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Mark Pack is wrong to say “Ivan Lewis isn’t completely wrong..”

September 28th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized by

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.

4 Responses to “Mark Pack is wrong to say “Ivan Lewis isn’t completely wrong..””

  1. PackWatch Says:

    Comrade Pack has always been a bit Blue Labour on the ability of the state to regulate wisely.

  2. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Just to be clear my intention was not to diss Mark – I think he writes extremely well on a whole range of topics. I meant simply to highlight a real danger in Mark (or the Lib Dems) going down this particular path. Given our historic relationship with the media it would be too easy for us to fall into a simplistic “let’s get the bastards” mentality. That would be very dangerous for democracy were we to accidentally get our way.

    Yep we need to flush out the bad – but if we castrate the good in the process then it would be a very dark day indeed.

  3. Mark Pack Says:

    Angela: it’s an impressive list of journalists/editors who have got the chop that you put together.

    But I would contrast that with, for example, how rare it is for an adverse PCC ruling or libel case outcome to result in comeback on the individuals concerned. Of course that wouldn’t be appropriate in all cases by any means, but in many cases analogous behaviour in other jobs would result in action against the responsible individuals.

    As for what this might achieve, well the idea of people being responsible for their own actions might appeals to you ideologically :)

    But I’m also struck by the number of tabloid journalists who say, either privately whilst in job or after they have changed jobs, things such as “Well, I know what the paper does is wrong, but…”

    I of course fully agree with some of your other comments :)

  4. Angela Harbutt Says:

    cheers for responding Mark –

    I could go down a LOT more journalists who have got the chop if you want me too…. ok maybe not…

    I agree that the PCC was fundamentally flawed – but i think that will be managed by a reform of the PCC itself – not by holding the indidivual journalists to account – if you know anything about how newsrooms work you’ll know how difficult – and unfair that could turn out to be and give cover for the organisations.

    I don’t think we disagree very much on this – we both want a free press unfettered by government i am sure…

    You are a pretty influential blogger in the lib dems and i would hate for your comments to encourage any idea that we support the state interferring with the freedom of the press. People die in some countries to protect it – we should not treat it flippantly.

    Maybe you can write a post about why Ivan Lewis is totally wrong in due course,…….