Mark Pack writes a lot of good insightful stuff. But his piece on LDV yesterday “Ivan Lewis isn’t completely wrong about journalists” is actually, just plain wrong. To be fair to Mark his headline is basically a peg on which to republish a post on media he wrote some time ago. Yeah, I know, we all do that – but his timing could not be worse.
There is, in this Murdoch-getting-the-kick he-deserves era, a very real danger that things are getting out of hand. The Milly Dowling, 7/7 phone hacking activities have got the public mad. The press is on the back foot. The MPs sense a chance to get their own back. To get the whip hand over the media. Let me be very clear – the state can never be allowed to get the upper hand over the media. Never.
A vibrant free press is an absolute necessity of a healthy functional democracy. There have been so many times in recent history when it has been the media that has been left as the only meaningful group holding government to account. They have exposed Government lies, ministers double dealing, hypocrisy, corruption, expenses scandals, unlawful killings, and so much more…
So you had better have a very good reason for suggesting that Ivan Lewis “may have a point” when he, or any MP, seeks to go meddling in journalistic affairs.
And the sad matter of fact is that Mark’s argument seems to rather weak. He is concerned that he knows of “some people” who have been caused “huge personal distress“ because of doorstepping that “oversteps the mark and leaves someone in tears” and that ” There is no comeback” .
And his answer is to make reporters/editors personally accountable for their actions – not just the titles.
I can’t actually think of anywhere where the individual rather than the corporation takes the wrap more than in journalism. Editors get the chop much more often than Whitehall chiefs for little more than being on charge (Piers Morgan) or standing up to Government (Greg Dyke). Journalists get sacked for overstepping the mark (James Forlong), or suffer public humiliation for hypocrisy at the very least (Andrew Marr). Journalists go to prison for breaking the law (Clive Goodman) and for refusing to reveal their sources (Amelia Hill) – well if the Met had their way. Go ask any journalist who was working on the New of the World until a few months ago about how much they relish their “personal immunity” and they will laugh in your face.
I don’t know who the people are that Mark Pack knows of who were so “distressed” by media “fishing exercises”. And I can’t imagine what it is he thinks his suggestion of holding journalists to account will achieve. He either really does not understand how newsrooms work or he is being faux naive. The only likely outcome of making individual journalists accountable is that it would provide another layer of cover for the titles/companies if and when they need a scapegoat.
What I do know know is that to suggest that “Ivan Lewis’s policy initiative may be one for filing straight in the “how not to do it” pile of policy launches, but the question of how much personal responsibility those in the media should have for their actions deserves better than to be forgotten as a result“ is to totally misunderstand what is at stake here.
We are in a fight for democracy – we actually have MP’s thinking that they can start to dictate to journalism about codes of conduct and rules of engagement. This is much bigger than Liberal Democrats angst at how rough a ride they think they have had from the media. Or how persecuted they feel their MPs have been. We can’t use this as an opportunity to settle old scores or get Lib Dems a better share of the media pie in the new world order.
We must do what is right. And that is to say that Ivan Lewis is totally wrong.