Socialist Worker

Press regulation would only protect rich and powerful

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2604

News of the World shut down because of the scandal

News of the World shut down because of the scandal (Pic: Raver_Mikey on Flickr)

The Tories and press barons got their way last week. The Data Protection Bill had some Labour amendments that the Tories defeated with the DUP’s help.

Mostly that was good, though the Tory reasons for doing it were awful.

People with power like to protect their information. Sometimes that is gossip about their lives, but more often it is information about where they get their money and what they do with it. The rich use libel laws as one way to do this.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson tabled an amendment. It would have forced newspapers to pay all legal costs in libel cases brought against them— regardless of the outcome—unless they joined a state-sanctioned regulator.

It is a dreadful idea that has been doing the rounds for a few years and could see a single libel case close Socialist Worker—even if we won.

Watson didn’t push the amendment to a vote after it became clear it would lose.

That is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean backing the corporate media.

They have their pet watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation.Nonetheless the solution is not tougher press regulation.

Labour did push the other amendment to a vote. This was an attempt to secure support for a second Leveson inquiry into press standards.

So perhaps it is worth a Leveson recap. In 2011 there was uproar over revelations that the Murdoch-owned News of the World newspaper had hacked the voicemail messages of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

At the same time Murdoch—and other media groups—used newspapers as a blackmail tool. And, because of their perceived influence over voters, press barons used newspapers as leverage over politicians.

The hacking of phones was known about. The blagging of identities was not just standard practice—it was actively encouraged.

It guaranteed a steady income stream for police officers. Former cops and spooks spied with impunity.

The lives of others: the hacking trial and the establishments corruption
The lives of others: the hacking trial and the establishment's corruption
  Read More

As the hacking scandal developed, different parts of the establishment turned on each other—a little. David Cameron and Ed Miliband found themselves both attacking Murdoch and courting him in turn.

Cameron retired to spend more time with his money. But Miliband popped up last week to make a speech for the other Labour amendment.

The long diversion that was the first Leveson inquiry brought little clarity.

Most people thought it would look at phone hacking and bribes to the cops. It didn’t. That was left to a second inquiry after noise about press standards. That had already been ruled out before last week.

Getting to the truth about how the press, politicians and cops both squabble and feed off each other was not on the table. Labour’s amendment was actually for an inquiry into data protection misuse.

That is sometimes important. The construction bosses’ blacklisting files were seized because of a break in data protection law.

It is also a new favoured battleground for corporations. They hold enormous information on you, but it is remarkably difficult to get information about them.

There is also a group of rich people who see press regulation as central to their protection.

Billionaires’ money has helped. And some famous people promised to fight, then settled for the Murdoch shilling.

But Labour is as mistaken to court that group as it is to court Murdoch.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.