Hacked Off: I am going to have such fun with these people

The other week I wrote a piece detailing how Hacked Off, the group shrilly campaigning for a controlled press, had achieved their goal by “using all the red-top tricks they claim to hate – broad-brush condemnations, simplistic arguments, distorted facts, behind-the-scenes political deal making, celebrity stardust and the emotive deployment of victims.” I also described how, as well as helping victims of press abuse, Hacked Off wants to “force the press to serve defined social and political objectives – at the expense, if necessary, of the right to free expression.”

Hacked Off’s celebrity supporters reacted in characteristically calm and measured fashion. “Wow, Andrew Gilligan still knows how to write lies,” hissed Stephen Fry. No actual lies were cited, you understand, but for the kind of people who support Hacked Off, any fact with which they disagree is self-evidently false, and soon to be eliminated by their new “voluntary independent self-regulator.”

Hacked Off itself has been too busy denouncing the Committee to Protect Journalists and suchlike enemies of liberty to respond until now, but yesterday it finally published what it says is merely a 12-point “sample” of my crimes against truth. I particularly enjoyed Number 11, denying my claim that a gentleman called Martin Moore, director of the equally ghastly Media Standards Trust, is a director of Hacked Off. My source for this wicked fabrication is…well… Hacked Off’s own notepaper.

How did Hacked Off miss this, I wonder? Perhaps Rupert Murdoch – he’s responsible for most things  – crept up to their office and put Moore’s name in when they weren’t looking? Could Hacked Off’s notepaper have been hacked?

Then there’s Point 7, about Professor James Curran, co-founder and until recently chair of the enticingly-named Coordinating Committee for Media Reform (CCMR), which has recently renamed itself the Media Reform Coalition. CCMR’s website front page describes Hacked Off, shown with its symbol on the bottom right of the page, as one of its “partner” organisations along with a whole line of other lefty bodies (Compass, the New Left Project, the Coalition of Resistance, Avaaz, etc.) One of CCMR’s key figures, Prof Natalie Fenton, is also named as a director of Hacked Off on its notepaper, unless Rupert put that in too, and often speaks for the Hacked Off campaign.

Curran and CCMR believe that the problem with the newspapers “goes further than” journalistic misconduct, namely that “the press was the principal cheerleader of the deregulatory politics that landed us in the economic mess we’re in.” As well as tackling “individual grievances,” Curran says, a new press regulator must correct the “national conversation” and change the “terms of public debate” as part of “imposing public-service duties” on newspapers.

Prof Curran said all this at a meeting of… well… Hacked Off (on May 17 2012, one of several jointly organised by Hacked Off and CCMR.) Hacked Off objects to my description of Curran as its “key intellectual inspiration,” but at that very meeting, Hacked Off’s director, Brian Cathcart, described the book in which Curran sets out these ideas, Power without Responsibility, as the campaign’s “Bible.”

(I’m thinking of writing a similar treatise about Hacked Off, by the way. Perhaps I could call it Self-Importance without Self-Awareness.)

CCMR’s close intertwining with Hacked Off is part of the basis of my assertion that Hacked Off wants to “claim the country for the authoritarian Left.” I also quoted from several of the speakers at the May 17 meeting (webcast here), demanding that the press regulator require the media to “support” the NHS, ban Page 3 and ensure that all reports on domestic violence are “sensitive.” Hacked Off claims that it merely “attended” this meeting “alongside other (non-affiliated) groups.” In fact, it organised it; its directors, Cathcart and Fenton, chaired it; and the woman who called for the restrictions on reporting domestic violence is from Equality Now, a group described by Hacked Off’s website as a “partner organisation.”

Then there’s Prof Chris Frost, who I described as a “Hacked Off supporter” and quoted as saying: “The right to free expression… cannot be absolute… the key is to allow as much freedom as is concomitant with the rights of others balanced by the public interest.” Point 3 of Hacked Off’s Roll-Call Of Gilligan Shame accuses me of misrepresenting Frost’s role with the campaign and misquoting him. Would that be the same Chris Frost who describes himself in his witness statement to Leveson as a “supporter of the Hacked Off campaign,” or a completely different one?

As for the supposed misquotation, here’s what Frost said, in a piece calling for a press regulator:

The right to free expression as upheld by the press is one of the most important rights we have in the UK alongside the right to life and liberty, but unlike these it cannot be absolute. Opponents of better standards like to suggest that free speech IS absolute and that any curtailment means the end of free speech. But freedom of expression has always been bounded by restrictions in order to protect other human rights or to prevent harm. The key is to allow as much freedom as is concomitant with the rights of others balanced by the public interest.

James Curran attacks the “First Amendment fundamentalism” and “righteous libertarianism” of the British press, too, by the way, saying that discussion of media reform “should not be limited only to defending freedom of expression.”

Hacked Off also hates me calling it a “campaign for a controlled press.” But if the proposals in its Royal Charter were not controls on the press, there would be little point in them. It fumes at my reference to a “state-backed regulator,” insisting that its scheme is for “voluntary self-regulation.” This is, quite simply, a lie. The regulator will not be part of the state, but it will be required to conform to fairly prescriptive criteria set down by the state – hence “state-backed.” It will not be “voluntary.” Newspapers will effectively be compelled (by the state) to take part because non-participants will be forced (by the state) to pay crippling costs and damages. It will not be “self-regulation,” since the entire point is that the regulator will not be under the control of the press and the press will no longer regulate itself.

Life’s too short to go through all the other distortions in Hacked Off’s riposte. Suffice it to say that apart from one point (12, if you’re interested – which we swiftly corrected) all their claims are untrue or misleading. Not surprising from an outfit one of whose directors, as I revealed this weekend, gave false evidence to Leveson under oath. This, however, is what we’ll be up against soon for real – instead of just mocking Hacked Off in a blog, I’ll have to go ten rounds with the press regulator every time they get annoyed with me. When Hacked Off talks about making the press “accountable,” what they mean is making it accountable to people like them.

There’s a silver lining, though. Arrogant, entitled, lying and hypocritical, in Brian Cathcart and Hacked Off I think I’ve found my new Ken Livingstone. What fun we’re going to have together!