Leveson - freedom of speech?

Freedom of Speech?

This is a knee jerk piece of ‘legislation’ that will impact on all of us, dentistry included. I normally talk and blog about marketing and PR – let’s just say this one is a little less about dental PR and marketing and a bit more about liberty and getting on my soapbox!

Why did we need an investigation into the press in the first place? We didn’t. All of the cases that wind people up, were and are already covered by existing legislation.  Put simply, a lot of powerful people had had their noses put out of joint. Expenses anyone? They were just waiting for the right moment and for the ‘Great’ British public to be suitably outraged – phone hacking. Don’t get me wrong, phone hacking was outrageous but I for one would be amazed if the setting up of the enquiry was not driven by MPs seeking revenge, rather than a genuine desire to see justice for the Dowler family et al?

The British press has always been nasty – that’s its raison d’être. And Rupert Murdoch is hardly a figure that most would like to empathise with. It’s hard to love him or a great deal of the press. And, the Labour Party saw an opportunity to put the boot in for all the 80s stuff. Whatever your politics, you have to admit that in the 1980s, Murdoch specifically and the right-wing press in general, took the Labour Party, under Neil Kinnock, to the cleaners. Ed Milliband (and more likely those around him with longer memories) saw an opportunity to even the score – and an ineffectual coalition let them.

And so, the Leveson inquiry was born. If you ask a lawyer how to deal with a perceived problem, what is his likely response going to be? Of course – legislation. That will be the natural position of any lawyer. Dare I say it; it would be like asking a dentist about fluoridation?!

Lord Leveson, after enjoying his time in the media spotlight (and like most, he did enjoy it), delivered his damning verdict on the British press that he was quietly asked to deliver at the beginning. And, the middle class liberal sycophants (scratch a liberal and find a fascist), loved it. Hacked Off (more on them later), BBC, Hugh ‘what hooker?’ Grant, Ed ‘looking for a cause to nail my colours to’ Milliband – were all quick to say what a triumph the report was and a ‘wake-up call’ for the press. This has the smell of the Dangerous Dogs Act about it – put into law at haste and the people will deal with it at her Majesty’s pleasure. Legislation in a hurry leads to unforeseen loopholes and bad law.

So Hacked Off got what they were after. And who exactly is behind Hacked Off, apart from a couple of shagging comedians? The chairman of Hacked Off is a guy that you may not be aware of called Hugh Tomlinson QC. However, if I told you he was the man behind the gagging orders that assisted Ryan Giggs and Sir Fred Goodwin, would you get an idea of where he was coming from? And, what I cannot understand is that so many on the left – the side that allegedly sticks up for the masses – are happy with the fudge that this will become. As well as likely to be thrown out for being in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (one in the eye for Mr Farage), the bill would like to force ‘relevant publishers’ to join a ‘voluntary’ regulator.

This was originally expected to just be the ‘proper press’ – but no! (And what does proper press mean – The Spectator, Private Eye and many others have said they will not sign up.) It includes all you idiots online – me included! When this was announced, suddenly the Twitterati and bloggers weren’t so keen – “this was only for the old fashioned media surely?”

If you don’t join the ‘voluntary’ regulator, then you may be liable to exemplary damages – even if you are in the right! What does this mean?

  1. You could pay for both sides’ costs – even if you won?! Natural justice much?
  2. If you have joined ‘the club’ of relevant publishers – you could still have to pay both sides’ costs! They have written a clause in that could catch you anyway!

This has led to the ultimate irony of the Russian press, yes, under Putin, laughing at us – http://ruvr.co.uk/2013_04_18/Royal-charter-may-lead-to-self-censorship/

What is this obsession with not offending anyone? People need to be offended! Can you imagine living in a society where no-one was offended – God it would be dull? If you are offended, tough. Don’t read it, turn the TV over etc. We cannot legislate for offence. We seem to be living in a society that is driven by emotion rather than logic – as a toe rag who works in PR and marketing I will take some responsibility for this – but not all! We have become too concerned with how we appear to be rather than who we actually are. No panic, but that’s what causes empires to end. I think that this illustrates many people’s nostalgia at Thatcher’s death. Those who couldn’t stand her when she was alive, missed the certainty and honesty that she, (and others such as Michael Foot), provided. Maybe not a happier world but a simpler world.

Aside from the assault on all of our freedoms, this could also affect the dental world directly. Now, if you have been following the press reports of this story you may respond, “No! Any title that “relates to a particular…trade, business, industry or profession” and only covers news related to the title is exempt. Only it isn’t. Or at the very least, no-one knows.

What would happen if Tony Jacobs (www.GDPuk.com), Julian English (Dentistry), Lisa Townshend (Dental Tribune) et al, uncovered a potentially embarrassing story about say, Barry Cockroft, (apart from the usual embarrassing stories) – that could cross the line between purely dental and into political in his role as CDO? What would happen then? Er…we’re not sure. When the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller (whose brief covers this area), was asked about a similar scenario, she responded, “Ultimately the court will decide…If a publication is concerned about whether it would be caught by the new regime, it can of course seek legal advice.”

So, make sure that you’re ‘lawyered up’ folks before you print anything remotely contentious! Or, we could be running the FREE Julian English/Lisa Townshend/Tony Jacobs campaign in the very near future.

PS  Just to be clear it is the Editor that goes to court, no-one else Julian/Tony/Lisa!