Cross party agreement introduced obscure legislation to regulate the press this week.
The Royal Charter is an arcane document which comes on vellum, a fine parchment made from calf skin. Her Majesty’s most honourable privy council, an equally unaccountable and obscure bit of the state, will put it into practice.
David Cameron, the man who gave ex-News of the World newspaper editor Andy Coulson a job, will then appoint the regulator.
This absurdity was to enable all sides of the Westminster circus to claim victory. Was it law or not? It was certainly cheap political theatre.
The press and the spin doctors spent hours the next day arguing over whether Cameron was in bed or not as the deal was done.
But the consequences are real enough.
Legislation is being introduced so that newspapers will be forced to pay exemplary damages if they refuse to sign up to the regulator.
If that regulator decides they have done something wrong, they can issue fines of up to £1 million.
Libel law is already a significant way for the rich to protect themselves from scrutiny.
The charter can force publications that aren’t signed up to the regulator to pay the enormous costs even if they win a libel case. That alone could shut down the left wing press.
Other parts of how the regulation will work aren’t yet clear. But none of the proposals will make the job of uncovering scandal or holding the powerful to account any easier.
Whistle blowing will be harder, as will protecting sources. Those with wealth and influence will find getting their version of a story into the media even easier.
Cameron claimed, “What happened to the Dowlers, to the McCanns, to Christopher Jefferies and to many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight was utterly despicable.
“It is right that we put in place a new system of press regulation to ensure that such appalling acts can never happen again.”
But the new regulations would not have affected any of these cases.
The hacking scandal exposed corruption that extended well beyond the News of the World. It implicated the police and the political establishment.
But now one section, the politicians, are protecting themselves by attacking another.
It is not certain that the press will sign up to parliament’s deal.
Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry as the establishment panicked at the prospect of the phone hacking scandal bringing down
pillars of the state.
Its scope was limited because it was intended to calm things down and obscure the truth. So Leveson was charged with investigating the “culture, practice and ethics” of the media.
For all his bluster, Cameron has come out of this badly.
He claimed he was against press regulation, mostly just to keep his Murdoch paymasters happy.
But now he’s been forced to bring it in anyway. That makes him look weak.
We don’t want state-controlled media
Perhaps the most bizarre defence of press freedom was Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun newspaper.
He claimed that the Hillsborough cover-up would never have been exposed under the new regulations.
Considering The Sun’s filthy role in the Hillsborough tragedy that is the height of hypocrisy.
The jackals of the corporate media are happy to peddle the lies and distortions of the establishment. Their interest is only in defending their class.
Socialist Worker has no time for that sort of bluster. But we are against the new regulator.
Today the press is controlled by billionaire oligarchs and offshore trusts who use their vast wealth to buy influence over the police and politicians.
Senior journalists, police, and politicians rotate on a rotten merry-go-round.
They use their positions to fight for, and grant access, to jobs and information.
But the new regulation of the press will make it harder, not easier, to expose them.
Socialist Worker is against press regulation, not because we believe in the right of powerful media groups to act in any way they see fit.
Rather we believe that the state should not be in control of the press.
The scandals have revealed the cosy and corrupt relationship between the media, politicians and the cops.
We need to confront the real power relations in our society. That is an argument for making those relationships weaker, not stronger.