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Be careful what you wish for, Conservative MPs who want statutory press regulation

by Paul Goodman
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There are three broad interest groups who want statutory regulation of newspapers - and, I think, the blogosphere too.

  • First, ordinary victims of hacking or intrusion.  These include Kate and Gerry McCann and Christopher Jeffries and, at one remove though a very close one, relatives of the Hillsborough victims and the 7/7 dead.
  • Second, celebrities.
  • Third, the Left.  I'm not thinking only of Ed Miliband and Labour - or even of large parts of the Liberal Democrats - but of such campaigns as Hacked Off and the Media Standards Trust which, it's fair to say, lean to the left of the political spectrum.

All this is a reminder that fewer people than you might think join the debate about the media in Britain with clean hands - or, at least, with an open mind.

Much of the right would like to see the BBC closed or broken up or privatised, for example.  But it isn't the BBC which is under the magnifying glass this week.  It's Fleet Street.

Much of the left hate the way in which the right-of-centre papers - that's pretty much everyone, in its view, bar the Guardian, Independent and Mirror - treat immigration, America, crime, the Monarchy, the environment, Israel, religion, and pretty much anything that falls within the catch-all category of political correctness.

In short, the left view the Mail and the Sun and the Telegraph in much the same way that those Rotherham social workers saw those UKIP-voting foster parents.

The vulnerable British public should, in their view, be snatched away "for their own good" from these dubious people with unacceptable views.

Essentially, they want to create a climate of opinion in which, for example, doubt can't be expressed about whether global warming is driven by human activity.  (Hence the phrase "Climate Change denial", which seeks to make questioning a scientific theory as illegitimate as questioning a historical fact, the Holocaust.)

A lot has been written about MPs seeking revenge for the expenses revelations by supporting statutory regulation.  I think it's exaggerated: MPs tend always to want more control of the press.

This being so, the 70 or so - there will, I'm sure, be more - Conservative MPs who have come out in support of press statutory regulation ought to be very careful what they wish for.

There is a real danger of them playing into the left's hands, as Benedict Brogan warns in today's Telegraph.  What's needed post-Leveson is a settlement that helps that first group, the ordinary victims, without aiding the aims of the third.  That's a new, non press-run complaints body with the power to fine and punish papers - which is, none the less, independent of the state.

Our sharp-eyed readers will have spotted that I've missed out that second group.  I wouldn't quite say, with Rhett Butler, that "frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn".  But almost.