Some years back the opening speech at a Welsh Labour conference was delivered by the chairman of the Standing Order committee. Not the greatest of opening speakers, you’d agree. But his language was colourful. He urged the delegates to be on their guard because in the hall according to him were vultures and a nest of vipers.
He was of course referring to us journalist. We were there to plough our trade. Covering their conference. As welcomes go not the best. But not a surprising comment, politicians just don’t like scrutiny.
Now according to recent opinion polls that man’s views and of course being the Welsh Labour party it was a man, wasn’t to different to that held by the public today.
Journalists it seems are not universally loved.
Tomorrow will see the publication of the Leveson report into the press. All the indications are that he’ll want more than the self-regulation of the press that exists at the moment. A view undoubtedly shared by the public.
All, it would seem, want a system of deterrents. Deterrents to stop the press, not only breaking the law, but also to stop journalists investigating the lives of people.
On the face of it perfectly reasonable demands.
Of course, ordinary people should have redress if they’ve been misused by journalists. They too should be able to get compensation for the distress caused just as the rich and powerful are able to. Legal aid should allow the ordinary person to seek legal redress.
But there is a danger that we’re abpot to embark on a journey that journalism will be so seriously curtailed. The powerful will be able to get away with corruption, dishonesty, illegality and hypocrisy in both the public and private sphere.
For example the army of press officers, public relations officers that control every aspect of the publicity of a celebrity will paint such a glossy, clean image that the public will think that what they read in the OK magazine is the real thing. Perfect, saintly even. Put on a pedestal.
Hold on isn’t that’s what happened to Jimmy Saville. Knighted by church and state, monarch and pope. Allowed into institutions of all kinds. Leading inquiries on behalf of the state. Feted by charities. The man could do no wrong.
But he was no saint. He was evil. But got away with it. The press at the time didn’t do its job. For whatever reason they did nothing. Is this the kind of press we want now? If a celeb choses to have prostitutes in a back of taxi should their image remain wholesome?
There are armies of people already employed to hinder the press. Before long all newspaper will contain are pages and pages of press notices sent out by government and other organisations. Many of our weekly papers are just that now. Seldom are local councils put under the microscope today. They get away with murder.
The Welsh Government alone has an army of press people. Their task, to put the best gloss on the Welsh government. But it’s not just in Welsh government, there’s an army of them in Whitehall. And almost every other tinpot organisation in the land. An army of people spending their time frustrating journalism.
Oh, no the last thing that’s required are more curbs on the press. If the police had done their job properly in the first place and investigated illegal phone taps Lord Justice Leveson could have stayed doing his day jobs. But they were to busy enjoying News International’s ‘hospitality.’
The laws are already in place to protect against press abuse. Do we need more? There is a real danger that here the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. There is every danger that a free, robust press will be killed. The real looser will be democracy itself.