OH MY GOODNESS! Never in my darkest hours had I ever imagined this could happen in Britain; but the UK’s politicians today ensured that they, and their adored media celebrity friends, will never again be pestered by awkward questions or suffer the indignity of being caught on camera when their poses have not been fully rehearsed.
In a cynical ‘all night’ meeting, Oliver Letwin, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and FOUR MEMBERS of the Hacked-Off Campaign got together to dot the Is and cross the Ts of a Royal Press Charter, underpinned by Statute, that would forever rid them of that turbulent Press.
Henry II would have been proud.
While the politicians rub their hands in glee at having accomplished an historic deal, and the TV broadcasters announce that the result satisfies all parties, it is noticeable that no one is asking why Newspaper Proprietors were denied any input to that closeted meeting. Neither is anyone asking why the Charter’s Draft was published so late in the afternoon and closely upon the heels of its Parliamentary and Lord’s accession.
While the votes were being taken, most were still attempting to study the draft in depth.
In February, I posted what I thought to be the last comment regarding Leveson’s proposals for a Publicity Opt-Out List, which would have given celebrities, high-profile businessmen and politicians the ability to escape media attention. But despite the ruling of the Strasbourg court, the creation of an Opt-Out List is contained in paragraph 8A, Schedule 3, of the Royal Charter concerning the governing body’s recognition criteria.
8A. A self-regulatory body should provide advice to the public in relation to issues concerning the press and the standards code, along with a service to warn the press, and other relevant parties such as broadcasters and press photographers, when an individual has made it clear that they do not welcome press intrusion.
A ‘Press Preference Service,’ it will be remembered, was a suggestion put to Hugh Grant by Lord Leveson during his enquiry. Effectively, Leveson was suggesting that celebrities and other high profile figures might record their wish not to be contacted by the Press, and thus place any journalist at fault when that wish is not complied with.
If this is enacted, anyone will be able to avoid Press Scrutiny by simply placing their details on the register – and any publisher whom fails to adhere to that request will be liable to punitive damages (in addition to being unable to print their story).
Notably, the word ‘intrusion’ has been used in order to have the clause spun; but, in Law, any unsolicited approach by a member of the Press can be construed as initially intrusive (and there is no jury under this legislation to consider the circumstances of the approach or if it is in the Public Interest).
Except for those ungodly individuals whom do not take advantage of this new facility to protect their privacy: all Investigative Journalism is now dead.
But, if that was not enough, Schedule 4 goes further than even cynics like me would have predicted.
In paragraph 1b:-
b) “relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom:
i. a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material, or
ii. a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine).
In the Parliamentary debate, the Labour MP, Tom Watson, wanted to be clear that the watchdog covers publishers for profit – AND BLOGGERS WRITING FOR PLEASURE.
Applying the Charter to the internet is necessary, of course, to ensure that those using the Preference Service are fully protected. The effect is to create a set of ‘Untouchables’ whom will no longer have to employ expensive lawyers to conceal their misdeeds, or become engaged in a public Libel case in which their dirty laundry might be aired.
Needles to say, it all hangs upon what one terms ‘publisher’ and ‘news,’ and Schedule 4 makes clear how that is to be defined as well:-
d) a person “publishes in the United Kingdom” if the publication takes place in the United Kingdom or is targeted primarily at an audience in the United Kingdom;
e) “news-related material” means:
i. news or information about current affairs;
ii. opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs; or
iii. gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.
Now that is a horrendous definition which can mean anything at all; but it specifically states that celebrities and public figures are to be protected. (This has never been about protecting normal citizens).
Notably, it is also a direct attack upon our precious Freedom of Speech, by bringing into the Charter’s scope: personal opinion, and gossip.
Our politicians will outlaw opinion!
Milly Dowler, it would seem, falls into the ‘other person’s’ category – although it is by no means certain how families like hers might register to avoid Press ‘intrusion’ in the future – particularly since no victim is ever given the chance to know their fate and is therefore unlikely to register their objection beforehand.
It is unfortunate that the Broadcasters, the Independent, and the Guardian have chosen to rehash the political spin regarding Bloggers and Tweeters rather than examine the Charter’s details and point-out what it actually says.
The United Kingdom, we are told, will be seeking to abolish the Human Rights Act – but not before the politicians and celebrities enshrine their own ‘rights’ in UK Law…