Free speech, British press regulation and Leveson

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The Daily Mail thread has sparked debate about press regulation in the UK. As this is also a 'current affair' in Britain at the moment, I thought we'd benefit from a thread incorporating all the wider themes.

In the wake of the Leveson Report, which called for much tighter press regulation and for a new independent body to monitor the press, amongst other things, the three main political parties have recently struck a deal to meet these concerns.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21825823

It is pretty controversial with press bodies expressing concerns that it could be abused to stifle freedom of the press and protect the powerful. The possible 1m fines would certainly be enough to make small local papers think twice before criticising local councils and business practices. (Edit, just re-read this and deleted the sentence that went nowhere)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21831278

On a related note, the UK has been a destination for 'libel tourism' for a while now, indicating the fact that it's laws massively favour the claimant compared to other nations. At one point Leveson suggested that libel defendants would have to pay court costs even if they won, which thankfully was not included in the deal because (to drop all pretext of balance for a moment) it is one of the fucking stupidest policies ever.

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/defamation-bill-does-not-need-leveson-amendment

However, it was enough to scupper a bill which would have protected the freedom of the press from over-zealous libel claimants. :(

However, there is as always another side to the matter. A large section of the British press has been engaged in unlawful activity, criminal spying and general dickery. It is perhaps unsurprising that many feel current regulations aren't enough.

However, as Private Eye (a satirical UK magazine which also undertakes a lot of investigative journalism) editor Ian Hislop pointed out; all their actions were already illegal under current UK laws. The problem was one of enforcement and of corruption in the police force.

TLDR UK free speech isn't in the rudest health and is set to get worse.

So, am I over-exaggerating the problem? Have I failed to give enough credit to the other side of the argument? Is it worse than I've laid out? Do you have any solutions?

1,2,3 Go!

---Sort of Update:---

I wasn't sure if this deserved a new thread, and it fits in with my old one. Good News! The house of Lords passed the libel reform bill (the one I said had been scuppered). I am very pleased to announce that I was wrong about that.

This will hopefully spell and end to dodgy organisations abusing British courts to suppress criticism, and generally improve our ability to hold people in power to account. Yay!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/apr/23/lords-pass-defamation-bill

Somehow I think Danny Ocean needs to see this one. Thing is, "freedom of press" can't be "free lease to bad-mouth whoever you don't like without having to bother to check facts".

My opinion? It's okay to criticize, with facts, facts you can and do back up. Insinuations and speculations though? No, sorry. Speculations are okay as a kind of a "what if scenario", but speculations against specific person(s) or institution(s) would not be fair game unless you can cough up some sources.

Oh, and kill that "anonymous source close to (whatever)" guy. He keeps letting people get away with making shit up.

The newspapers do need this regulation as they have completely abused their effectively unregulated free speech, but I'm quite concerned about the upcoming legislation's approach to blogs & social media.

Also when the media are controlled by a few individuals who use it to interfere with democracy, we really need some form of effective arbitration when things go wrong.

From another thread, we decided to move the discussion here as it's more relevant:

Imperator_DK:

Transsexuals only gained legal recognition after the European human rights court's verdict in Goodwin vs. UK, which is what forced the UK to adopt the gender recognition act of 2004. The court had even entrusted it to the UK itself to do so in several prior decisions, but nothing was happening.

No, transsexuals only gained full legal recognitions in that bill. They had partial recognition in some ways. And frankly, we'd really need to see a comparative view of Europe; I suspect at numerous points many countries have been rather worse than the UK; in fact they were potentially compelled to deal with it also earlier, precisely because their laws were more objectionable. And from my quick perusal, it seems the ECHR passed the UK's laws as acceptable in all prior UK judgements, actually changing their view in 2002.

As for people being punished for trolling on twitter...

I appreciate that the internet is a place of limited attention spans and selectively ignoring that which is inconvenient, but we have actually had this debate before. I pointed out then that jailing internet trolls was an accidental side effect of updating an early 20th century law to the internet era, and that reforms were in place to resolve it. These reforms came into effect in late 2012.

As for the laws against inciting religious hatred culling debate on immigration and Islam, such would admittedly be a more subjective evaluation. I'd be hard to take your assertion that such have never happened at face value though. I'll see if I can dig up some jurisprudence later.

Yes indeed it would be subjective.

And I do not believe I would trust you, either. I noted, for instance, your specific reference to Islam, when the the religious hatred law does apply to all religions, after all; I scent axe-grinding. Nor do I think the UK likely to live up to Denmark's reputation for a liberal approach to what are considered socially polite ways to talk to and about foreigners anyway.

I'll see if I can dig up how many cases the UK have had at the European court of human rights, compared to other nations in North Western Europe. Should be one of the better indicators of whether the respect for free speech is really as ingrained as in the rest of North Western Europe.

What, you mean select a limited scope of comparative countries to one you are fairly sure places the UK near the bottom?

That sounds a lot like data fiddling to me.

EDIT:

Somebody made a new thread on the free speech issue. So in the interest of the delicate sensibilities of other participants in this thread, we should probably take any further exchanges there.

Fine. You will be reading this there.

Considering the Beeb is rather sparse on actual facts regarding the regulator that's being set up, I shall be withholding definite judgement until I can work out what the goddamn hell the Royal Charter actually says. I can however, predict that this thread will suffer from a bad case of 'mah freedumbs', and continuous references to government control from people who have no idea whether the government has any control over the regulator or not (something which I will now be endeavouring to find out).

Edit: So far, I have been able to trace appointments back to the 'Commissioner for Public Appointments' who is apparently, "appointed by the crown." Whether this genuinely means they are appointed by the Queen, or whether this is one of those powers that technically belong to the Queen but are actually exercised by the Prime Minister, I'm not sure.

Edit the Second: There seem to be a shit-tonne of rules stating that both the appointments process and the regulator itself must be completely independent of the press and the government, even going so far as to bar anyone who has ever been a member of a UK legislature from being a member (with an exception made for peers who have been independent for at least five years). I'm not yet sure how these rules are enforced.

Edit the Third: I read through the whole thing, and found nothing about how the rules are enforced. On one hand, I'm not exactly incredibly knowledgeable about Royal Charters, so they may all be enforced in a certain way. On the other hand, there might be no enforcement. Personally, I think you have to hold your fellow human beings in incredibly low esteem to think that this is going to be used for political censorship, either that or it's what you would do and you're projecting, which doesn't exactly say great things about you.

Agema:
No, transsexuals only gained full legal recognitions in that bill. They had partial recognition in some ways. And frankly, we'd really need to see a comparative view of Europe; I suspect at numerous points many countries have been rather worse than the UK; in fact they were potentially compelled to deal with it also earlier, precisely because their laws were more objectionable.

Partial rights equals full oppression.

I know the relevant rights have existed since 1989 in denmark, a full 15 years before the UK came around. France came about in the late 90's, whereas Spain only implemented it in 2005. So the UK isn't alone in being quite late to the non-discrimination party, but it's late nonetheless.

And from my quick perusal, it seems the ECHR passed the UK's laws as acceptable in all prior UK judgements, actually changing their view in 2002.

It did. In the earlier decisions, the court wanted to give the UK time to figure things out for itself. But when it became obvious that it'd never do so, it forced its hand.

I appreciate that the internet is a place of limited attention spans and selectively ignoring that which is inconvenient, but we have actually had this debate before. I pointed out then that jailing internet trolls was an accidental side effect of updating an early 20th century law to the internet era, and that reforms were in place to resolve it. These reforms came into effect in late 2012.

This I admittedly had not seen. My mistake.

Reformed into what though?

Yes indeed it would be subjective.

And I do not believe I would trust you, either. I noted, for instance, your specific reference to Islam, when the the religious hatred law does apply to all religions, after all

I mention it since that's the religion where for practical purposes all cases arise. My contempt for Abrahamic religion, Islam included, should already be well known.

Nor do I think the UK likely to live up to Denmark's reputation for a liberal approach to what are considered socially polite ways to talk to and about foreigners anyway.

Presumably not. Don't worry, the pot will come off the lid eventually, though it's Sweden I'm looking forward to the most. I predict the price of suppressing discussion for that long will be quite high once frustration reaches its boiling point.

What, you mean select a limited scope of comparative countries to one you are fairly sure places the UK near the bottom?

That sounds a lot like data fiddling to me.

You don't find North Western European countries to be the ones the UK is most comparable to?

I mean sure, if we include Hungary or Romania, not to mention Turkey, then the UK looks rather good in comparison. But I don't think those were the countries you had in mind. And really, if I wanted to fiddle with data, announcing twice that I'd compare it to North Western European countries only probably wouldn't be the way to go.

evilthecat:
...
At this point, I should point out that the Daily Mail's editorial team routinely censors its own reporters. Obviously, since the paper as a whole is happy to go along with this censorship, it means they subscribe to an ideology inn which censorship is acceptable. Thus, surely it's perfectly acceptable to censor them.

..because that's how it works, right?

I rather doubt editors conducting editorial policy, and government officials censoring editorial policy fall under the same ideology.

For one thing, editors haven't willingly entered into a contract with the government, agreeing they can be fined/imprisoned if what they write isn't considered suitable enough by it. I've got no trouble with contractual obligations willingly undertaken. Sanctions forced upon people for breaking statutes they didn't agree to is another matter.

DJjaffacake:
Considering the Beeb is rather sparse on actual facts regarding the regulator that's being set up, I shall be withholding definite judgement until I can work out what the goddamn hell the Royal Charter actually says. I can however, predict that this thread will suffer from a bad case of 'mah freedumbs', and continuous references to government control from people who have no idea whether the government has any control over the regulator or not (something which I will now be endeavouring to find out).

The issue seems to be this:

The Leveson Inquiry Recommends the best course of action to be an independent voluntary regulatory body.

However, it also points out that this is unlikely to work, and so incentives will be needed to nudge towards membership of the body.

The Bill in its first draft was a general clear-up of press regulations. The amendment that is causing controversy is one which effectively allows the regulatory body to fine non-members for their non-membership. I expect this involves something about avoiding out-of-court settlements and other such shady dealings.

On the one side, you have those who support the spirit of amendment, wanting a more powerful regulator that actually has teeth, because "for fuck sake Daily Mail," an, [i]"Isn't Murdoch powerful enough already? We already allowed the BskyB thing."

In the middle, you have those who think the amendment is stuffed with vagueness and needs work- it doesn't really uphold the spirit of the inquiry in its current state, which is a problem because it is at its final reading.

On the other side, you have those against the amendment, who view the bill pre-regulator-creation as being perfectly fine, no need to create a whole extra bureaucracy when the courts are already there.

There is an extra stick in the mud because clause 2 was put forward by a Labour peer, meaning there is now party political interest in the passing of the clause- regardless of what it actually is.

But yeah, Imma try and sit this one out for exactly the reason you put in your post. This whole "Freedurms" habit of half the fucking internet is really winding me up- it usually stifles any kind of meaningful discussion. In reference to this in particular it seems rather paradoxical too- why should only the state have limits on its power? It's like they think that laws are the only things that dictate behaviour.

Imperator_DK:
I rather doubt editors conducting editorial policy, and government officials censoring editorial policy fall under the same ideology.

Unfortunately, personal incredulity doesn't make for a persuasive argument. I rather doubt that Osama bin Laden and the Turkish guy who runs my local kebab shop share the same ideology, but I suspect you'd disagree with that.

Why should a person who is not willing to accord the right to free speech to others have their right to free speech protected? Is a story about a black family being murdered socially "harmful" enough that it should be actively suppressed against the better judgement of journalists?

You're normally perfectly willing to impose ethical hypotheticals as concrete facts. Why the sudden retreat to legal distinctions. Surely censorship is censorship.

Imperator_DK:
For one thing, editors haven't willingly entered into a contract with the government, agreeing they can be fined/imprisoned if what they write isn't considered suitable enough by it. I've got no trouble with contractual obligations willingly undertaken. Sanctions forced upon people for breaking statutes they didn't agree to is another matter.

Social Contract

Seriously, I thought you were down with applying defunct enlightenment political philosophy to present day social issues, but obviously I'm mistaken.

Esotera:
The newspapers do need this regulation as they have completely abused their effectively unregulated free speech, but I'm quite concerned about the upcoming legislation's approach to blogs & social media.

Also when the media are controlled by a few individuals who use it to interfere with democracy, we really need some form of effective arbitration when things go wrong.

There needs to be a system which allows people to defend their reputation, and prevents invasions of privacy. I agree that 'self regulation' doesn't work, especially for the big tabloids.

However, media need to be able to protect the identity of whistleblowers or investigative journalism will be crippled, and the law should be balanced so that the powerful can't simply stop anyone genuinely criticising them by tying them up in legal battles they can't afford.

I'm not sure any new regulations are necessary. We just need to actually enforce the existing ones.

Edit

DJjaffacake:
snip

I don't think this is the next step to Big Brother and mass political censorship. I do know that currently there is a council which spent over 1m of public money suing an NHS whistleblower and trying to cover up malpractice. This sort of thing will make it harder for publications to highlight this sort of corruption.

Paradoxically, it dis-incentivises the sort of investigative journalism that exposed the hacking scandal in the first place.

That's my main worry. I suppose saying 'free speech is in a bad way' was somewhat hyperbolic, but it is still a blow to the free press.

ClockworkPenguin:

I'm not sure any new regulations are necessary. We just need to actually enforce the existing ones.

Well, this is primarily what the report was about; the creation of a new body, backed by statute and independent of the newspaper industry. It wasn't suggesting new laws, but first and foremost a new regulator.

Let's not forget that the PCC had DM editor Paul Dacre in a powerful position, and tended to ignore the vast majority of complaints/ abuses. It was unfit for purpose, and I suspect it had been effectively hijacked. The non-enforcement of defamation, privacy & hate speech legislation was the primary problem, though I'm not well-versed in such legislation, and am willing to believe that such legislation was unfit for purpose itself.

A big sticking point at the moment is that the current agreement has been reached without the support of the newspaper industry. But, why on earth should this body want or need such support? I'd feel uneasy about any agreement that did have the support of the news industry, just as I'd feel uneasy about any policemen who were appointed with the support of the mob.

ClockworkPenguin:
Snip

In fairness, the Royal Charter does explicitly state that the regulator has to take into account the need to protect confidential sources, as well as provide for the establishment of a 'whistleblowing hotline'.

evilthecat:
...
Unfortunately, personal incredulity doesn't make for a persuasive argument. I rather doubt that Osama bin Laden and the Turkish guy who runs my local kebab shop share the same ideology, but I suspect you'd disagree with that.

I wouldn't.

If your local Turkish guy is also a Muslim though, then they share their proclamation of worship to scriptures dogmatically outlining horrifying fates for gays, apostates, adulterers etc. etc. And should thus be talked of and treated in kind.

Why should a person who is not willing to accord the right to free speech to others have their right to free speech protected? Is a story about a black family being murdered socially "harmful" enough that it should be actively suppressed against the better judgement of journalists?

If the editor is ready and willing to let the government imprison his journalists, then he deserves no better fate.

That doesn't seem to be the case though.

You're normally perfectly willing to impose ethical hypotheticals as concrete facts. Why the sudden retreat to legal distinctions. Surely censorship is censorship.

I'm "willing" to do so in religious matters, because religion is inherently dogmatic.

The adherents themselves proclaim unquestionable worship to the scripture, so that's the confession I'm working from. In reality, they of course hypocritically cherry pick whatever they like from it. They interpret it ways that have nothing to do with how it was intended in ancient times (...unless we're talking most of the Middle East, where whipping for adultery still means whipping for adultery), pathetically seeking to infuse their own personal views with divine legitimacy.

But religion is hardly about reality. Since people's actual views are unknown, what can be discussed is the dogma they themselves have chosen to label themselves with.

Social Contract

Seriously, I thought you were down with applying defunct enlightenment political philosophy to present day social issues, but obviously I'm mistaken.

You'll find that anyone who've ever posed the idea of a social contract have also posed that it has limits. The collective cannot do everything to the individual, for the individual has not said yes to everything. It's a liberal concept, not a Marxist one.

You might wish to read your own link too, to check up on just how the defunct the idea is these days. Rawls in particular is rather influential...

DJjaffacake:

ClockworkPenguin:
Snip

In fairness, the Royal Charter does explicitly state that the regulator has to take into account the need to protect confidential sources, as well as provide for the establishment of a 'whistleblowing hotline'.

Well... okay I don't have any more arguments actually. I'll wait and see what they actually come up with.

...I still maintain that our current libel laws are an embarrassment.

The simple solution would have been to ban all tabloids whos main business was gossip and consistently biased news reporting.
However it looks like this is being used as an excuse to foist censorship on everyone except the BBC and other special groups.

I don't think the press or media should be regulated in any way. I know certain elements of the media seem to have lost their way with phone hacking and other things, but I agree totally, it seems that these things are illegal in their own right and all that needs to happen is that privacy laws need to be enforced. I'm a little ignorant on the nature of privacy laws but I assume that hacking someone's phone to listen to their messages is illegal.

I look at people being jailed for what they've said on twitter and I just think, Christ, does the government not trust us enough to judge what people say on the internet or in the papers for ourselves? If someone says something vile or racist on twitter or any other medium then that's up to the individual reading it to condemn it or not. The government has no place dictating what can and can't be said, and locking people away for that looks pretty fucking wrong from my perspective.

I stand by what I said in the other thread. If you are happy with people going through your bins, harassing your friends and family for incriminating stories about you, stealing photos of you off Facebook and plastering them all over the newspaper, and writing up stories about you that imply you are sick in the head and shouldn't be allowed near children, then you are absolutely within your rights to argue for freedom of the press without moderation. If the thought of any of those things makes you a little bit uncomfortable, perhaps you should consider a more nuanced perspective.

In Russia, journalists are murdered so often that there's actually a Wikipedia page dedicated to it, but obviously when we talk about freedom of the press we need to focus on Richard Littlejohn's right to be a raging bigoted cock.

boots:
I stand by what I said in the other thread. If you are happy with people going through your bins, harassing your friends and family for incriminating stories about you, stealing photos of you off Facebook and plastering them all over the newspaper, and writing up stories about you that imply you are sick in the head and shouldn't be allowed near children, then you are absolutely within your rights to argue for freedom of the press without moderation. If the thought of any of those things makes you a little bit uncomfortable, perhaps you should consider a more nuanced perspective.

In Russia, journalists are murdered so often that there's actually a Wikipedia page dedicated to it, but obviously when we talk about freedom of the press we need to focus on Richard Littlejohn's right to be a raging bigoted cock.

Well i'd say it would be better to develop our privacy laws if they're not allready there stopping the crap you described.

adamsaccount:

Well i'd say it would be better to develop our privacy laws if they're not allready there stopping the crap you described.

How are the two not connected? If we develop our privacy laws then we infringe upon journalists' rights to "research" their stories.

Freedom of the press and individual right to privacy are two seats on the same seesaw. To borrow a very handy quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

boots:

adamsaccount:

Well i'd say it would be better to develop our privacy laws if they're not allready there stopping the crap you described.

How are the two not connected? If we develop our privacy laws then we infringe upon journalists' rights to "research" their stories.

Freedom of the press and individual right to privacy are two seats on the same seesaw. To borrow a very handy quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

To me the difference is that privacy laws would protect an individuals rights to privacy in a broader way instead of setting a precedent for the press to be censored.
I agree that they would solve the same problem.

To get on topic for a while, rather than merely clogging up the thread with continuations of previous related discussions:

Given its abysmal record on freedom of speech, and the clumsiness with which it has implemented prior laws, I'd be loathe to support the UK government restrict the Freedom of the Press - or just Freedom of Speech - any further.

There's a strong culture of protecting special classes against condemnation and insults in the UK, one that's brought it in conflict with the European convention of human rights more than once. The absurdity of the scope of the libel laws - one so vast other nations have been forced to pass measures to prevent UK libel convictions from being enforceable - is but a symptom of a pervasive underlying culture of censorship.

Political dissidents are being denying entry to speak their mind. Movies featuring fictional ultraviolence are being banned, as are cartoons depicting fictional characters engaging in fictional forms of anti-normative sex. Consenting adults expressing their sexuality through BDSM get punished. Only recently did the government fix its grave error of allowing months of imprisonment for facebook trolling.

This is not a government you'd want to limit the press. Elements of the UK tabloid press might be little more than modern freak shows, but to allow the government to regulate the press based on offense over them is to invite calamity. The law already cover the most egregious of offenses, but it seems the government have either not the resources to enforce it, or not the will to challenge the tabloids which help decide its fate.

Laws can only do so much. It is the British population which must reinvent itself, if a lasting positive change to politics and media conduct is to be achieved.

Imperator_DK:
To get on topic for a while, rather than merely clogging up the thread with continuations of previous related discussions:

Given its abysmal record on freedom of speech, and the clumsiness with which it has implemented prior laws, I'd be loathe to support the UK government restrict the Freedom of the Press - or just Freedom of Speech - any further.

There's a strong culture of protecting special classes against condemnation and insults in the UK, one that's brought it in conflict with the European convention of human rights more than once. The absurdity of the scope of the libel laws - one so vast other nations have been forced to pass measures to prevent UK libel convictions from being enforceable - is but a symptom of a pervasive underlying culture of censorship.

Political dissidents are being denying entry to speak their mind. Movies featuring fictional ultraviolence are being banned, as are cartoons depicting fictional characters engaging in fictional forms of anti-normative sex. Consenting adults expressing their sexuality through BDSM get punished. Only recently did the government fix its grave error of allowing months of imprisonment for facebook trolling.

This is not a government you'd want to limit the press. Elements of the UK tabloid press might be little more than modern freak shows, but to allow the government to regulate the press based on offense over them is to invite calamity. The law already cover the most egregious of offenses, but it seems the government have either not the resources to enforce it, or not the will to challenge the tabloids which help decide its fate.

Laws can only do so much. It is the British population which must reinvent itself, if a lasting positive change to politics and media conduct is to be achieved.

Actually, whilst there are genuine problems in the UK, your analysis goes over the top. Political dissidents can speak their mind. Socialist Worker magazine gets published, Occupy where arguably tolerated more in London than in the USA. I myself have taken part in several peaceful protests which where not opposed at all.

I have also been kettled and feel that on occasions (such as pretty much every protest for a year after 200 fuckwits out of 50,000 peaceful protesters started being violent at the Student Fees protest in 2010) the policing of protests has been too harsh and too pre-emptive, but to say that political dissidence is not tolerated is incorrect.

The BDSM case is because the UK does not recognise the ability to consent to harm. It also opposes euthanasia for similar reasons. That is not at all a censorship issue.

I can't comment on pornography because I don't know what the laws are for that in the UK. Regarding 'ultraviolence' whilst we have a ratings system, I wouldn't say the UK has ridiculous censorship in this area. The Saw franchise, the Human Centipede, and whatever that French film where a couple go mental in a cabin is called(antichrist?), have all been shown in the UK here.

Hate speech and incitement to violence are both crimes in the UK. Arguably the scope of 'hate speech' is vague enough as to be open for abuse and there ought to be checks to stop it being used to stifle debate , but in principle I support this as both are inherently harmful and neither particularly in the public interest.

What does concern me more, which you don't mention, are the use of gagging orders and super-injunctions (injunctions which both gag you, and make it illegal to reveal that you have been gagged). For individuals there is the argument that privacy should be respected, but these are also used by organisations, public and private, to suppress allegations of wrongdoing and enable cover-ups. They are completely anathema to the principles of the free press and the best interests of the British public.

Before the phone hacking scandal, the big outrage was the number of super-injunctions used in Britain. Public opinion was putting pressure on Westminster to do something about it and increase transparency in Britain. My problem with the calls for a new regulatory body is partly that it will make it harder for the press to investigate properly, and also because it has scuppered any movement towards increase transparancy in the UK.

Free speech is important because it allows things like the MPs expenses scandal or police corruption, or immoral business practises (ie. the trafigura case) to come to light and be criticised. Not so that you can stir up hatred of minority groups.

ClockworkPenguin:
...
Actually, whilst there are genuine problems in the UK, your analysis goes over the top. Political dissidents can speak their mind. Socialist Worker magazine gets published, Occupy where arguably tolerated more in London than in the USA. I myself have taken part in several peaceful protests which where not opposed at all.

I have also been kettled and feel that on occasions (such as pretty much every protest for a year after 200 fuckwits out of 50,000 peaceful protesters started being violent at the Student Fees protest in 2010) the policing of protests has been too harsh and too pre-emptive, but to say that political dissidence is not tolerated is incorrect.

People such as Geert Wilders have been denied entry into the UK though. So the government is rather selective as to which dissidents it'll allow to speak.

The BDSM case is because the UK does not recognise the ability to consent to harm. It also opposes euthanasia for similar reasons. That is not at all a censorship issue.

I'd consider preventing the freedom of sexual expression to be a form of censorship. As well as a general sign of the deplorable disrespect for people's individual freedom to govern their own lives.

Regarding 'ultraviolence' whilst we have a ratings system, I wouldn't say the UK has ridiculous censorship in this area. The Saw franchise, the Human Centipede, and whatever that French film where a couple go mental in a cabin is called(antichrist?), have all been shown in the UK here.

The more niche titles are banned though. Scenes were censored out of the sequel to the Human Centipede in order for it to be passed as well. Though often it's the aforementioned BDSM porn nobody have really heard of.

Hate speech and incitement to violence are both crimes in the UK. Arguably the scope of 'hate speech' is vague enough as to be open for abuse and there ought to be checks to stop it being used to stifle debate , but in principle I support this as both are inherently harmful and neither particularly in the public interest.

Very vague and subject to favoritism of certain political views over others.

And Freedom of Expression should not be depend on whether it's in the collective "public interest". It should be viewed as an individual right to challenge the commonly held public perceptions. And even ultimately overthrow the current ideals of society, should the arguments be persuasive enough.

What does concern me more, which you don't mention, are the use of gagging orders and super-injunctions (injunctions which both gag you, and make it illegal to reveal that you have been gagged). For individuals there is the argument that privacy should be respected, but these are also used by organisations, public and private, to suppress allegations of wrongdoing and enable cover-ups. They are completely anathema to the principles of the free press and the best interests of the British public.

Before the phone hacking scandal, the big outrage was the number of super-injunctions used in Britain. Public opinion was putting pressure on Westminster to do something about it and increase transparency in Britain. My problem with the calls for a new regulatory body is partly that it will make it harder for the press to investigate properly, and also because it has scuppered any movement towards increase transparancy in the UK.

No disagreement there.

Free speech is important because it allows things like the MPs expenses scandal or police corruption, or immoral business practises (ie. the trafigura case) to come to light and be criticised. Not so that you can stir up hatred of minority groups.

Again, free speech should not be construed as something that only exist so long as it's in the (current idea of) collective public interest. It should be seen as an inalienable individual right to engage in any form of political speech, which doesn't directly cause or incite physical harm (i.e. shouting "fire" in a crowded theater and such). Only then is it actually free.

Imperator_DK:
[snip]

So, your argument amounts to nothing more than "the UK is negligibly less restrictive of freedom of speech than my own and liberalised some of it later than mine, so the UK is a repressive regime".

Needless to say, there is no-one anyone should give a damn about such an argument, and that's without even discussing whether your extreme libertarian view is most appropriate or beneficial anyway. You are of course quite free to use bad arguments to maintain your bizarre view, but there's no reason for us to pay them much heed.

Imperator_DK:
snip

The lack of public interest should not determine which speech is free, in general. However, where such speech is harmful it is an important factor. If the public benefit does not outweigh the harm done by publication then there is grounds to find exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression.

For example, trying a man in the court of public opinion because he looks weird and was the landlord of a murder victim, whilst the investigation was ongoing, thus not only ruining his reputation for months and causing him stress and harassment, but also jeopardising the integrity of an ongoing investigation (Because of the media's actions, had he been charged it may have been thrown out on the grounds that the jury was already biased.) Probably shouldn't have been allowed.

In short, I agree almost entirely with your last paragraph. However, I probably have a different view to you as to what constitutes 'causing or inciting harm'.

Imperator_DK:

People such as Geert Wilders have been denied entry into the UK though. So the government is rather selective as to which dissidents it'll allow to speak.

This isn't a freedom of speech thing, it's a freedom of movement thing. And any sovereign power can declare that they don't want any person within its borders.

The UK government didn't touch Wilders' freedom of speech within UK, they denied him the privilege of being within the borders of the country.

Vegosiux:

The UK government didn't touch Wilders' freedom of speech within UK, they denied him the privilege of being within the borders of the country.

We can still read his material and watch his videos here if we want.

I've got to say: Imperator's view of the UK seems totally skewiff.

ClockworkPenguin:
...
The lack of public interest should not determine which speech is free, in general. However, where such speech is harmful it is an important factor. If the public benefit does not outweigh the harm done by publication then there is grounds to find exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression.

With such criteria, the "freedom" becomes skewered towards mainstream majority perception of what constitute a redeeming public interest. The line of "permissible harm" should be the same for each and every statement regardless of its content (...if perhaps not context).

For example, trying a man in the court of public opinion because he looks weird and was the landlord of a murder victim, whilst the investigation was ongoing, thus not only ruining his reputation for months and causing him stress and harassment, but also jeopardising the integrity of an ongoing investigation (Because of the media's actions, had he been charged it may have been thrown out on the grounds that the jury was already biased.) Probably shouldn't have been allowed.

The press deeming him guilty should not be allowed. It closely following the case should.

In short, I agree almost entirely with your last paragraph. However, I probably have a different view to you as to what constitutes 'causing or inciting harm'.

Presumably so. My criteria is generally "directly and intentionally threatening or leading to physical harm", such as speaking death threats to a person's face, or making false accusation against a man that could see him prosecution.

Vegosiux:
...
This isn't a freedom of speech thing, it's a freedom of movement thing. And any sovereign power can declare that they don't want any person within its borders.

The UK government didn't touch Wilders' freedom of speech within UK, they denied him the privilege of being within the borders of the country.

They also denied the Freedom of Information to those UK citizens who might have wanted to hear him speak, or converse with him. A trifling concern in this digital day and age, perhaps, but a concern nonetheless. A government which is selectively controlling which foreign politicians and intellectuals its population comes into contact with isn't exactly doing free debate any favours.

Agema:
...
So, your argument amounts to nothing more than "the UK is negligibly less restrictive of freedom of speech than my own and liberalised some of it later than mine, so the UK is a repressive regime".

I think that "less" should've been a "more", but who've ever said I considered my own nation to have what constitutes free speech?

While the UK offers a particularly egregious example in a Northern European context (i.e. not so egregious in a more expansive one), the entirety of the EU is pretty much absent free speech when push comes to shove. It limits speech which seek to question and thus destabilize the basic principles the current societies are founded on, meaning it doesn't actually allow speech which fundamentally challenge the prevailing ideas of what is "good" (along with certain dogmatic viewpoints resulting from the trauma of World War II). Thus speech is not actually free, merely on a longer leash than in most of the rest of the world.

The US is currently the only nation to actually have free political[1] speech, in that it's possible to utter any political view, regardless of how much it clashes with the firmly established majority norms the society is currently built upon.

Danny Ocean:
...
I've got to say: Imperator's view of the UK seems totally skewiff.

Five words: "US and Northern European Context".

Of course the UK compares favorably to much of the world, even a fair bit of the western world. That's hardly a reason to kick back and relax though.

[1] Other forms of speech are rather limited though, there's for instance no constitutional right to protect sources.

Imperator_DK:

And Freedom of Expression should not be depend on whether it's in the collective "public interest". It should be viewed as an individual right to challenge the commonly held public perceptions. And even ultimately overthrow the current ideals of society, should the arguments be persuasive enough.

Problem is, these arguments are exceptionally persuasive, and are built (incredibly often) on outright fabrications. We have millions of people putting their trust into the papers, and the papers fabricate stories, fabricate quotes, sometimes even fabricate people altogether.

I've lost count of the number of times the Mail & Express have run with stories about the British Red Cross "banning" mentions of Christmas throughout its shops; the stories come out every year. They have an impact on the amount of charitable donations that charity receives. And the stories are also utterly fabricated. During the AV referendum, the anti-AV campaign built itself upon an utterly fictitious claim about the cost of implementation. Not an iota of truth. Very persuasive; it changed the course of democracy in the UK, but still, not an iota of truth.

"Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox in the corner".

Here's a post I made about 6 months ago that sums up my opinion:

The media is having a tough time of it in the UK at the moment. The Levenson inquiry is over but still has to come back to us with results. It dragged on for eight months and received enough coverage that everyone in the country knows something about it, like Rebekah Brooks being given an ex-police horse or how Millie Dowler's phone was hacked and the messages deleted by The News of the World. But the scale and length of these problems with hacking is something that isn't appreciated by a lot of the public.

Past Corruption

The first hints of something major going on and the first proper police investigations into illegally stealing information actually took place in the 90's. Johnathan Rees was the first target, a private investigator who had been operating for a decade and got paid 150,000 to obtain illegal evidence including details of active police investigations. This was for the News of the World mainly, but also the Mirror and the Sunday Times and he went to prison in 2000 (For planting cocaine on someone). When he came out, Andy Coulson, the then Editor of the News of the World, offered him a job getting information for the News of the World again. In a surprise twist that Andy Coulson couldn't have expected to happen and David Cameron certainly doesn't hold against him for not anticipating, Rees continued to get the information for News of the World illegally.

It was Operation Motorman that really shed the light on how in depth the illegality went. Police raided the house of Steve Whittamore, a private investigator, and found he had been selling illegal information to journalists. The real scoop was he'd kept meticulous records of every transaction. He'd sold over 13,000 pieces of illegal data over three years like peoples criminal records, credit cards bills, friends and family numbers, bank statements and all other kinds of confidential information to over 300 different journalists at basically every major newspaper. The estimate of how much he earned in these three years is around half a million pounds. They also found that Whittamore was something of a middle-man who had a network of informants feeding Whitamore him information which he then passed on to the papers. A Hells Angel that knew how to pretend to be a BT engineer and blag people's detail, a police worker who would get information from Scotland yard databases, two men at the DVLA, a civil servant at the DWP and several more. These sources let him pull information from pretty much every major database in the UK, so when the police tried them they had put together the biggest case against black market information that had ever been organized in UK history and newspapers and journalists were starting to feel really nervous about this, but they needn't have bothered.

Whittamore and three others were brought before the caught. The prosecutor laid out how they were being commissioned to perform illegal activities by journalists and how payments had been traced to major newspapers in return for providing confidential police when the QC asked a really relevant question of where these journalists were and why the paymasters behind these illegal activities weren't being tried as well. The prosecutor didn't have an answer. There simply hadn't been any political will to pursue them.

But even Whittamore and his informants were safe. The four of them were found guilty but the judge found himself due to the circumstances of the case to give them anything more than conditional discharges, even though he had the power to give them prison time and unlimited fines. For the same reason, a parallel case involving Whittamore and a different section of the of conspirators fell apart .

It was massive case showing not just one or two bad apples but hundreds of journalists systematically pursuing massive amounts of illegal data through these hired agents. It was obvious that newspapers were involved in large amounts of illegal activity but this was just left to rot and fester, but the scope of these activities meant that more instances of illegal activity kept becoming known. The Royal Phone hacking scandal with Goodman, Mulcaire and Coulson. Civil suits by various celebrities about being hacked. David Connett at the Sunday Times taking up a wrongful dismissal suit where he was able to show he was hired by the Sunday Times specifically to deal with illegal activities. A couple of reporters at The Guardian following this story of journalistic corruption quite doggedly.

All this has lead into where we are now. We've had the Levenson inquiry which has heard massive amounts of evidence from those involved and is considering it's decision on how the media should be governed in the future, but beyond that.we've got five separate police investigations in the UK, we've got investigations underway internationally in the USA and Australia, The Home Select Affairs Committee has said it's almost impossible to escape the conclusion that News International were deliberately trying to thwart the criminal investigation into hacking, Commissioner Akers has suggested that as well as the major players like Brooks and Coulson which have already been charged they are looking at charges against corporations, which is potentially a much bigger deal. Things are moving in the right direction in terms of illegal behaviour.

This is all good news, but it is also things which should have been done years ago when the extent of phone hacking was known because this was known about for years before this became a major issue. It's only because of a series of revelations like Millie Dowlers phone being hacked, the London Bombing victim's phones being hacked, etc snowballing that there's been enough public outrage to get this really pursued. It shouldn't come as a surprise to us that people involved in a massive criminal conspiracy like Rebecca Brooks are actually getting tried for their crimes, but in this case it is a surprise simply because they've gotten away with it for so long.

Politics and Journalism

What was a bit more unexpected, because it wasn't the focus of all these investigations even if a lot of us might have guessed it, is the link between journalists and politicians. The private meetings, the political sport, papers throwing their support behind parties, the Chipping Norton set, the gifts, the friendly and family relations. There's a lot of reasons to think that there has been a really inappropriate relationship between politicians and the media, but the massive investigations being carried out have so far largely ignored that aspect of the problem.

Now I don't want to be too biased or judgemental about whether any politicians or journalists were engaged in immoral or illegal behaviour in this particular regard, because if someone was being tried for something serious like murder I'd say we shouldn't prejudge them and we should let the evidence come out before it is looked at. The problem with this point of view is that for all the political cosying up and suspicious information we have, the truth will likely never come out. There isn't any investigation targeting this kind of corruption in the same way illegal hacking is being pursued, so we really have no choice but to look at the limited evidence available. What we know has only come about because it's tangentially connected to the main investigation into hacking and illegal methods of obtaining information.

In this case being judgemental isn't really a problem, as this limited information we currently have is likely all we will ever have, so there are a few things that immediately stand out.

Firstly, that even if we take things at face value and accept everything the politicians and journalists have said about their relationship, it's still not good. They've said that sure, we're friends, we meet up for Christmas dinner, give each other presents, go to the same parties, but we'd never let that influence any professional dealings. Now what I'm about to say might sound obvious, but even if you're not doing it consciously people are biased in favour of people they associate with. There's a lot of research been done into the science behind it, which is called in-group bias, and it's even accepted by The British Government that this kind of socialising influencing people. After all, that's the entire reason we've had royals like Prince Andrew as trade envoys. Not because they're brilliant salesmen who can deliver a good pitch, not because he has any kind of authority to change deals so they're more profitable - but because he's a friendly face that can hob-nob with billionaires and middle-eastern dictators and this in itself helps our diplomatic and foreign trade fronts.

But that's if we're taking them at their word, which there is good reason not to do. There has been a fair bit of criticism about how little some of the witnesses at the Levenson inquiry seem to be able to remember and a few analysis have been put together of just how forgetful people are. One of my favourites, even though it is an informal piece of research rather than anything truly scientific as nothing of that calibre yet exists, is one that gets a baseline level of forgetfulness in the low level journalists, members of the public and celebrities who took part in earlier modules of the Levenson inquiry and compares it with the forgetfulness of the politicians, senior advisers and executives that took place in Module 3. It turns out politicians are x8 more forgetful than normal. Cameron personally was x12 more forgetful. Senior Murdoch employees on average had x19 worse memories than normal and if you associated with Jeremy Hunt then your memory was x20 worse. Adam Smith, who was Jeremy Hunt's Special Advisor and exchanged 257 texts with Fredric Michael, a News Corporation lobbyist, was the runaway winner though with a memory that is a little more than x50 times worse than normal judging by how many times he didn't remember things when he was in front of Levenson. It doesn't fill you with hope when even in the most favourable light this indicates the people running our country and heading up companies are at best forgetful idiots and at worst are liars who're trying to protect themselves.

Probably the clearest indication of bias though in my eyes though is the difference in how Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt were treated. Vince Cable made comments to an undercover journalist that he was going to 'war with Murdoch'. While obviously sounding bad it's not as bad within the context of the conversation where he'd used that kind of language for lots of things, like how he's fighting a war against the conservatives on a host of issues, how he has a nuclear option of walking out of the cabinet if there is ever a big Lib/Com disagreement, that kind of thing and from what he said before that particular line it was pretty clear that declaring war meant referring it to OfCom, which was one of the things he was supposed to decide on and was within his remit.

Still, it was enough to get rid of him for bias. I think people in public office should be held to the highest standards and scrutiny, so I wouldn't have had a problem with getting rid of him if they hadn't replaced him with Jeremy Hunt. This is Jeremy Hunt who before he had even been appointed had massive amounts of contact with News Corp lobbyists both directly and through advisors in his office, who had sent emails to the Prime Minister in support of the deal from his private gmail account to avoid them being accessible through the freedom of protection act, who had to be told by a government legal advisor that even though his contact with News Corp wasn't technically illegal he still shouldn't be doing them and who when he was given legal advice not to meet with James Murdoch simply talked to him over the phone instead of meeting him directly.

Saying that Vince could be biased so we have to replace him with a neutral figure, fair enough. Replacing him with someone several times more biased but biased in the opposite direction simply makes it look all the more likely that Hunt severely lacked the required impartial that this quasi-judicial decision requires.

The downfall of journalism

One thing we can do though is look at how we got here; Why journalists are churning out stories on celebrities, hacking phones and blagging for easy stories and pumping our press releases and wire reports rather than doing original research into what matters.

For one, the network of journalists that are the essential to reporting news just don't exist any more in the same way they used to and in large part this is down to Murdoch. Before 1986 the printers unions and the National Union of Journalists did a fair enough job of holding off commercial interests, standing up for their principles and ensuring high quality, although they relied on the printers union for support. An example of them fending off commercial interests came a couple of years before 1986 when the miner's strike was going on. The Sun tried to run a front page photo of Arthur Scargill waving to miners in a way that had been captured in a way looked kind of like a nazi salute with the headline 'Mine Fuhrer' in a fairly obvious attempt to slur him. Well I don't know if anyone's seen the front page of The Sun from the day they went with the story, but there's no photo and no headline. The printers just weren't willing to put it together. Instead there was a large print statement saying that the Sun production chapels had refused to print the headline or picture. It wasn't just basic morality and a sense of decency which lead the printers to do this, but also a recognition that if Thatcher succeeded in breaking the miner strike then they could be next and that's basically what happened.

Murdoch built a new print plant in Wapping and tried to reach agreements with staff which would limit their ability to organise as a union, like the end of the closed shop and a no strike clause. After months of negotiation the employees eventually went on strike and with military precision Murdoch, after asking Thatcher to confirm she would support him, had all 6,000 of them fired, convinced enough journalists to work as scabs to carry on publishing and got new workers in from EETPU to run their new presses (EETPU being this catchily named electricians union that got expelled from the TUC a couple of years later). The strike managed to last over a year under a lot of criticism from the government and newspapers as well as police suppression, but in the end it was broken, thousands of people were out of work, the union's strength was destroyed and Murdoch was making more profit. After that, the rest of the Fleet Street papers followed suit.

From there there was little resistance as journalists were fired and not replaced on a massive scale. Before the Wapping change Murdoch's titles made 35 million in profit. Three years later and this had quadrupled but during the same period their total staffing had dropped from 8,731 to 949. Again, the other papers were quick to follow him.

It's this breaking of the unions that has really accelerated commercialisation of news, because they were the big barrier against the focus purely on profit. Before then you couldn't lay off a load of staff in downsizing because you'd have a horde of journalists and printers mobilising against it. After Wapping, they couldn't. It's not news to me and I hope it's not new to you that in every privatised industry, the drive for profit will turn the focus away from social benefits and towards increasing earnings. The energy sector is pursuing short-term profit while causing massive long-term term problems for the entire world by continuing with their use of fossil fuels, with trains the rail infrastructure of the country has gone to rot since it was privatised and with housing there are millions of people who can't afford a home because the housing industry's focus is obviously on making the most money rather than housing the most people. With journalism, I'd say that ideally what they're meant to be supplying is a truthful representation of the important events. If we look at how the system has changed, especially in comparison to how things were pre-Wapping, then we can see a lot of ways in which the current set-up has really got in the way of that goal. This isn't just just because there are a few bad eggs who'll break laws if it gets them a good scoop and some money, it's a systematic failure of the media's ability to accurately report the truth.

The Workers

Firstly there are simply far far less journalists out there. There aren't and have never been tens of thousands of Guardian, Daily Mail, Mirror, Independents and Times journalists out there digging up stories all across the UK for the big top tier nationals. Instead they and all the major TV and radio stations relied upon a network of smaller local papers and specialists scattered about the country that formed the essential infrastructure of news gathering. These organisations just no longer exist in the same way they did a few decades ago. A third of the local newspapers that used to exist twenty years ago have simply disappeared, while the number of journalists at the local newspapers still up and running has gone down with more than half of the provincial NUJ members lost their jobs in the decade and a half after Wapping.

The local freelance agencies that didn't publish their own paper but simply rooted out stories and sold them on were the other place that journalists could go to to get news from across the country, but these are even worse off as the big papers cut their budgets for buying stories and froze the prices of those they did get meant the agencies had to shed staff and close. There were five agencies in Leeds, now there is one. Around Merseyside three of the four agencies closed and the one that did remain shrunk to around half the number of staff. The same thing happened in Stoke, Manchester, Derby and pretty much every city across the country save London while in rural areas, the smaller towns and villages, the one-man-bands that had covered them simply went bust.

The story is the same wherever you look, like the specialist court reporting agencies that used to dig out several national news stories every day, including some fairly large scandals like when they caught the Chancellor Nigel Lawson's wife being snuck into her drink driving hearing which had been scheduled for before the courts would normally be open. Practically every supply line of national news and information to the major new organisations, not just the papers but TV and radio too, has collapsed in a bid to save money and cut costs. Meanwhile, at the big well-known news organisations things aren't much better. Although they haven't suffered cuts as massive as the ones faced by smaller newspapers because, for instance that 8000+ employees being reduced to less than 1000 I gave for Murdoch's papers after Wapping was mostly normal working people like the printers rather than journalists who are involved in finding and reporting on news, the numbers of journalists at the major Fleet Street organisations has still dropped. The big problem they face though is completely different; it's the workload. Although there are almost as many journalists at major papers as there used to be, they space they're expected to fill in a paper has trebled and that's before you take into account more recent innovations like free sheets, websites, blogs, podcasts and all those extra things that are considered essential nowadays.

Trying to do three times as much work in the same space of time has two effects. One is that they spend less time checking the accuracy of their stories to make sure they're true and the other is that they are having to rely less and less on their their own investigative journalism and more and more on other sources of information. Now the normal pipelines of information, the local newspapers and independent journalists, have been cut and replaced by new kinds of service providers that aren't up to task which the remaining journalists have to rely on more and more.

The Sources

The big source journalists use is now the wire agencies like the Press Association. These are the people that the Queen or an MP or the police service or government departments speak to if they want to make a national or an international statement who also have their own reporters around digging up information. Every news organisation of any sizes subscribes to them. All the national papers, all the major regions, all the freesheets like the Metro, all of the BBC national and regional outlets, all the commercial news and radio stations, they all subscribe to it and they all rely on it. A study into the major Fleet Street publications, the respected ones like The Times, The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph, as well as the Daily Mail because it's a monstrously well-selling mid-market title found that about a third of their articles were direct rewrites of Wire material where at best they'd just slightly changed the layout. Another fifth were largely reproduced from the Wire and another fifth on top of that contained elements of wire stories but had a fair amount of original material added on top. That's about 70% of major UK stories either wholly or partly rewritten from wire copy.

It's completely replaced the national network of local journalists as the major pipeline of stories into the big papers. A typical journalistic rule is that you need two sources for every story. For a lot of media organisations, including the Beeb, a Press Association story pulled off of the wire doesn't need a second story to go on the waves, it's considered good to go as is. The problem is that wire organisations just aren't up to the job, either in terms of coverage or accuracy.

To compensate for the thousands of local reporters that have disappeared from regional newspapers throughout the country, the PA have assigned an extra fifty reporters to cover regional and local news across the Irish republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all the major cities outside of London.

This means, for instance, that Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria are covered by five reporters, including trainees. Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales have two. Cardiff has four for all of South Wales and the Wales Assembly. No matter how hard these journalists work, these dozens of journalists can only dig up the tiniest fraction of news that the several thousand journalists they're replacing used to. It's not anywhere near enough. On weekends and evenings they have one reporter to cover the entire North West. That's over seven million people being covered by one person.

That's the network that the major newspapers are using in part or whole for 70% of the stories they publish. They don't have the resources to comprehensively check for accuracy which means we get stories that are simply wrong and they don't have the manpower to go and actually find out all the important stories that are happening out there. Those same problems being faced by the newspapers who are now forced to rely upon the Press Association and other wire services are being faced by the wire services themselves, but moreso.

A really good example of this is back in 2006 when two people, one of them a BNP activist who had stood as a councilor, were found with the biggest chemical explosives haul in UK history. The only place to report on this when it happened was the Lancashire Telegraph, with the information copied a few days later in the Burnley and Pendle Citizen. When people complained, the BBC's response was that the BBC didn't avoid the story, they just didn't know about it. They had no local reporter and the police chose not to push it: they hadn't gone to the PA and feed them a story which would find it's way onto the wire. How could the BBC know about it if someone didn't go out of their way to tell the Press Association them about it and the BBC didn't have their own reporters down there? One BBC reporter did try to follow it up with the Lancashire Telegraph journalist who filed the story, but she declined to get involved because the BBC couldn't afford to pay her for her work.

It's worth mentioning here that although I'm focusing on the newspapers because traditionally they form the network of journalists that funnel news upwards to all the bigger organizations whether they're radio, national newspapers, tv or anything else, the rest of the media has been effected in the same way. The BBC are state owned but have been forced to compete in the marketplace, which predictable results. 7000 jobs cut in the 8 years after Wapping. A 25% cut in 1997. Another 13% cut in 2005 followed by more cuts in 2007 to the present day. At the same time as this is happening, they're released guidelines to journalists that stated they must maintain accuracy and adequately source all stories while at the same time stating that within five minutes of a breaking news being known they have to have a four paragraph version of the story online - which simply isn't enough time to find sources for anything. The commercial stations have gotten worse too, especially ITV which used to have a strong regional presence when it was made of 11 companies but collapsed into a monopoly in 2004 and lost much of it's regional coverage along the way.

But the other bring problem of where they are sourcing their information from apart from this massive over reliance on wire agency reports is that the other influxes of data all come from biased sources. More than half of newspaper articles have clear indicators of using PR material, which is an industry that has exploded in terms of growth since the 70's. I think it's fairly obvious why we don't want PR material to become news, but a good example of this is Paul Hucker and britishinsurance.com where in 2006 a story was put out about how he insured himself against mental distress if England got knocked out of the World Cup. It was a nice little story, which easily found it's way into the Times, Guardian, BBC, ITV, Sky, Daily Mail and a lot of international organizations as well. The problem was it was fake and could be found to be fake with a few minutes on google. Paul did the same thing in 2002. He also appeared in 2005 as a generic member of the public who was so happy that british insurance would insure his house. He's also a marketing director who specializes in promoting web-based companies like britishinsurance.com and had been involved in business ventures with the Managing Director of the company before. They'd also written stories about insuring yourself against becoming ugly, being kidnapped by aliens and three women who took out an immaculate conception policy. It shouldn't have been published, and it doesn't take long to confirm this is a non-story, but it was a neat easy story of the kind the newspapers need to fill space so it became news and pushed the Britishinsurance brand. More repellent PR practices can be seen by big business, where oil companies will use PR to cast doubt on global warming.

On the other hand, and what's not so obvious is that the reliance on PR agencies just as easily stops news from becoming known if the people involved don't want it to be known. Journalists are used to getting stories from PR officers if something happens. With police forces for example they publish the info on the big stories and the positive stories, not not ones they'd prefer kept quite. As long as a reporter has enough stories to fill his column inches, it's no longer a concern that there could be several major stories he's not covering. A freelance journalist used Freedom of Information requests to find out what information one police force (Northumbria) hadn't released information on in a single weekend. It turned out over 5,000 crimes hasn't been mentioned, almost all minor but including major crimes like a man who went missing from hospital and was found dead at sea, a 74 year old man badly beaten by a group of youths and a young girl who died when she fell from a tower block. If the journalists who historically would have looked for those type of stories don't exist anymore and the people involved don't push it, there's no way for it to become news. The constant stream of information that DOES come through keeps the journalists busy enough that they can't check in on those stories that aren't pushed.

There are various other ways that truthful new reporting is damaged in perhaps more minor ways, but which all contribute to the overall problems with your news coverage:

If you want a story to sell it has to fit the popular wisdom of the day. The torture and abuse of American prisoners in the Middle east was found out about a year before if became a national news story, but wasn't run with because it didn't fit the narrative of Americans being the rescuing heroes of the Middle East. Something controversial will get you in trouble and alienate readers and major bodies like the government that you rely upon to feed you stories.

Different newspapers also have different audiences which they have to cater for in different ways. Journalists at the Daily Mail have said how they've gone to visit victims of murder, only to be called back to the office halfway there because the victims are black as one damning example.

One thing which seems like it could be a positive ideology but has some big downsides is the need to be 'fair and balanced' while providing all sides of the story. In cases of opinion where there is no hard fact or truth, this can be good but in cases of factual news problems just dilutes the coverage because this is typically done when the news is especially damning against a powerful group and needs to be neutered so the news organsiation doesn't come under fire. Israel, for instance, has massive professional and voluntary lobbying groups. HonestReporting, which is one major pro-Israel lobbying group, has a 140,000 strong member base that it can call on to drench news organisations with complaints if they see stories which refer to Israel's policies negatively and claims to have caused hundreds of apologies, retractions and revisions from news outlets. They even had enough clout to get in meetings at CNN headquarters and get them to adopt pro-Israel policies like consistently Palestinian militants as terrorists. The thing is, Palestine has no comparable lobbying organisation. In an article critical of Israel there is good reason to neutralise the real news by providing an alternative stance as it protects the paper from criticism. When you are running an article critical of Palestine, there isn't the need to present a pro-Palestinian voice in the same way because there are no Pro-Palestinian organisations out there that lobby news organisations at that level. When fair and balanced is used ideologically to ensure all voices are heard, it's fair enough. When it's used to cover a newspapers back when real news can get them in trouble, it is a problem.

Why has this happened and what to do about it

It is this combination of less staff, less resources, less comprehensive sources and having to turn a profit of eye catching stories that has turned many journalists (and most likely the organisations they work for) towards illegal activity. These journalists didn't grow up dreaming of hacking C-list celebrities phones, but in the current circumstances who is going to give a reporter several days to track down the truth in whether a story is made up.

What's clear from all of this is that a the capitalist approach has disincentivised responsible and thorough journalism. The owners got rid of journalists because it was more profitable to deliver a cheaper but lower quality product. The owners cut operating budgets so they stopped paying for stories from all the disparate sources spread across the UK rooting up information and largely rely on wire reports which are every cost effective per column inch and PR reports which are free. The editors at the owners behest make sure that stories which fit the right narrative get printed or that they get printed but framed in the correct way. We can pick out particular people like Murdoch for taking on the unions, but if Murdoch was out the picture then the same set of conditions would have been pushing other newspaper owners to do the same thing. He might have been especially ruthless and quick to act, but the dialectic between labour and capital in this instance wouldn't have been substantially altered without him.

In my opinion a socialist news industry is required to deal with a lot of these problems. Workplace democracy, the removal of capital and profit from the equation and a focus on social benefit eliminates much of the drive to not bother checking stories and churning our regurgitated information quickly from the wire and PR agencies.

I must be clear that I don't mean a centralised state-owned media. Media plurality issues have been a massive concern with the current framework so completely collapsing everything into a monopoly would be a nightmare. Instead what is needed is investment in the means of producing newspapers like printing presses and offices from where journalists can work. These facilities should then be given, lent or leased to any people in the UK capable of putting together a papers, with paper sales being tracked in a similar manner to how they are now so adequate resources can be given to each paper and adjusted as needed. We'd still have the the Times and the Daily Mail and the Mirror, but the journalists would be working for themselves. There would also be room for much more competition now that you don't need large amounts of capital to set up a rival newspaper but rather good journalism.'

We wouldn't eliminate these practices entirely because there are various other factors we can't instantly solve, like the fame from breaking a big story which can drive someone in the same way profit can or the feeling of a moral duty like David Leigh of the Guardian who has admitted to hacking the phone of a corrupt arms dealer who made hundreds of millions, although in his case he was vindicated as a the police decided it was not in the public interest to pursue a case against him. A strong and independent body to deal with press problems rather than the current system of self-regulation which newspapers can even opt out of if they find it too restrictive would ensure that those problems that do occur are dealt with seriously, but I believe a socialist system would be eminently preferable the the system we have at the moment which does still work and does produce some great stories, but is in many ways a complete shambles and a shadow of both what it was previously and what it could be if run in the proper socio-economic context.

Further Reading

Richard Peppiatt's publicly published resignation letter highlights a lot of the problems I mention from a first-hand perspective: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/mar/04/daily-star-reporter-letter-full

Flat Earth News is an excellent book from which I pulled a lot of info I mention here.

Dial M for Murdoch is a good guide for those who want to catch up on what happened with hacking and news international but doesn't really add much new if you've kept up to date with this as it has been happening.

Private Eye magazine does a good job both of exposing newspaper hypocrisy and covering some of the government corruption which doesn't make it into the main papers, although the humour is private school crap.

Overhead:
snip

Wow, Thanks. That was brilliant.

Silvanus:
...
Problem is, these arguments are exceptionally persuasive, and are built (incredibly often) on outright fabrications. We have millions of people putting their trust into the papers, and the papers fabricate stories, fabricate quotes, sometimes even fabricate people altogether.

Well, if that's really the case, they won't be putting their trust in them for long. Or they want to be deceived.

I've lost count of the number of times the Mail & Express have run with stories about the British Red Cross "banning" mentions of Christmas throughout its shops; the stories come out every year. They have an impact on the amount of charitable donations that charity receives. And the stories are also utterly fabricated.

Well, if the stories are indeed complete and intentional fabrications, and a loss can be documented, my guess would be that the charity can already sue for damages under the current law.

...and who knows, it might bring in donations from other sides. I for one will not donate to something called Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Crystal, given that it de facto promotes the abhorrent discriminatory ideologies of Christianity/Islam/Judaism. A firm attempt to explicitly distance itself from any and all religious terminology and symbolism might soften this view.

During the AV referendum, the anti-AV campaign built itself upon an utterly fictitious claim about the cost of implementation. Not an iota of truth. Very persuasive; it changed the course of democracy in the UK, but still, not an iota of truth.

I'd think the actual problem there was the mere 42,2 % voter turnout, in a referendum about a fundamental structural aspect of democracy. If a population can't really be bothered with its own democracy, then it have no business talking about the press as though it was the problem.

"Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox in the corner".

And just how would censorship help solve such imbalance?

I'd not be against a government funding various non-commercial newspapers, through the same model of politically independent funding which is used with the BBC. Which would seem a more effective solution to offering access to neigh-neutral information, all without trampling all over the freedom of the commercially funded press.

If the population only want to read about boobs and freaks though...

Imperator_DK:
snip

no real points to make, just being pedantic. Red cross has no religious affiliation, the cross is the shape of a first aid cross, not the christian cross, and they are primarily involved in medical work.

http://www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do

They do good work. Its always best to research something before you call it evil.

Imperator_DK:

Well, if that's really the case, they won't be putting their trust in them for long. Or they want to be deceived.

Well, that's one very optimistic view of human intelligence y'got there.

Imperator_DK:

...and who knows, it might bring in donations from other sides. I for one will not donate to something called Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Crystal, given that it de facto promotes the abhorrent discriminatory ideologies of Christianity/Islam/Judaism. A firm attempt to explicitly distance itself from any and all religious terminology and symbolism might soften this view.

I'm gonna need a citation on that one. I smell something firmly in the 'debatable' camp passed off as fact again.

(You wouldn't believe the flak the Red Cross gets from Christians).

Imperator_DK:

"Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox in the corner".

And just how would censorship help solve such imbalance?

That's not what the quote is intended to show. It is intending to show that if certain viewpoints dominate entire sections of the media, thought or expression is not really representative or 'free' in a way that some find meaningful.

If you increase one freedom, you decrease another, in many cases. This debate is not "Freedom of the press against censorship of the press"; that's like saying the abortion debate is best described as "Pro-Life against Anti-Life". This debate is "Absolute Freedom of the Press against certain Freedoms of Privacy". I believe the line is drawn a little further to one side than you; it doesn't do the debate any favours to think of it simply as "right vs wrong, black vs white".

I could describe you as "anti-Freedom of Privacy" if I wanted, but that would be distorting the debate, misrepresenting the very nature of the issue.

Imperator_DK:
I for one will not donate to something called Red Cross

The Red Cross is derived from the reversal of the Swiss flag, as a mark of respect for it being founded by a Swiss guy. Or something. The alternative symbols exist because of misapprehension the cross represented Christianity.

If a population can't really be bothered with its own democracy, then it have no business talking about the press as though it was the problem.

Firstly, the disinterest of a certain proportion of the population is surely no reason to suggest the interested do not have the right to talk about the press. And frankly, there's no particular reason to think the press aren't part of the problem with voter disinterest.

neigh-neutral

I think you mean nigh. Horses neigh.

For the most part, the point of the quote is that freedom of information means also that minority views need to have reasonable access to the media. It could be construed in many ways - most obviously a sort of "anti-monopoly" principle to ensure a healthy pluralism in media.

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