Today the three party leaders will sit down and agree to ever tighter controls on the press. Assuming that he is not getting a blow job from a hooker at the time, Hugh Grant will then invoke the name of Milly Dowler and a 300 year tradition of a free press will draw to a close.
If you trust your politicians to behave with honesty and integrity that is perhaps fine. If you are happy for celebs like Grant to give you the hard sell on their latest movies or useless designer products without knowing why their public image is a sham that is again fine. If you are happy for scandals involving taxpayers cash being wasted, paedophile rings run within local councils and at the BBC to stay hidden and protected, then that is fine.
I suspect that none of us are happy that scandal and corruption will now become harder to expose. I am not.
The established press has done itself no favours. Phone hacking was a disgrace. It was also illegal under existing laws. There is no need for a new law to (in due course) get the collar of Piers Moron and others felt. And the press/Westminster cosy club has done itself no favours. Many of us might think that there is no point in standing up for a free press when so many journalists swap in and out of jobs as spinmeisters and in anticipation of that just toe the lobby line. What is the point of fighting for a free press if so much of the fourth estate is spineless?
But that is not the point. There are always some journalists who are prepared to go out on a limb and those who rule a country need to be held to account if it is to be free. As I reported yesterday in “Cameron you have blood on your hands” there is an increasingly totalitarian shift in the way we are monitored and controlled in Airstrip One and today’s grubby deal agreed by the political class is another step in the wrong direction.
That Nick Clegg can within a fortnight support secret courts and then State control of the press and still lead a party with the word Liberal in it is a total joke. Gladstone, Grimond, Mill et al must be spinning in their graves. That a big State party like Labour agrees with this sort of control-freakery is less surprising but none the less ghastly. As for Call Me Dave, he is a lost cause on so many fronts.
As it happens I suspect that this will merely hasten the demise of the dead-tree press. The past few years have (with the exception of the Telegraph breaking the expenses scandal) seen most of the big exposes comes from internet bloggers. That will happen more and more because we are free from these statutory controls.
In my own world of financial journalism, many of the writers I grew up with are now PR men and women. They cranked out press releases, reprinted favourable “exclusives”, helped set the spin agenda and now have their due reward. Exposing duff companies is just not the way of the mainstream financial press. I looked at the twitter feed of one high profile newspaper tipster the other day and nearly all their followers were PR people and other hacks. It is a cosy bubble. They socialise with each other, talk to each other and the ultimate audience is each other.
And so while Fleet Street may scream and shout, the problem is not just that the establishment wish to keep their grubby secrets, secret but that too much of the press is already part of – or wants to be part of – that same establishment.
That legislation will pass is without doubt. It will make it harder for the established press to expose wrong doings and as such the demise of the established press will be accelerated. But the interwebby thingy is out of the bag. The grubby wrong doings will still be exposed. Fear not.