Press regulation: it is time we moved on
Max Mosley’s reputation is in tatters, Tom Watson has suffered serious collateral damage, and Impress is now formally a joke regulator, writes Raymond Snoddy. So what happens next?
Unless you are a right-wing, unquestioning supporter of Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP is a figure of fun, rather cruelly dubbed the 'Honourable Member for the 18th Century'.
It can also be irritating that he has been elevated into a spuriously significant role by endless appearances on television. When broadcasters need a Brexiteer to provide sound-bite “balance” to counter the carefully thought out arguments of former Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair, the Mogg is always there.
He is rendered even more irresistible to television bookers because he is colourful in his three-piece pinstripe, articulate, and a bit of a turn.
It seems, however, there is more to Jacob Rees-Mogg than at first meets the eye.
The Conservative MP for North East Somerset and son of Lord Rees-Mogg, who edited The Times, has just had his finest hour in the House of Commons attacking the “abhorrent” views of Max Mosley and defending press freedom.
The Mogg was speaking in the debate on the Data Protection Bill which had been “hijacked” by wretched Peers to insert amendments which would seek to extend punitive Leveson penalties on newspapers from libel and privacy to data protection.
Unless overturned, newspapers would have to pay the costs of anyone suing over data breaches even when the papers won, unless they had signed up with the state-approved regulator, Impress.
Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale warned that such measures would have made it impossible to expose the Oxfam sex abuse allegations.
Nick Hopkins, head of investigations at the Guardian, which exposed the phone-hacking scandal, has spelled out what is at stake.
Exposes such as the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers into tax evasion and hidden wealth would be unlikely, Hopkins argues, if the Lords amendments stand.
“Over the past 18 months, the Guardian has challenged multinational companies, billionaires and oligarchs over their financial affairs. MPs and Lords have come under the microscope too. Would we do it again if the Data Protection Bill goes through as it is? I doubt it. The financial risk would be too great,” Hopkins concludes.
The arguments against the Lords amendments are overwhelming but with MPs you never know. That is why the contribution from Jacob Rees-Mogg, deploying his recently minted fame and influence, is so welcome.
“A free press is one that cannot be regulated by the state. And so quite understandably no serious newspaper of the Left or of the Right has been willing to bend the knee to Impress and nor should it,” argued Mogg.
He added that anyone who voted for the clauses would be voting “to support Max Mosley and his abhorrent views and his money.”
As Culture Secretary Matt Hancock pointed out, support for the Bill as it now stands would also introduce a right to be forgotten.
This would mean data would have to be deleted unless there were legitimate reasons for retention. You can imagine what fun lawyers would have with that one.
Mosley, who has much to want forgotten, is spending a fortune on trying to have his activities deleted from the public record, particularly his interest in German-themed Sado-Masochistic sex orgies.
Then presumably he would like forgotten the fact he published an extreme racist election pamphlet that naturally he couldn’t remember when he appeared in court in the News of the World libel case.
Impress might wish to forget the fact that almost all its money comes from a Mosley family trust.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who is enthusiastic about imposing extra sanctions on the press, might like to forget he has received more than £500,000 for the funding of his office from Mosley, a man who happily brought Formula One to apartheid South Africa.
In fact Mosley has, until exposed by the Daily Mail, created a powerful, personal conspiracy to try to impose his views on press legislation with the help of a dogged campaign by Hacked Off on behalf of the victims of press intrusion.
Has Hacked Off been part of the Mosley conspiracy?
Conservative MP Anne Main sent a public letter to Hacked Off to try to find out, asking whether, among other things had Hacked Off ever received money from Max Mosley and if they had would they now return it?
Dr Evan Harris, who heads Hacked Off, insisted that to his knowledge Mr Mosley had never made a donation to Hacked Off.
But it is the tone of the reply that is most interesting.
“We have no way of checking every anonymous donation made online. Unfortunately for you, you are wasting your time on your hackneyed attempt to smear Hacked Off, an organisation which represents victims of press abuse against the might of some members of your allies, the News Media Association,” Dr Harris wrote.
As Max Mosley and an entirely separate Hacked Off campaign increasingly lose the political battle the tone of the debate is likely to deteriorate further.
On all fronts the momentum is against them. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock’s formal decision, backed by the Prime Minister, that a Leveson 2 would not be in the public interest was accompanied by an undertaking to repeal Section 40 of Crime and Courts Act. The Government also oppose such clauses in the Data Protection Bill and although anything could still happen given the current Parliamentary arithmetic the Enemies of the Press are in retreat.
Max Mosley’s reputation is in tatters. Tom Watson has suffered serious collateral damage. Impress, never impressive, is now formally a joke regulator with a number of the very small publications who have signed up considering their position.
Will they stop taking Mosley family money now and if not where do they go from here?
We should all move on and concentrate on improving IPSO as an independent regulator under Sir Alan Moses - more bite, greater prominence for adverse findings against newspapers and greater speed in high profile cases.
It would also be helpful if the Guardian, instead of standing on the side-lines on such vital matters, should join IPSO and fight to both improve its working and underline its independence.
After all the Guardian knows better than anyone how much worse state-sponsored regulation would be.
Jacob Rees-Mogg would almost certainly agree.