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David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Tory ministers should be ashamed of strangling a free press


The United Kingdom, which led the way in establishing a free press as the central component of a robust democracy, is now slowly but surely choking it.

Karen Bradley, Theresa May’s so far colourless cypher who is now apparently in charge of the Department of Culture, is a prime cause.

Brexit, we are repeatedly told by the Government, means Brexit. So, similarly, should any regime of press regulation mean the vigorous, no-compromise upholding of a free press. Some Tories get it, but an awful lot of them seemingly do not.

The Leveson Inquiry into newspaper conduct – set up by David Cameron to please Nick Clegg – predictably turned into a multi-million pound witch-hunt against capitalism and populism.

The BBC set the framework for these ominous developments towards intolerance when the Trustees adopted from 2008 the doctrine of ‘due impartiality’. This severely diminished in national debate the role of ‘extremists’ – in effect, all those they regarded as right-wing  or ‘populist’ commentators such as so-called climate ‘deniers’, those who wanted to leave the EU, and opponents of mass immigration.

Then came the group Hacked Off!, led by figures such as Hugh Grant and Max Mosley and driven by a revenge agenda aimed mainly at the Murdoch empire and the Daily Mail.

Gunpowder was added to the mix by the adoption by the establishment, including David Cameron and much of the Conservative Party, of many of the tenets of the EU-related human rights creed, which is underpinned by Marxist dogma.

This has now put on the statute book ‘hate crimes’ on a gargantuan scale and has thus helped cast in legislative stone social divisions and acrimony where before – in the United Kingdom especially – there was a deep tradition of reasoned debate and tolerance, flowing back to the Civil War.

Next week (January 10), a Department of Culture ‘consultation’ on Leveson closes. On the table still is a measure which will force all British publications, including those on the web, to become part of a new State-run press regulation body called Impress.

Impress is the direct recommendation of Leveson. Visit its website and weep; within seconds its true repressive nature becomes crystal clear, if only from the biographies of those who are staffing it.

Its creation has been sanctioned by the Government and is funded largely by Max Mosley, along with a raft of left-leaning foundations and celebrities who hate press freedom and are intent on destroying it.

Every aspect of this organisation is a chilling threat to press freedom. The chief executive is Jonathan Heawood, who was previously chief executive of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and a key lieutenant is the former readers’ editor of The Guardian, Chris Elliott.

Guido (among others) has recently chronicled their true ‘hate the press’ (especially the Daily Mail) motives and agenda. He noted:  “Likewise, Máire Messenger Davies – Impress Code Committee and Board of Directors member – openly spouts hatred of the Mail. She has promoted social media posts calling the Mail “Total scum” and its editor Paul Dacre “evil“. Her unhinged attacks on Dacre are personal in nature: she shared a mock up of a Mail front page with a picture of the editor next to the headline “This Hate Preacher Must be Stopped”.”

This madness has happened under a so-called Conservative Government, and Bradley sanctioned in the autumn that it will continue. She could have, as one of her first acts, nipped this regressive, sinister organisation in the bud, but chose not to.

Max Mosley, that paragon of virtue, crowed on Today on Tuesday morning, that a prospect still on the table is that (as Leveson decreed) any journalistic body that does not submit to regulation by Impress will be forced to pay for all costs in libel cases brought against it, irrespective of the truth of those accusations.

Mosley portrayed this as a chance for poor people to redress newspaper lies and untruths. Poppycock. It will inhibit massively what little investigative journalism that is still carried out in the UK, and be such a major threat to the already beleaguered regional and local press that they will effectively be neutered. And even sites such as TCW would be in danger of attack.

The reality is that virtually the whole Leveson exercise has been a crude attempt to muzzle press freedom and free expression by an unholy alliance of figures such as Mosley who fear (for a wide variety of self-interested reasons) the public gaze, and the Left, who are venting their long-standing hatred of the capitalist press. It is a disgrace that a Conservative government has presided over this farrago. And more so since, as 2017 begins, there is still a real prospect of press regulation by a mixture of quangocrats and nakedly sectarian interests.

A huge contradiction in the equation is that the BBC has emerged from a year of scrutiny by Parliament virtually unscathed and with its lavish funding guaranteed for a decade. By contrast, newspapers, especially local and regional ones, are fighting for their survival – effectively with a gun at their heads.

(Image: FCO)

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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