to publish what powerful people with stuff to hide do not want exposed, and these proposals will end up safeguarding evil.
The funny thing is that the same right-wing tabloids that are now resisting regulation have been all too willing to throw other people’s civil liberties to the wind when the state or police have wanted to encroach on them. As I recall their consistent argument was, “If you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve nothing to fear... Only potential criminals oppose these powers.”
Laws are made so that “thou shalt do no harm”, the principles of ethics so that “thou shalt look out for others”. We need an ethical press, not a money-grabbing but law-abiding press. It is the ethos of those who publish that needs to change.
The EU’s great Cyprus bank robbery
If I keep £1,000 under my mattress, money worked for and saved, and on which all appropriate taxes have been paid, then that money belongs to me. If a government representative came into my house and decided to unilaterally remove £67, then all right-thinking people would consider that unacceptable, and effectively state theft.
If I chose to deposit that £1,000 in a bank account instead, then that money still belongs to me, absolutely. For a government unilaterally to withdraw money from the account is ethically identical to raiding my house against my wishes.
It seems a Kafkaesque situation that bureaucrats from outside Cyprus could even contemplate trying to impose such an action.
Following news of the EU’s proposed smash-and-grab of savings deposits in Cyprus, I am wondering whether I should attempt to insure against the possibility of this happening here. The launch of a new type of policy – EU Bank Account Theft Insurance – could provide a lucrative new revenue stream for our banks to replace the funds they are losing as they repay borrowers who took out payment protection insurance. And so it goes.
What we expect of Pope Francis
Like most Catholics I am pleased that our new pope has announced a policy to focus on the poor. It is much needed. However there is one policy that it seems will remain unchanged, which is the religious ban on contraception.
We in the west happily ignore the church’s teaching as irrelevant and not a fundamental part of Christ’s teaching. However, those in the developing world do not see it this way, and as a result have large families that they can ill afford to keep and are responsible for keeping them in poverty.
If there is one easy and significant step that he could take that would have real economic results, it would be to revise the Catholic teaching on contraceptives, and let women , and men, control the size of their families.
It seems that St Francis of Assisi was the inspiration for the new pope’s choice of name. Given Pope Francis’s reputed espousal of humility and simplicity, it would be entirely fitting for him to choose the name of a devout Catholic deacon, who declined to become a priest because he doubted his worthiness of that office.
However, the fact that the name is shared by St Francis Xavier, a notable missionary and the patron saint of evangelisation, may also have won him some friends in high places.
Interestingly, his third namesake, St Francis de Sales, is a patron of communications and the media. After recent public scandals involving the Church’s hierarchy, Pope Francis may well find himself looking to this saint’s example as much as anyone else’s – except, we hope, that of Christ Himself.
What an excellent week for the media, covering the election of the new pope. How photographically spectacular was the pomp, ceremony and centuries-old tradition associated with the formation of the conclave, the election process and finally the presentation of Pope Francis.
And now let us count the days until the same media start their criticism of an outmoded church and its reliance on pomp, ceremony and centuries-old tradition.
Apologia for apostrophes
The media have carried the story that Mid Devon, my local authority, plans to abolish apostrophes from its documents and street signs, a barbarian idea. As the authority can prosecute for illegal advertising, illegal fly-tipping and for pollution offences in general, could Parliament not pass a law against linguistic pollution?
We have a pub locally which has a sign saying: “Youv’e just passed The Fishermans Cott”. That could be £100 for misusing an apostrophe and another £100 for omission. Every public figure who says “up and down the country” or “at this moment in time” could face an on-the-spot fine of £50 in the first instance, doubling thereafter. Broadcasters who muddle “testament” with “testimony” might get away with a caution, provided they attended remedial classes.
A full code of offences and its enforcement could lead to a rapid solution to the public debt crisis.
T H C Noon
Well never be well and Ill be ill if the apostrophe is abolished.
The dire state of Iraq today
While the row over the alleged manipulation of intelligence by politicians ahead of the invasion of Iraq shows no sign of abating (“West ‘ignored evidence from senior Iraqis’ that WMDs did not exist”, 18 March), the human rights legacy is relatively clear.
It is dire. Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule is long gone, but Iraq remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including relentless attacks on civilians, the near-systematic torture of detainees followed by unfair trials, and widespread use of the death penalty.
The thousands of victims of injustice in Iraq in the past decade include Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 70-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national serving a 15-year jail sentence after a deeply unfair trial. His conviction rests partly on a “confession” allegedly tortured out of him, including with electric shocks to his genitals. Readers can support the campaign for justice for Mr Ahmed at: www.amnesty. org.uk/ramze.
WMDs didn’t exist back in 2003, and for the most part the human rights gains promised the Iraqi people after Saddam’s removal have also failed to materialise.
Director, Amnesty International UK
One Attlee was enough
“We need a new Attlee” (Letters, 18 March)? Like a hole in the head.
Throughout the countdown to war, Labour under Attlee howled down every move to rearm against Germany as “Tory armaments”. Then, to win the 1945 election, Attlee’s Labour propaganda damned Conservatives as the “guilty men” who had plunged Britain into war.
Attlee’s policy of scuttle in India precipitated over 2 million Hindu and Muslim deaths in mutual slaughter. And he imposed peacetime bread rationing on a Britain which had never known it during the war.
On second thoughts, just the man for the debased politics of 21st-century Britain.
Theories about the universe
Can I be allowed to do some Bible thumping on Colin Jones (Letter: “Higgs and God”, 16 March)? If, as I believe, the Lord read Colin’s letter, He, no doubt, would have had a bit of a giggle.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians (ch 1, v 16,17) we read about Christ: “All things were created by Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Science and religion have everything to do with each other.
It would seem from Jane Gregory’s letter (18 March) that Waitrose’s marketing department is unaware of the “Real Easter Eggs” being sold this year in their stores and in many other leading supermarkets. These Fairtrade chocolate eggs explain the Easter story on the box and contain a colourful poster, “The real meaning of Easter,” recounting the events of Holy Week and Easter. Perhaps Jane Gregory could buy one and send it to Waitrose’s marketing director.
David Crawford (letter, 18 March) quite rightly points out that Argentina should acknowledge the rights of the Falkland Islanders and the Mapuche to self-determination. The problem is that we British are not in a position to criticise. We are still preventing the indigenous population of the Chagos Islands from returning to their homeland.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire