Britain is abandoning its free Press in favour of one controlled by Parliament. This is political revenge for a newspaper being given, and publishing, proof that many Members of Parliament cheated on their expenses, a continuing scandal.
The dirty work has been done for Parliament by a private enterprise called Hacked Off, a group of celebrities and self-promoters who only appreciate positive news coverage. Many have criminal convictions or have demonstrated gravely immoral behaviour, which was reported in the media.
British newspapers can be spectacularly poor at abiding by the formal principles of journalism, but must obey all existing laws, as we are seeing in the trial of Rebekah Brooks and others, formerly of The News of the World.
Hacked Off’s argument runs this way: although many of its members have individually received justice (and, in some cases, substantial payouts) over mishandling by the Press, that was somehow pot luck; the Press is out of control; therefore Government must take control of it.
Government organised a review of the media by Lord Leveson, who duly recommended Government control. Government let Hacked Off and other political parties draft the proposed new law. There is a way to go before Government shows starts fining newspapers the proposed massive sums that would force them to close.
Two interesting chapters in this story happened last week. First, Hacked Off ran an ad in support of government control of the press, listing in large print the names of a number of celebrities and self-promoters who want to end journalistic freedom.
Among those names were all the remaining members of Monty Python, the British comedy programme notable for being subversive. How did John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin come to think that the Press — admittedly owned by a ghastly bunch of crooks — should be managed by government, a different ghastly bunch of crooks?
Even Terry Gilliam, whose cinematic work is about the dangers of over-reaching governments, finds a free Press intolerable. The Pythons grew up when socialism was in force in Britain. Actors and politicos always flock together.
The Pythons have grown old. As the years passed, so has whatever flame burned in their hearts, to be replaced by cold calculation and absurdly inflated egos.
Maria Miller, the British Culture Secretary who will oversee the Press once the laws kick in, has been found guilty of cheating on her expenses, to the tune of about £40,000. Her staff reportedly threatened journalists looking into this ongoing theft by pointing out that she would be in charge of the Press once the new rules were in place, so perhaps they might like to mitigate their enthusiasm.
Last week, a secretive parliamentary committee over-ruled an independent arbiter and essentially let Mrs. Miller off. She doesn’t believe the Press can self-regulate, and now she has proved that Parliament cannot self-regulate.
RIP a free Press in Britain. Welcome back, Comrade Stalin. It’s as if you never went away.