Index on Censorship examines the question, posed by MailOnline editor Martin Clarke, How does the Leveson Enquiry deal with the internet? But it misses the point that Clarke’s focus on the internet is simply diversionary tactics, designed to draw attention away from press conduct and point the finger at, well, it seems, pretty much everyone who’s ever used a social tool.
Said Clarke in his evidence:
Underpinning any press regulator as a statutory body effectively gives the state the power to licence newspapers and penalise ones that either do not join the body or ignore its rules. The only way to force bloggers to sign up as well would be to give that statutory body the same power to shut down blogs. If licensing newspapers is a severe restriction on free speech, this would be positively North Korean and the subject of mass internet protest. But even if we could get a law through, is it enforceable? Are we really going to drag Guido Fawkes off to the tower like his famous namesake for not joining the PCC?
Trouble is, the Leveson Inquiry wasn’t called because of bloggers hacking phones or Twitter users flouting a superinjunction as an act of civil disobedience or the impact one Tweet from Stephen Fry can have. It was called because of widespread corruption within the media, the political body, and the police, amongst others. It’s about the press becoming so powerful it could actually bully the government, and corrupt public officials and police officers. If a proper investigation was done, and Motorman taken to its logical conclusion, there’s every possibility that corruption would be found elsewhere as well.
I don’t think Guido Fawkes, on the other hand, quite has the money to go round giving police officers tens of thousands of pounds in return for juicy bits of information. There’s no evidence that Twitter users were hacking into anyone’s phones and publishing salacious comments based on what they found. And whilst every now and again a Facebook user turns out to be a racist shit, there’s no evidence of press-related criminality there.
Clarke, like so many of the newspaper editors, proprietors, managers and journalists we’ve seen giving evidence is keen to draw the fire away from his own publication and refocus it on somewhere else, preferably somewhere complicated. The internet makes a great new target because it is complicated, and because a new press regulator is going to have to think very carefully about how to deal with it.
But on the question of corruption, bribery, proto-blackmail, influence, graft, fraud, misconduct and criminal activity, the internet and its users is for the most part irrelevant. If you can find me a blogger or a Twitterer or a Facebook user who is guilty of media corruption, then that becomes a problem for Leveson.
In the meantime, existing laws are being used to deal with those who Tweet rape victims names, racially abuse others on Facebook, or write libellous blog posts. So it’s not like the Internet is quite the wild west it used to be. Turns out, in fact, that however complicated jurisdiction may be, there is jurisdiction.
The Internet is, in short, not a badger and it does not have a gun. Sorry, Martin.