Well, it was only a matter of time.
The tedious, long-running, press-bashing, minor-celeb tufty hunt that is the Leveson Inquiry has finally wrought a backlash.
And leading the charge are the lefty-libertarians at spiked, which has launched The Counter-Leveson Inquiry.
In his article announcing the launch, spiked editor (and Telegraph blogger) Brendan O’Neill notes that ones re-opening the inquiry on Monday, Lord Leveson mention he found ‘publicly expressed concerns’ about the inquiry ‘troubling’.
The most remarkable thing about Leveson’s admission to feeling troubled by public criticisms is that, sadly, there has been very little public criticism of his showtrial of the tabloids. You could count on one hand, or at a stretch two hands, the number of journalists and politicians who have dared to question the right of one judge to marshal celebrities and coppers to the cause of redefining the ethics of the press.
Quite so. There has been the usual drooling over the attacks on the Murdoch tabloids by the more totalitarian-inclined of our “liberal” lickspittle media – The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC etc – but the rest of the mainstream media has generally cowered in the corner, with only the Mail‘s Paul Dacre putting up any semblance of a fight in what is really a kangaroo court.
And it is a kangaroo court. Witnesses line up and grab their allotted 15 minutes of fame – or, the case of faded celebrities and failed politicians, to grab another 15 minutes of celebrity – making whatever allegations fits their agenda of vengeance, outrage, paranoia and shamelessness. There is no forensic cross-examination of these allegations such as would occur in a court of law, either criminal, where the criteria is beyond reasonable count, or civil, where the criteria is the balance of probabilities.
Instead, they are met with gentle questions eliciting their feelings, impressions and thoughts more appropriate for a student counselling session than a formal, quasi-judicial inquiry. For many of the witnesses, this is true nirvana: not only do have a spotlight of a softer, more flattering hue cast upon them, they get a free ego-massage thrown in too.
One troubling aspect of the Levenson inquiry that O’Neill doesn’t comment on in his article – strangely, since it’s one of his hobby-horses – is that by almost solely attacking the tabloids, this is really just another extended prole-bash. The tabloids cater for a sizeable readership who loves celeb gossip; some of the tabs catered to this demand by nefarious means, by illicit phone-hacking or paying cops for tip-offs of celeb shenanigans etc. Of that there’s no doubt.
But hang on: during the Leveson recess, we had the unedifying sight of the usual suspects – the aforementioned Guardian, Independent, BBC etc – drooling over “hacked” documents “proving” that the right-wing US Heartland Institute, which takes a robust anti-man-made global warming line, along with many other activities, was plotting to use the untold millions it gets from Big Oil to foil pro-climate changee scientists by “dissuading teachers from teaching science”.
The fact the central “strategy” document was a crudely cobbled-together fake and that the genuine documents – which were blandly routine meeting reports that hardly showed Heartland wallowing around in Big Oil bucks like Scrooge McDuck – had been obtained by fraud by pro-climate change activist, Peter Gleick, who has since confessed to the phishing, though not to the faking.
That they had tacitly supported and thereby endorsed illegal activities because it suited their news agenda in this instance did not seem to faze then usual suspects. Indeed, the Guardian even ran an extraordinary piece by The Ethics of Climate Change author James Garvey in which he said:
Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland’s money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he’s undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.
So: the ends justifies the means, eh? But only if it’s the Guardian’s ends, it would seem. It certainly doesn’t apply to those filthy red-tops’ ends. Some may call that moral relativism. I call it rank hypocrisy.
But don’t expect such high-minded shenanigans to get even a mention at Leveson. It’s the tabloids which are in the firing line, and while it’s them, the usual suspects will happily cheer the inquiry on.
But O’Neill is surely right to note that whether they are active cheerleaders or cowering curs, mainstream journalists are oblivious to the bonfire which is being built under their feet:
It is alarming that, in a country where the poet John Milton demanded freedom of the press more than 350 years ago, and where many other writers and activists subsequently fought tooth-and-catapult to expel state forces from the worlds of writing and publishing, so many should now acquiesce to an inquiry which gives a judge and his chums the power to tell the media what its morals should be.
O’Neill ends his call to arms with another fiery quote from Milton which I urge you to check out for yourself. Because whatever you might think of their views on other topics (which I myself have a love/hate relationship with), on this issue, the spiked gang is definitely on the side of the angels.
So, Jeremy Clarkson and his merry pranksters from Top Gear are in the soup again, this time over the programme’s”India Special” broadcast twice over the Christmas break.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Indian High Commission is demanding an apology from the BBC over the programme, claiming Top Gear’s producer Chris Hale misled it over the eventual nature of the programme when seeking help in its making.
“The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity. This is not clearly what we expect of the BBC. I write this to convey our deep disappointment over the documentary for its content and the tone of the presentation,” the letter from some mysteriously unnamed (at least unnamed in the Telegraph’s report) “diplomat” rather pompously puts it.
On the one hand, this report can be seen as just another case of the on-going BBC-bashing by the press, of which Clarkson et al are currently the main whipping boys. Now I have nothing against BBC-bashing: it’s an entirely honourable profession. But I do think it odd that Clarkson seems to be the main target, since his programme, aimed at petrol-heads of both sexes who enjoy a dash of schoolboyish, lavatorial humour obviously strikes a chord which a large section of viewing public, both here and abroad (it’s one of the BBC’s biggest exports). I’d have thought there were other, more legitimate targets in the BBC’s often skewed output that were worthy of attention. Quite why the Telegraph, Mail, Independent, Express etc so relentlessly target an ultimately lightweight programme which tickles the funny bone of such a large proportion of their potential readership baffles me.
Perhaps the fact that he also writes for the Sunday Times and the Sun makes Clarkson such an irresistible target, combining as he does the chance of not only a spot of BBC-bashing but Murdoch-bashing as well.
The other point worth noting that if the Indian diplomats really thought that the resulting Top Gear programme would be a po-faced travelogue extolling the beauty of the Indian scenery, friendliness of its people and the stupendous fabulousness of its automative industry, they betray a naivety and an ignorance that makes you wonder how they ever managed to pass the Indian civil service exams to become diplomats in the first place. Surely they must have seen the programme before? And surely that would have given them some clue as to what the likely result would be?
That naivety and ignorance is betrayed by the comments of one – again, curiously unnamed – diplomat to the Telegraph:
“We understand the free press – they are welcome to explain and to challenge as long as it is fair and above the belt. Can this pass as acceptable journalism?”
No sir/madam: you obviously do not understand the free press if that is what you believe. In countries where there is freedom of the press, media outlets may posit themselves as being “fair and above the belt” for whatever reason: a sense of smug superiority and higher purpose, perhaps, or simply because they believe that such a position gives them a commercial advantage over more blatently biased competitors.
But there is nothing explicit or implicit in the concept of “a free press” that makes being “fair and above the belt” mandatory.
The Times’ columnist Bernard Levin put it best in 1980, responding to the Master of the Rolls Lord Denning’s comment that “a free press must be a responsible press”.
Summoning his most orotund, magisterial manner, the man who often put the thunder into “The Thunderer” proclaimed:
It cannot be emphasised too strongly nor indeed put too extravagantly, that the press has no duty to be responsible at all, and it will be an ill day for freedom if it should ever acquire one. The press is not the Fourth Estate; it is not part of the constitutional structure of the country; it is not, and must never be, governed by any externally imposed rules other than the law of the land.
Tim Worstall makes a similar point:
…freedom of the press does indeed allow you to use fairness and above the beltness as a positioning exercise, sure, but it doesn’t in fact require you to do so. Which is rather the point of that “free” bit in there, d’ye see?
Indeed. We may humour ourselves that the best press is one that is fair, above the belt, temperate, reasonable, balanced, responsible etc – and of course, the media outlet we currently work for is all of these things, while its competitors are hopelessly skewed by hidden agenda and almost criminal bias – but they are not mandatory attributes of a free press.
Levin goes even further to question whether they are even desirable attributes:
…we [the press and media] are, and must remain, vagabonds and outlaws, for only by so remaining shall we be able to keep the faith by which we live, which is the pursuit of knowledge that others would like unpursued, and the making of comment that others would prefer unmade.
Stanley Baldwin’s famous dictum about the press barons – “power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot” – is a good soundbite on the desirable attributes of power, but has nothing to do with the desirable nature of a free press.
Many of us know from first-hand the gradual physical and mental break down that occurs with the advancement of years.
It has probably occurred among your own loved ones – the grandmother who remembers clearly what happened thirty years ago, but can’t recall the cup of tea you just made for her five minutes ago; the affable, twinkly-eyed , grey-haired former local Labour MP uncle who still maintains Socialism is the only way forward, as though 1989 never happened; the slightly dotty auntie who had a neighbour’s spaniel put down twenty years ago because of its barking, and can still regale you with every detail of what a struggle that was. Every family has them.
Still, that is a family matter. Such matters are tragi-comic. With the outward manifestations you would often be unhuman not to laugh at, in the same way you couldn’t help laughing at a man slipping on a banana skin (which I have actually seen, and laughed at).
But natural sympathy makes it equally inhuman not to feel sad that someone we had known as a full, well-rounded human had somehow been diminished, the wisdom of their experience slowly and cruelly being chipped away by the decrepitude of advancing age.
Well, it’s one thing to experience this within the personal sphere of a family. It is quite another to have it broadcast for all to see. Which is what we are now seeing.
Think: a beloved grandparent who taught the value of thrift, value for money and living within your means is publicly shown running off to a supermarket where they spend up large on over-priced goods whose benefits are purely in the minds, and – ultimately – pockets, of a taxpayer-subsidised company.
Think: a beloved grandparent who you thought was an intelligent, thinking and believing member of one of the recognised forms of belief – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Atheisim etc – is shown to be really none of these, but a member of a weird cult of Scientism, who worship forms of computer models, believing these replace the human experiences of seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling.
Think: a grandparent who once dandled you on his knee now broadcasts throughout the world that, really, you should not exist. Neither, really, should any of your siblings, mates or really any one else other than those whom your grandparent and like-minded friends decree. Oh, and you should not have any off-spring either.
Old-age decrepitude is, as I say, both a sad and funny thing. But it is a family one. Which is why I make the following point:
BBC: Please stop making such cruel fun of David Attenborough by putting him on TV so much. It’s a family matter.
The Leveson hearing continues to Bore On for Britain, with live coverage on both BBC News 24 and Sky News, for heaven’s sake. As if anyone apart from Guido Fawkes and the usual politico-journo junkie suspects are really interested in watching minute-by-minute coverage from that sweaty oak-panelled room in the Royal Courts of Justice, where the testimony can hardly be heard above the ticking of the lawyers’ taximeters.
I’ve taken up watching Russia Today and Al-Jazeera to get my afternoon’s news fix. At least you get an idea that something important is happening outside in the real world.
It’s not as though we haven’t been here before. Whatever Leveson decides, we know what’s going to happen. Indeed, I’ve tried to interest Laurence Rees in a blockbuster TV series, tentatively titled The Calcutt Committee: A Lesson From History, but so far he’s not answered a single one of my emails. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t bring Nazis into it in a meaningful way.
Still, it’s good to see Fleet Street’s Finest have got their heads down and are still digging up the Stories That Really Matter:
Full story here.
And this time it’s about something more important than sleb’ lives being made uncomfortable and/or having their peccadilloes highlighted by phone hacking and the paps.
It’s about the Beeb’s wilful connivance with what may well prove the biggest, most costly, scam of this or any past century.
From the dogged Christopher Booker comes this report from Nigel Lawson’s/Benny Peiser’s Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is -in the finest and most honourable tradition of polemical journalism – a j’accuse, and it is aimed firmly at the heart of the BBC.
It is, I think, important: it’s about how the BBC – second perhaps only to the NHS as the country’s most beloved taxpayer-funded institution – lied, dissembled and distorted to push a political line contrary to explicit instructions in its much-trumpeted Royal Charter.
It deserves wide distribution. You can download it from here:
Read it and weep. And then go and pay your inflated winter energy bills – inflated partly because the BBC relentlessly pushed this line.
And then ponder deeply about the licence fee you stump up for annually.
Excellent comment from Fleet Street Blues about how David Leigh, investigations editor of The Guardian, is now in the frame for his self-admitted hacking into a phone. Oh, says the Guardian, between mouthfuls of humble pie, it wasn’t for “tittle-tattle”. It was for “investigating corruption and bribery”. Fair enough. Still illegal, though. Tittle-tattle, corruption- and bribery-busting, intellectual-profiles: if the means by which you gather these things are illegal, sorry, you’re nicked my beauty. What is it about the word “illegal” you up-yourself ponces do not understand?
As FSB said way back when this whole scandal first broke, journos have long used illegal, immoral and sometimes criminally dangerous ways to get stories. Yes…and? If they got away with it, well, they got a front page splash, maybe a promotion or a bonus and a round of drinks in the pub. If they got caught, they got hauled up before the beak fined or, rarely but occasionally, chucked in the nick, and when got out, a round of drinks in the pub.
Let’s not forget what has been behind the holier-than-thou stance of the Guardian and the BBC on this matter: the chance for a good round of Murdoch-whacking.
The Guardian has been caught out with its hypocritical knickers down with Leigh (I see Guido has another pop today), and I suspect there may be others to scurry blinkingly out into the limelight from Rusbridger Cathedral.
Then there is the BBC. Is it whiter than white? I suspect not, but I do not know. What I do suspect is that if someone manages to lift Auntie’s skirt, there will probably be an almighty stink, most probably from the direction of Panorama. I thought it odd of the Beeb to have Peston covering this whole affair. I mean, the Business Editor? Strange call: the US and EU economies are going to hell in a handcart, but never mind that, you haul in your Business Editor to cover a story about media phone hacking.
What’s that all about?
It is of course dreadful news about the 17-year-old British schoolboy Horatio Chapple and his terrible, fatal mauling by a polar bear while on a British Schools Exploring Society trip to a Norwegian island. It would be bad taste to say that Norway is probably not the safest place for 17-year-olds to have been hanging about at the moment for all sorts of reasons, so I won’t say it.
Of course, anyone with any sense knows that polar bears are among the most vicious animals on God’s earth, and one shouldn’t go anywhere near them if one could possibly help it. Well, anyone would know that apart from the ecoloons of deranged multi-million dollar “charities” such as Greedpeace or the World Wildlife Fraud or whatever, who for some years having been feeding false propaganda to our newspaper “environmental” churnalists (Hi Louise! Hi George!) and into our schools that polar bears are drowning or otherwise being frazzled to death by “man-made global warming” or some such nonsense. In fact the polar bear population is increasing, and has been for some time. But that, of course, doesn’t make them any cuddlier.
What struck me was the young schoolboy’s name: Horatio. Some centuries ago, a young Horatio also tackled a polar bear, coincidentally enough off the coast of Norway:
He was, I think, about 15 or 16 at the time. So despite the tragedy attached to young Chapple, it doesn’t seem to me that school trips to polar regions should be curtailed, despite what the mewling, puking babes of the BBC baby farm…sorry, I mean BBC News, may demand. Seems to me it may lead on to glorious things. Just be aware that polar bear numbers are growing, and they’re not cuddly. Oh, and it would probably be a good idea to arm the school trips with rifles, too, a la the young Horatio Nelson above…especially if they’re going to Norway.