by The Editor
06 December, 2012
That two relatively trivial instances of "unfeeling intrusion" by a single newspaper (one of which instances may, or may not, have involved the criminal offence of "hacking" a private telephone) should have raised such a stir as to generate a full-scale Parliamentary inquisition followed by a long-drawn-out and extremely expensive judge-led enquiry, seems to me to confirm that senior politicians place more emphasis on "saving the appearances" than on press freedom to conduct enquiries which may reveal potentially embarrassing truths.
The furore thus generated may have had the unintended effect of raising public concern with "openness" and "transparency" to such a pitch as to cause the resignation of the Director-General of the BBC.
That the "learned" (if not necessarily sapient) judge's recommendations should themselves have given the affair a new lease of life merely shows how political fomentation can amplify a storm-in-a-teacup into a full-blown hurricane.
While every intelligent newpaper reader is aware that electoral and commercial pressures sometimes lead both politicians and editors to take advantage of public prurience as well as genuine public interest, all parties concerned must learn to take the rough with the smooth.
The following seem obvious:
No responsible editor wishes to offend his or her readers or to let it be widely known that such an offence has been given.
Any and all proposals to set up a cumbersome regulatory body cannot be anything but an obstacle to editorial efficiency and a waste of resources.
Proposals to impose draconian fines of "up to a million pounds" are inappropriate. They will only encourage vexatious complaints from greedy adventurers aided and abetted by expensive lawyers. The elaborate procedures required might well discourage the great majority of aggrieved readers from going to the trouble of publicising the facts in genuine cases of editorial malfeasance.
In my view, the only form of "regulation" that is required is something along the lines of a Small Claims Court before which any individual or group may lay a claim of libel or other injury to status or reputation unfairly sustained as a result of press publicity.
Unless the complainant can be shown to have unfairly suffered damage assessed at a greater sum, a retraction of the offending article prominently displayed in a subsequent issue of the offending organ and a sum of, say, up to Ł5000 in compensation, should be sufficient to appease the majority of litigants and teach the offending Editor to be more careful in future.
I rest my case.