The current discussion of phone hacking takes many forms. Everyone is talking about it but no one is doing anything. With respect to Lord Leveson and his phone hacking inquiry, nobody has (yet) come up with a serious solution. The Hacked Offcampaign have one ready to be put in place.
Kevin Marsh spoke at John Mair’s Coventry Conversation about this and he came out of his corner swinging. The sizeable public outrage at the News of the World has left some paper’s cowering in the shadows, worried for their lives but the former Editor at the BBC College of Journalism turned the spotlights on them.
“You will hear tabloid editors take leave of the world of human decency – as Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre did at the Leveson inquiry – trying to defend what they do. Claiming it’s in the public interest. Asserting their freedom of expression. Standing on their right to expose corruption and hold power to account.”
Marsh describes this act as “hypocrisy of the most sniveling sort”.
The average journalist at a local or regional newspaper works incredibly hard to doubly source each story they write. The BBC will not budge until they have two confirmed sources. It may be the biggest story of the year, it may be entirely in the public interest, but they will wait for that second source.
This isn’t how it looked to Kevin Marsh when the Mail was reporting the tragic case of Joanna Yates. “Innocent ‘til proven guilty. Except that the picture the Mail and other tabloids gave us was of a weirdo – subtext “he did it”. After all, he had funny hair. And he once dyed it blue. Must have done it.”
In a post-fight exclusive interview Kevin Marsh accused the Mail of not writing real news “I don’t think anybody would argue that newspapers shouldn’t be perfectly free to report news, to have great opinion pages, to run fantastic editorials, to run fantastic campaigns, but that’s not the same as chasing a 61 year-old woman down the street. That’s not a lot to do with having a view or campaigning, it’s just sheer thuggery”.
Marsh’s anger and impatience is understandable. He has previously been at the heart of a similar, but much smaller saga with the Hutton Inquiry. He was the Editor in 2003 when Andrew Gilligan went off script whilst revealing the story of the ‘sexed-up’ dossier. Since then the Mail and other newspapers have directed many jabs and blows at the former BBC employee but no one has yet handed a knock-out blow and now the momentum of the fight is shifting toward the victim.
The comeback started with a group called Hacked off. This campaign for a good public inquiry into phone hacking quickly caught the eye of many people in powerful positions. Three days later the Leveson Inquiry was announced.
“I can’t say that was because of us, but it certainly made us look good.”
Back in the ring, the audience at Coventry University are stunned into silence by this descriptive and brutal account from Kevin Marsh, as he prepares to explain the solution to the phone hacking problem.
“If you ask the question – is self-regulation the way ahead? Or is it statutory regulation? – you’re asking the wrong question. It’s this: what do we want our press to do for us? And what do we want it to stop doing in order to become again a civilised player in a civilised society?”
At this point the speaker is merely toying with the audience as they are on the edge of their seat in the final seconds of this round.
“First we need a new legal framework for the media. Second, we need rapid, low-cost resolution of disputes with newspapers. Newspapers would have to decide whether they were in, or out of this system.”
This suggestion is not to be taken lightly, Marsh and Hacked Off do not intend to simply re-do the PCC.
“Inside, there’d also be a much stricter Editors’ Code, enforced with real sanctions and administered by a totally independent, statutorily established regulator with the powers and people to investigate. Outside would be very, very cold hostile place to be. You would have no public interest defence; costs and damages would be unlimited if you lost an action; juries and judges would be invited to take into account your decision not to sign up to the stricter code; and the balance of proof would be against you”
Kevin Marsh isn’t the man behind this idea. He doesn’t deny that there are better brains at work on this than him. He is the media insider who is working with the lawyers to create a Manifesto.
One thing the journalism industry knows is we are only halfway through the fight. It will continue to be a long drawn out sluggish affair, but when Lord Leveson has completed his findings there is already a manifesto and a framework to work from.
The fight isn’t over, but it seems Kevin Marsh and the Hacked Off team have won this round, and this could swing the momentum toward who will win the whole contest.