Features

Since when has Steve Coogan stood against censorship?

Why is Index on Censorship cosying up to the tribune of Hacked Off?

21 June 2014

9:00 AM

21 June 2014

9:00 AM

I have looked everywhere. I have Googled, and asked around. But I can find no evidence that Steve Coogan has ever taken the trouble to defend freedom of speech at home or abroad.

I promised myself I would never again mock ‘luvvies’ in politics after I saw Tim Minchin, Dave Gorman, Robin Ince and Dara Ó Briain give up their time to help Index on Censorship’s campaign against Britain’s repressive libel laws. Steve Coogan did not stand alongside them. I have heard Sir Ian McKellen and Sienna Miller protest at Index events in defence of the Belarus Free Theatre, which must ward off the attentions of the Lukashenko dictatorship. But I have never heard a squeak from Coogan.

He lobbies for Hacked Off, which started with a good case against abuses of press power, but degenerated into know-nothing, single-issue fanaticism long ago. Coogan’s record means that a short press release caused lifelong liberals to consider resigning from Index last week. It was ‘delighted to announce’ that Coogan had agreed to become Index’s patron. Coogan was equally delighted as he believed that ‘creative and artistic freedom of expression is something to be cherished’.

This was news to me and many others, who had seen Hacked Off become like the tabloids it opposed. Listen for the familiar hectoring voice, and the routine dismissal of contrary opinions as stupid and corrupt in his assault on David Mitchell last year. His fellow comedian had said in the Observer that liberal hatred of Murdoch was not a good enough reason to tear up basic protections. Rather than argue, Coogan jeered. ‘Despite your ubiquity, you are consistently well above average,’ he said as he dismissed Mitchell’s comedy with the condescension sneering men mistake for wit. Mitchell’s argument against giving politicians unprecedented power to regulate the press, however, was so dumb he could not even patronise it. Mitchell was producing ‘ill-informed and superficial dross’. He was doing the work of press barons. Mitchell’s warnings were ‘astonishing’ and ‘sloppy’. He was a ‘schoolboy’ miles out of his depth.

Still Mitchell, dross-churning schoolboy that he was, could count on the support of Index on Censorship. Parliament’s charter on press regulation undermines the fundamental principle that the press holds politicians to account, it said. ‘Politicians have now stepped in as ringmaster and our democracy is tarnished as a result.’ Events were to show that the politicians could not wait to start cracking the whip. When Telegraph reporters asked about her expenses, an aide for Maria Miller, the former culture secretary, warned them that she was responsible for press regulation and they had better watch what they said.

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No one had the right to be surprised. Give politicians the power to influence what writers say about them and they will use it. Even schoolboys know that.

Beyond Parliament’s creation of the first mechanism for political surveillance of the written word in peacetime since the 1690s, there is a more subtle assault on investigative journalism. News organisations that do not sign up to an approved regulator face exemplary damages in the courts, even if they win a libel or a privacy case. J.K. Rowling and other Hacked Off supporters have provided the funds to set up a regulator called Impress. (Geddit?) If the government recognises it, newspapers and magazines will face punitive punishments if they refuse to join, which will kill small journals and deter larger ones from tackling dangerous stories.

Meanwhile, Leveson ruled that police officers tempted to blow the whistle must raise concerns internally rather than speak to journalists. Index on Censorship warned at the time that the lock-down showed how the hacking scandal had heightened the appetite for secrecy. Once again, events have vindicated it. From forces disciplining police officers for tweeting to Parliament approving secret trials, the state has been ‘shackling information’, just as Index predicted it would.

Why is it now embracing Coogan? Its chief executive, Jodie Ginsberg, told me that as an ‘edgy’ comedian he understood the need to confront oppressive power, although she could not point to any instances of him making his opposition public. I think a better explanation lies in understanding how hard it is to defend free speech. It is a warts-and-all liberty. If you are not prepared to be unpopular, if you are not prepared to come to the aid of people you and your friends find repugnant, you should not pretend to support it.

Many do not. Liberty, the largest civil liberties organisation in Britain, ignores free speech. Liberty’s illiberalism does not matter overmuch. Free speech had English PEN and Index on Censorship in the trench alongside it. PEN can take the strain, but it has been hard for Index to bear. Look at the liberal worthies Hacked Off has managed to persuade to support a medieval royal charter imposed by the feudal remnant of the privy council: Danny Boyle, Tom Stoppard, David Attenborough, Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman, Ian McEwan, Helen Fielding, John Cleese, and A.S. Byatt.

They would not be the first people I would call on to investigate accusations of police corruption, but they are good men and women nevertheless. The older among them harbour the easy illusion that the right-wing press ruined their country by brainwashing the working class into supporting Margaret Thatcher. All of them believe with more plausibility that the behaviour of many editors and journalists has been despicable. I know a few of them and they will never believe that they are making a terrible mistake. I know too that liberals yearn to be their friends and overlook their occasional errors, as do I in my weaker moments. Better to stay friends than to oppose your own side in bitter public arguments and stand alongside Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre as you do it.

Index, once one of Europe’s most important free-speech organisations, is facing a financial as well as a social crisis. It has made its best people redundant and abandoned its sponsorship of Belarussian journalists. David Aaronovitch, its chairman, said its ‘campaign against state involvement in the regulation of the press almost certainly cost us donors’. His chief executive tells me its opposition to Hacked Off remains unchanged. I wonder if it can be. Henceforth Hacked Off will be able to say: ‘Index can’t believe that we are threatening free speech. We are such good friends now, it has made Steve Coogan its patron.’

There is a grand sense of intellectual independence in E.M. Forster’s line that he would rather betray his country than betray his friends. The truth for many London intellectuals is shabbier. When they have to choose between betraying their principles and betraying their friends, their principles go into the bin.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist and the author of You Can’t Read This Book. He blogs at spectator.co.uk/nickcohen


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Show comments
  • Peter Stroud

    When I read that Coogan had been ‘adopted’ by Index, I was surprised, and assumed he had changed his ways. This article suggests that he is precisely the same man who supported Hacked Off. It does seem a very strange move.

    • Jon Stone

      Not really, since Coogan would maintain – and many others too – that opposition to censorship sits perfectly well with opposition to the power and freedoms of the mainstream press.

      • global city

        That sounds very Swedish!

        They do not have a free press in Sweden.

      • La Fold

        So essentially he (and they) basically wnat to decide what censorship is and what it isnt then?

        • Kaine

          We do that already, largely by a pricing system where you guess how much printing something will cost you in legal fees and then decide whether you have deep enough pockets.

          • La Fold

            No we dont. If printing something that is true, or in that fact non libellious then it wont cost you s ingle penny(unlike the system the Leveson system wants to put in place which would in effect force this upon those who dont want to sign up to the regulator)

          • Kaine

            It actually will cost you a great deal of money. What you mean is that if you can demonstrate that what you have said is non-libellous in a court of law then you’ll get that money back. Not everyone has pockets deep enough to take that risk. In its mirror image, if someone sees something untrue about themselves in the press the best they can usually hope for is a line, which no-one will read, in the ‘corrections’ section, unless they have the resources to take the publication to court.

            The scandal is the cost of justice in Britain. From this, all else follows.

          • La Fold

            Complete nonsense. Correct, the onus is on your self to prove what you have said is true in a libel case, but how is that a bad thing? Is more honesty not we are demanding of our journalists?. A hallmark of good jounralism is due diligence and verifying your facts before publishing. That or you are expressing an opinion which is covered by fair comment defence.
            Your second point is rubbish too. At the onset of a libel case it is the duty of the judge/ jury to decide whether or not the person in question has been damaged. Once that has been determined the judge or jury then decided how damaged the victim is whcih uses various factors such as how widespread the libel was spread, who saw it, effect on loss of earnings, future employment, damage to reputation etc This is what determines what damages are awarded to a person.
            The price of justice in the UK? All that money worked well for Nathaniel Rothschild a couple of years back eh?

        • Jon Stone

          “So essentially he (and they) basically wnat to decide what censorship is and what it isnt then?”

          Outrageous, isn’t it? Everyone knows it should be *you* who gets to decide what censorship is and isn’t.

          I honestly think the discussion around this ends up looking ridiculous, because when commentators rail against Coogan for thinking he knows what should and shouldn’t be permitted, they’re invariably expressing their own views about what should and shouldn’t be permitted and saying that *these* are what should be enforced. How is that anything less than hypocrisy?

          Coogan thinks an independent regulator is best placed to adjudicate on what should and should not be published. His opponents believe individual newspaper editors are the ones to do this. That’s all this comes down to. No one opposed to Leveson has ever convincingly put the case that the world they’re fighting for is one where *more* views and facts can be freely published.

          • La Fold

            Hold the bus young squire, where have I said what is and isnt censorship? I am not a member of hacked off. I dont stroll around saying what the press can and can not print. So thats your first straw man firmly thrown in the dust bin. Putting words in my mouth there my man.
            Secondly, so for firmly disagreeing with whatever Coogan thinks, about what should and shouldnt be printed or the manner he and his rich mates use their money and influence to acheive this means i am a hypocrit? Where have I stopped him expressing his views? Have I said he shouldnt be allowed to air them via Hacked Off? Or said he shouldnt be allowed on Newsnight? No I have not, not once, not anywhere. He has his right ot his views just as much as I have the right to disagree with them.
            Both your arguments are moot im afraid my pedigree chum.
            And as for your last point? A meaningless tautology. No one is fighting for *more* views or facts. They are fighting for the freedom to express views and facts in the first place.

          • Jon Stone

            “I dont stroll around saying what the press can and can not print.”

            Now, are you sure about that? You don’t have any views, for instance, on whether they should be able to print lies, or explicit racism, illegally obtained medical records, pictures intruding on family grief? You wouldn’t be fussed if the whole spectrum of newspapers suddenly only printed relentless pro-government propaganda? There’s nothing you can imagine where you would draw the line? If so, that makes you pretty unique. Most people have an idea of the range of things they think of as acceptable.

            Also, there is a point where disagreement becomes a form of censure, a form of exerting one’s will over someone else’s freedom. One can disagree civilly with Coogan, or one can bring out the blunderbuss of scorn and disapproval – this is, albeit ineffectively, a form of establishing what is and is not a permissible viewpoint. Why don’t we hear racist views expressed loudly and proudly in most contexts? Because in most contexts, our combined disapproval suppresses them. People are less likely to say things they know they will be boo’d for.

            So it’s not quite as clean a divide as you say it is. When scorn is poured on Coogan, it is an instinctive attempt to humiliate him into reversing his position. We’re social animals – this is how we vote on the rules of conduct in our society.

            On the last point, I think you need to reread the sentence you’re objecting to. I didn’t say anything about ‘more views and facts’ simply existing; I talked about more views and facts being ‘freely published’. That’s the same thing as your ‘freedom to express’. So my point stands – I can’t see the argument that we’re moving into an era where a smaller range of things can be published. Some things were suppressed before. Different things will be suppressed now, because the power to do so will be spread out between more people.

          • La Fold

            Hold the bus young squire, where have I said what is and isnt censorship? I am not a member of hacked off. I dont stroll around saying what the press can and can not print. So thats your first straw man firmly thrown in the dust bin. Putting words in my mouth there my man.
            Secondly, so for firmly disagreeing with whatever Coogan thinks, about what should and shouldnt be printed or the manner he and his rich mates use their money and influence to acheive this means i am a hypocrit? Where have I stopped him expressing his views? Have I said he shouldnt be allowed to air them via Hacked Off? Or said he shouldnt be allowed on Newsnight? No I have not, not once, not anywhere. He has his right ot his views just as much as I have the right to disagree with them.
            Both your arguments are moot im afraid my pedigree chum.
            And as for your last point? A meaningless tautology. No one is fighting for *more* views or facts. They are fighting for the freedom to express views and facts in the first place.

          • sarah_13

            Coogan says it straight in the tape above, the mail is not worthy of surviving. He further says what he says entertains and therefore is justified. Many would say he is not entertaining and that the mail does entertain. He says despite the millions who are entertained and do buy the mail that because he doesn’t like it he’s wants it to disappear. He is happy to allow hacked off to bully and lobby her majesty’s opposition, to sit in meetings to decide the parameters and draft of a royal charter that will determine the future of the British free press. Who are hacked off?!!!

            The members of hacked off are extremely wealthy individuals with particular interests to preserve. The difference between them and the mail is that the mail has persuaded people whereas hacked off has not. Whether or not Coogan thinks the Mail is worthy is not and should not be of any consideration yet he and hacked off were brought in to decide on the draft of the charter. That is a disgrace. But a disgrace you are happy with because you, from what I gather, don’t believe certain papers to be worthy like Coogan. I am not a fan of many papers but they have a perfect right to spew whatever nonsense out they like.

    • sarah_13

      The above clip illustrates Coogan’s position quite clearly. He says he entertains therefore what he says is justifies but the Mai, in his view, does not entertain therefore it is not justified. He apparently is the arbiter of what should and should not be disseminated. The height of conceit. I personally find some of Coogan’s impressions as funny as the next person but the truth is he has only used a gift he was born with, to mimic, which many far more intelligent and less attention seeking individuals have also, to falsely elevate what is basically just sarcasm . He is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is, but I suspect he knows that already.

      I’m sure in his quieter moments he reflects on his experience and inadequate defence of the indefensible; trying to argue against better people for illiberal press suppression, and has realised how limited his abilities are at present in this area. Presumably he feels by making a large donation to such a worthy organisation, at least it was one until recently, that some of their gravitas and intellectual rigour will rub off him. He will improve in time. He has the money and time to do so but whilst he’s improving and evolving truths which he and his pals tried to surpress, by one tactic or another, no doubt did not see the light of day. This will continue if he, Max and Hugh continue to use the status they have achieved in an unconnected area (in MAx’s case just having loads of money) to push an illiberal and personally beneficial policy in another.

      • La Fold

        Funny how Max, Steve and Hugh have all been caught either on the bugle with washed up rock stars, picking up women of the night or indulging in an, ahem, “prison themed” orgy by the tabloids? To be fair I have no real moral grounds to object to any of their pass times as long as its all amogst consenting adults but if you want to be in the public eye this is part of the price you pay.

        • Kaine

          Did Max Mosley want to be in the public eye? From what I recall the tabloids simply saw an opportunity to link two of our culture’s obsessions; sex and nazis. If his dad hadn’t founded the BUF I don’t imagine the story would have gotten anywhere.

          • La Fold

            Possibly not, in fact I still argued for his right to privacy on this very site when someone cited his long running presidency of FIA (Formula one) as placing him thoroughly in the public eye. As i said if he wants to rock around at a nazi themed soiree with his mates hes more than welcome to as far as im concerned.

          • sarah_13

            He has no more a right to privacy than than any next door neighbour who has an affair and is discussed by hi/her neighbours in the pub.

          • La Fold

            my fault sarah, I meant i argued for his right to privacy until there cited his public profile as long standing F1 president.

          • sarah_13

            Well to be fair an obsession with nazis is one of the more benign obsessions, as opposed to say Mosely’s jew obsession. He had his day in court.

          • Kaine

            MM had his “day in court” because he has a great deal of money and could afford the lawyers. And I don’t tend to believe in “sins of the father”.

        • sarah_13

          I don’t care what they do either but don’t use their money and celebrity status to block our right to a free press! It is not theirs to destroy. Coogan appears to have a huge chip on his shoulder, annoyed that the mail has exposed is failings. Well its tough if he wants to be seen as more decent than he is, more discerning than he is then he’ll have to grow up quickly. I myself am no fan of the mail but if it’s existence has helped worthy causes, which like it or not it has, or enables me to read the spectator and private eye then its a price we all should accept.

  • Curnonsky

    Can we please stop calling leftists “liberals”? There is absolutely nothing liberal about them, in fact they stand in total opposition to the principles of liberalism (if they even know what they are).

    • CharleyFarleyFive

      Completely agree, they have proven to be amongst the most illiberal.

      • balance_and_reason

        Indeed, I thought I was living in a live remake of 1984 as Blair’s government slowly car crashed…the language was bizarre.

    • Kaine

      You don’t get to complain about monikers while using terms like “leftist” which are utterly meaningless, except in demonstrating a conspiratorial outlook by the user.

      • La Fold

        he can use any bloody name he wants.

        • Kaine

          Except for the fact he’s complaining about other people’s terminology, so he’s a hypocrite.

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

        Rubbish. ‘Leftist’ is a well-defined term describing an actual political Weltanschauung and my god it does a lot of damage (the political confusion, not the term).

        • Kaine

          No, it isn’t. It’s a catch-all term for anyone a (self-described) conservative disagrees with, usually forwarded before alleging that the person that conservative is arguing with is akin to Hitler/Stalin/Mao etc.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

            Sorry, you’re simply wrong. And forgive me if I find it hard to believe that you have never raised this objection with regard to the term ‘right-wing’.

            Personally I would have liked terms that DID have an ‘absolute’ quality — like ‘conservative’, ‘classical liberal’, ‘socialist’ — and those are the terms I tend to use. But that doesn’t mean that Leftist is meaningless: I use it interchangeably with ‘socialist’.

          • Kaine

            I don’t use the terms ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’ if I can possibly avoid it. They’re meaningless in modern politics, and have always been on shaky ground in Britain. They are used to lump people who don’t belong together in in the same group to try and denigrate/elevate one by comparison to another. It’s lazy at best, and ad hominem at worst.

            I have seen, on these very boards, the current Conservative Party leadership described as ‘leftists’. If the definition is going to stretch from George Osborne to the SWP, and quite often in these twisted lenses to the BNP as well, I would posit it is useless for discussing British politics.

          • KoreanKat

            I love you are having a tantrum over the term “leftist” while using the term “conservative” in such a blanket manner.

          • Kaine

            What tantrum? I’m just pointing out the gentleman’s hypocrisy. Also, I qualified the term ‘conservative’. I can only assume your love blinded you to what was written on the page.

      • MikeF

        Rather like the use of he term ‘bigot’ by the left.

        • Kaine

          Not really no, but keep enjoying the victimhood complex Mike.

          • MikeF

            “used to lump people who don’t belong together in in the same group to try and denigrate/elevate one by comparison to another” – you got it, why deny it?

    • Tim Reed

      I agree – it’s an American import we could well do without.

    • Jon Stone

      “Can we please stop calling leftists “liberals”?”

      Sorry, no. Next.

    • Mike

      You’re correct about the Liberal part as their actions are far more akin to Fascism than anything liberal. The real liberals are actually Libertarians who are totally against the nanny state interfering in anything and everything to do with our daily lives. I think the correct term for these control freaks who have multiplied like some STD is Left Leaning Facists as that better describes their attitudes.

    • UKSteve

      Spot on. UKIP are banned for just about every university campus in the UK – by the students. of course, Labour and the Conservatives are allowed.

      So much for freedom of speech.

  • Tychy

    In fairness, though, they also asked General el-Sisi and he was unavailable.

    • Mc

      I thought Assad was their first choice. But he declined because his schedule was block-filled for typing erotic emails to his female groupies.

      • GUBU

        Personally, I would rather spend some time in the company of Mr Assad than Mr Coogan.

        Mediocre comedians are two a penny, but how often do you meet a mass murdering opthalmologist?

        • Mc

          Guess it depends on what you mean by being in his company

  • columbo3316

    For decades now smart fascists would never join a far right or far left party they would build their career in the media or in mainstream political parties.Fascists are people in love with power and who have little interest in freedom or truth.How prevalent fascism is in the mainstream political and media could be seen in the recent campaign against UKIP based on the strategy if UKIP are called ` racist` relentlesy day after day it will stick even if it is not true

  • CharleyFarleyFive

    So as I see it we’re to abandon decades of press freedom and free speech in order to placate a few self aggrandising and invariably very wealthy luvvies, most of whom no longer live in this country.

    This seemingly because they’re either upset that they’ve been caught with their pants down or that they resent what they see as a right wing media interfering with their own left wing world view.

    Where to begin? The nauseating conceitedness in believing that they are somehow on a moral crusade to protect the proletariat from the evil Murdoch empire. The repulsively hypocritical use of their celebrity status to further their cause. The vile use of the Milly Dowler case to further their own agenda.

    An utterly despicable bunch who are so far lost up their own backsides that they are prepared to destroy one of the last defences we have against the corrupt.

    • Jon Stone

      “So as I see it we’re to abandon decades of press freedom and free speech …”

      How do you see it this way? I’ve read a lot about this, and no one has managed to go beyond the flimsiest of assertions that the world post-Leveson will see less facts seeing the light of day or a narrower range of views being published. The mainstream press will have less control over what it chooses to publish, but all that means in practical terms is that a regulatory body, rather than an editor, will get the ultimate yes/no on a range of material.

      Your view here, like so many others, bafflingly assumes that editors haven’t been putting the kibosh on stories all this time. Do you think they have infinite space and no agenda, and have been putting out everything anyone submits as newsworthy day in, day out? Or is it that you’ve always assumed editors had the interests of the British public at heart when making their decisions as to what goes in and what doesn’t?

      • balance_and_reason

        Jon, I couldn’t help noticing that your photo seems to show that you have five eyebrows, three of which have slipped down to various lower positions on your face….is this random hair the source of your innate wisdom, rather like the mythical Samson?

        • Jon Stone

          Eyebrows? Do you mean the scabs I have in the photo?

          • balance_and_reason

            I was too polite to mention the syphillitic sores on your face, or the dementia that had obviously resulted from the infection.

          • Jon Stone

            Too polite also, I notice, to summon up even the slightest whiff of a flimsy counter-point. When you can’t do any better, ad hominem insults will do, eh?

        • William_Brown

          Eyebrows?….I thought it a black eye. Who would wish to inflict such injury? Who, I ask, who?

      • sarah_13

        If it’s arguments you’re after try Milton’s Areopagitica. If that doesn’t grab you try Nick Cohen’s You can’t read this. Or failing that Francis Wheen’s article I think for the independent last year on how if the Americans and Marx could agree on a free press why can’t we… that’s just for starters.

        • Jon Stone

          Your Saudi millionaire example describes the current situation, which Leveson’s proposals actually seek to rectify. Currently, such an individual can drag the press through libel courts for years, and even if they win, they won’t get back anywhere near the cost of expenditure.

          Under Leveson’s proposals, such a dispute is (in theory) disposed of quickly and at less expense.

          I also disagree with you on the problem with free speech. The problem with free speech is no one seems to really want to think seriously about what it means – we are none of us free to say whatever we like whenever we please. There are always gradations of censure from the people around us. We self-censor. We’re scorned, or we’re excluded. When it comes to publications, editors step in. Lawyers step in. Public reprisal (or fear of public reprisal) steps in.

          It is an absurd idea that the press we have had to this day somehow represents the pinnacle of freedom of speech in this culture. It frequently serves as an engine of denial or severe reprimand to minority viewpoints. It polices speech with powers that no politician has. Better regulation of what editors and journalists publish would shift the balance towards more voices being broadcast, and thus greater freedom of speech.

          And I will happily admit that what me might not get now is *better* regulation but *worse* regulation, depending on how things play out. But the debate simply has to move on from this woefully simplistic idea that there is something divine and pure about a small number of press barons and editors having a massive, unreal power of influence over what the nation talks about.

          • sarah_13

            My Saudi Squillionaire does not explain the present system if the saudi wins the claim he gets his costs but if he loses the paper gets damages and his costs paid. An individual post Royal Charter can capriciously make legal claims with absolutely no merit, lose the claim, but under the law that will be introduced with the charter the newspaper will have to pay the costs of the claim, win or lose. The news paper is thus bullied into being regulated by the charter or risk going out of business in a short time by being forced to pay the costs of all who make claims against them win or lose. That is not the present situation.

            Under the Royal Charter those who sign up to the charter, to government regulation, will be restricted in what they print but protected from the most egregious exemplary damages. A protection racket.

            You have made no comment on the strong arming by the present aids of the ex-culture secretary or the possibility of an individual such as Alistair Campbell in the government who would use the threat of Leveson to investigate, as in the case of Miller, expenses. You appear to think this unimportant yet this is the crux of the issue, government threatening consequences to the free press. Not to mention a two thirds majority could in theory change the law in any event and enforce any law. One of the points about regulation is once you start governments tend to carry on legislating.

            The freedoms we have today, despite the attempt at constant regulation of speech and expression, is in fact the pinnacle of freedom. One area of the press may deny some viewpoints or reinforce others but the point is that all viewpoints are heard. All views are countered and those who want an extra governmental hand to silence or persuade don’t usually stop once they’ve started.

            The fourth estate is an important institution, one you take for granted by the sound it but one that has historically protected and prevented egregious abuse of power. As Francis Wheen wrote when talking about Karl Marx regarding the freedom of the press, we now have a situation where we have “The conversion of the subject into the predicate”and of “the predicate into the subject, the exchange of that which determines for that which is determined is always the most immediate revolution”. So we have as he called it the “reactionary post -leveson inversion that transforms ‘the press holding the government to account to the government holds the press to account'”.

            You may be happy for the Charter to produce a worse situation “depending on how it plays out” but you seem to believe a free press is yours to give a way. it is not. And once it’s gone it won’t be easy, or in fact possible, to get back. Once systems and legislation are in place they only go in one direction. We are custodians of a free press and like I said it is not ours to give away.

          • Jon Stone

            “… if he loses the paper gets damages and their costs paid for by the saudi.”

            In practice, this is simply not what happens – you do not get all your costs paid even if you win, so if the hypothetical Saudi can drag it out for years he can still make defending a case very expensive for a paper. Newspapers *are* presently bullied by the powerful – I worked on the Leveson Inqiry and watched a string of editors complain about how libel laws presently enabled wealthy individuals the opportunity to gag them.

            “You have made no comment on the strong arming by the aids of the ex-culture secretary …”

            Threats are meaningless without the power to back them up. How are politicians supposed to use this new regulator to interfere any more than they already do? It’s designed to function independently and its freedom from political interference is written into the proposed statute. It is not an extension of the government – it’s more like what the PCC was, and the body that preceded that, but with power.

            “The fourth estate is an important institution …”

            It’s a powerful institution that has done a lot of harm as well as a lot of good, and it currently answers to nobody except powerful individuals who are prepared to take papers to court. That is not a tenable state of affairs.

            I’m not ‘happy’ for the Charter to produce a worse situation, but I repeat once more that I reject your characterisation of what we have currently as a ‘free press’. It is a press controlled by a minority of individuals whose interests are not in line with the majority of the public. The practical reality of the situation is that the power over what is to be published is simply being dispersed more widely. This is not the fall of some benign and sacred institution – it is a shift in the power structure behind our printed media so that editors and proprietors are no longer all-powerful.

            In other words, we cannot give away what we don’t have and never had.

          • sarah_13

            You have again focused on what the present situation is and not on the situation after the charter. I know the costs situation well and costs do generally go with the winning claim but case management throughout holds each side to particular standards and time limits in order to recover their full costs etc. But that is not the point here. Papers are well aware of the present position and are not happy with the post charter position at all because it is absolutely untenable for them. The point is after the Royal Charter if you don’t sign up to the charter and you are sued WIN or LOSE you pay ALL the other side’s costs plus your own. No questions asked. Thats it. Pay all costs of all claims win or lose. It is disgraceful and an impediment to a free press and will, no doubt, be tested in europe.

            Re Miller’s aide’s strong arming. The fact is with an opportunity to affect the outcome and inhibit the freedom of the press a politician’s aid took the first sniff of an opportunity and used it. That has already happened. A two thirds majority could in reality be easily obtained with mps and their interest in silencing the press. They have the power to change the law and the terms of the law at any time. They all have an interest in silencing the press. Once legislation is on the books the government will inevitably extend it.

            The fourth estate is being blackmailed by the government. They are being forced to sign up or have vested interest individuals take you to court and win or lose you pay their costs. Small papers who wish to maintain their independence and freedom to print stories they believe to be in the public interest, whether hacked off likes it or not, will be silenced by the knowledge that even if they win they will have to pay the othersides costs. This is an outrageous restriction on the free press and to use your words certainly “not a tenable situation”.

            The press is not just some people you don’t like like murdoch and dacre but is made up of many other smaller papers. And irrespective of any one persons hatred for murdoch it is no reason, as Mitchell has said, to toss aside the basic protections that have evolved over centuries in this country.

            You say you reject my characterisation of a free press but that does not make it not free. You say it is a press controlled by individuals whose interests are not in line with the majority of the population. How do you know that? There are millions of people who buy the mail, the sun and the sunday times. These papers, whether you personally like them or not, have persuaded many millions of people. Hacked off is made up of a few wealthy individuals with an interest in restricting the press. Yet representing only themselves they are invited by weak opposition politicians to draft the terms of a charter that will regulate the press something many politicians will be happy about. Rightly or wrongly. I don’t understand how that is acceptable. A lobby group representing only themselves determining the terms of press regulation.

            We do have a free press, a freer press than most other european countries including our close neighbours such as france. Other countries don’t have it, and have never truly had it but we have and we have a lot to lose.

      • CharleyFarleyFive

        That any regulation, by anyone, off the free press is an assault on free speech is in my view an axiom. There is therefore nothing to be gained by engaging in any debate with those who simply resort to obfuscation to suit their own agenda.

        The press should be free, end of.

        • Jon Stone

          “The press should be free, end of.”

          But it never has been and never will. You’re invested in a myth. What is published by newspapers has always been under tight regulation by *someone* – it’s simply that the balance of power shifts between outside bodies, editors, proprietors, and, sometimes, members of the public who are able to exert sufficient pressure.

          This is my problem with your position – it rests entirely on an idea of the press that we have had which is simply not realistic. I despair of this incredibly naive notion that the only authority that exists in this country and can exert any kind of malign control or influence is the state, which repeatedly proves itself to be weak when confronting other malign influences.

  • GUBU

    Mr Coogan clearly has no qualms about being exposed in public as a pompous, self regarding arse, if that interview is anything to go by.

    • sarah_13

      My thoughts precisely.

    • CharleyFarleyFive

      Well said.

  • tjamesjones

    “His fellow comedian had said in the Observer that liberal hatred of Murdoch was not a good enough reason to tear up basic protections.”

    Now hang on. That’s *left wing* hatred. Let’s not make the mistake they’ve made in america to gift liberal to the left. Who doesn’t want to be liberal? Liberal is generous, open, not seeking to tie people down, letting people get on with their lives. I’m sure the Speccie is liberal, not at all sure the Observer is.

    • Tim Reed

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Jon Stone

      Because ‘left wing’ = socially liberal. That’s pretty much the only thing that defines it. What restrictions liberals/left-wingers argue for are restrictions on the abilities of powerful institutions to act against minority/alternative groups and cultures, usually under cover of a moral agenda.

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

        Or: ‘Liberal’ = ‘progressive’ (so-called) = socialist/Marxist/communist (note how reactionary and old-hat the ‘progressives’ really are)
        and is usually used to mean NOT classical liberal, aka conservative (I for one wish to conserve classical liberalism).
        The irony is that conservatism is treated as the preserve of snooty fuddy-duds when in fact it is a radical position, held by very few in the history of the world (liberalism of any kind was and remains a radical experiment in government).

        • Jon Stone

          Socialists and Marxists are a bit of a cul-de-sac – most of what is dubbed ‘the left’ is not really interested in these ideologies but concerns itself chiefly with civil rights and liberties.

          Conservatism is treated as ‘the preserve of snooty fuddy-duds’ simply because it’s the favoured political position of these types of people, who’re also usually in powerful positions and thus become symbolic of the whole of the right wing. In my experience, you tend not to meet many conservatives who will self-identify as radicals – they’re more likely to look on radicalism of any kind as something dangerous and destructive.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

            Hi Jon: I don’t think you’ve understood my comment.

          • Jon Stone

            Could you perhaps rephrase it then please?

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

            Well, what I was trying to point to is that liberalism is an Enlightenment idea of self-rule that reaches back to Locke and Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli. It’s extremely radical: most human societies have been tribal, rigidly hierarchical, and profoundly illiberal: the individual had no rights. There was no concept of ‘human rights’ at all. Except for the limited and problematic partial democracies of ancient Greece, no one had seriously tried gov’t of the people, by the people, for the people. That experiment had to wait for many centuries. So from a historical political standpoint, we are ALL radicals, every last one of us — because we don’t believe that an emperor should have the power of life or death over us, his subjects.

          • Jon Stone

            That’s much clearer, thanks, and I agree.

      • tjamesjones

        No it doesn’t, and isn’t. Show me a low tax social liberal who is on the left. It doesn’t compute because the left is for control but control by the state. Ed Miliband is not looking for votes from social liberals, he’s looking from votes from those who either receive or dispose of hand outs. And that’s a wrap.

        • Jon Stone

          “Show me a low tax social liberal who is on the left.”

          Show me a low tax social liberal. Anyone in favour of low taxes in the current social climate is necessarily in favour of freedom for the monied (the more you have, the more you gain from lowering taxes) at the expense of freedom for those sidelined and most under pressure – people who pay little tax but benefit most from state spending.

          “If they would rather die, let them do it, and decrease the surplus population” is not social liberalism – it’s economic totalitarianism.

  • gelert

    What a pompous pri¢k ! Typical Guardianista luvvie.

    Well done, Hislop and Wheen, for taking a stand against this obvious attempt by Ginsberg to recruit celebs and luvvies to the Index.

  • http://my.telegraph.co.uk/members/jp99 jp99

    Why does this surprise you? Coogan may have been funny a long time ago, but he has always been a twat

  • Mc

    “Why is Index on Censorship cosying up to the tribune of Hacked Off?”

    Why should this be a surprise anyone, considering that it is chaired by an (ex?) Communist? Anyone who’s dabbled with Communism must be a muddled idiot and/or a murderous authoritarian.

    • Jon Stone

      Yes, kids, don’t ‘dabble’ in anything Mc’s parents and tutors told him was evil. Just do what you’re told. Stay away from bad things. Don’t try things out and make up your own mind because you might get it wrong and end up as an authoritarian.

      • Mc

        So it sounds like you’re feeling sore about being called a muddled idiot. Or is it because I’ve correctly identified your authoritarian streak?

        Strangely enough, some of us kids were sufficiently skeptical to realise that Communism and it’s authoritarian cousins were a homicidal dead end. We had sufficient mental rigour and intellectual independence to work it out for ourselves, without needing anyone to tell us how to think or live. Going by your comment, it sounds like you were in the unfortunate majority who were incapable of applying insight and skeptical enquiry to whatever Utopian ideology came floating past.

        • Jon Stone

          I’ve not dabbled in socialism, so I didn’t realise you were also calling me a muddled idiot. Do you want to know what values I actually hold so that you can shrilly insist that I shouldn’t? I suppose it doesn’t matter really – whatever it is I believe, I’m sure it’s not good enough and needs to be stamped out by the iron boot of your moral rightness.

          I don’t really believe you worked out the problems with Communism yourself. I’m not convinced, based on the way you conduct discussion, that you work anything our for yourself.

          • Mc

            No thanks, I’ve got better things to do than hearing about your values and what you think. Your muddled logic strewn all over this article’s comments section is enough for one day.

          • Jon Stone

            Sorry, didn’t mean to distract you from your active campaign of corrective discipline/forcing people to accept your own views are the only right ones and that everything else is evil and terrible.

          • Mc

            You seem to be suffering from some bizarre cognitive disorder, as your other comments to this article demonstrate rather well. It seems to have passed you by that I’m anti-authoritarianism, which by extension means letting people have their own views on things.
            Telling someone that their views are idiotic and that their pet ideology is evil doesn’t mean that I’m telling them that they can’t hold a viewpoint. Your sense of self awareness is so absent that you don’t appear to realise that you also are disagreeing with other commenters here, but unlike you, they aren’t telling you that your views are disallowed.

            I hope I’ve perhaps helped just a tiny bit in adding some coherence to your reasoning process.

          • Jon Stone

            “It seems to have passed you by that I’m anti-authoritarianism, which by extension means letting people have their own views on things. ”

            How you like to picture yourself and how you actually act are two different things. It’s pretty clear you’d like everyone to share your own views, or else you’re prepared to wield all the petty scorn you can muster to dismiss them out of hand, without entertaining for a moment the idea that an opposing viewpoint might have its merits.

            Remember, you didn’t just make a weedy attack on communism – you went for the throat of anyone who ‘dabbled’ in it. Being an ex-Communist is as bad as being a Communist in your book, because that person has strayed from the righteous path at some point in their life.

            As for this business of ‘telling [someone] that [their] views are disallowed’ – you don’t seem to realise that levelling scorn at someone is a form of this. Scorn is a social weapon of censure, an exerting of moral authority. It *is* telling someone their views are disallowed, with all the power at your disposal. We all do it – but some people (ie. you) use it more freely and aggressively than others.

            There are ways of firmly disagreeing with something without saying that everyone who thinks otherwise ‘must be a muddled idiot’. Try it sometime – you might enjoy a productive exchange.

          • Mc

            For the sake of brevity, I won’t bother explain the absence of logic in your thinking. May I suggest that your cognitive abilities would be a little more rational, robust and mature if you deviated occasionally from the grievance hymn sheet and acquired some insight into the nuances of human nature. It may also help you avoid taking offence at every passing comment and feeling compelled to respond to all commenters in a thread.

            Taking a course at a reputable establishment in logic and rhetoric would perhaps assist you along the way.

  • piggy

    Agreed, no place for Coogan at IFC.

    When I left a comment on their website saying the same, and informing them of my intention not to renew my ipad subcription I was modded!

    So much for free speech.

  • Moriarty

    “If you think my comedy is crap feel free to say so..”
    It is. I do. And thanks.

  • ACN

    Steve Coogan IS Alan Partridge.
    (Or should that be the other way round?)

  • Barry

    Coogan has never appealed to me. As a comedian I rate him about the same as Miranda Hart, that’s to say, an instant switch-off.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

      Never heard of her but looked it up quickly on YouTube. I have no idea whether she’s funny as I got bored after six seconds and switched off. She could be Steve’s daughter though, couldn’t she?

    • Liz

      Domestic censor

      • Barry

        Au contraire, it’s called personal choice.

        • Liz

          Yes, a personal choice to censor what you are exposed to.

          • Barry

            I don’t know what point you’re trying to make, but a censor by definition prevents other people from seeing written or visual. material. Personal choice and censorship are two different things.

          • Barry

            I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make, Liz, but a censor by definition prevents other people from looking at something.

  • ilpugliese

    You can be against censorship and also against the publication of lies.

    • edithgrove

      I’m not sure you can. I read little lies, sometimes many little lies rolled into one big lie, by journalists, critics, historians every day, some of them even write for the Spectator. Perhaps some may be members of Index, certainly many of them seem to have signed up to Hacked Off. If a shred of truth gets through it’s worth the mountain of fibs. Incidentally day-time BBC viewing is now total propaganda worthy of North Korea.

  • edithgrove

    Brave, excellent journalism, Nick Cohen. This is a dirty business, involving even the venerable US MacArthur Foundation, the scary-faced Sir David Bell and of course, lurking unseen, Common Purpose.

  • davidshort10

    Funny clip. Pity that Coogan wasn’t told by either Mensch or Paxo that the Daily Mail’s circulation at 3m is ten times that of the Guardian and that the Guardian only survives because of the profits of its sister title, Auto Trader, which is a magazine Alan Partridge would support, along with as Coogan says, the Daily Mail. What arrogance these luvvies have in dismissing the Mail which by its circulation is representative of the British people.

  • John 8:37 – John 8:44

    Here we find a trusty lamp to guide us through the ever-shifting mirage of illusions conjured up by today’s liberals: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • Paul Laroquod

    ‘Censorship is bad when done against me but not when I call for it. Because what I do is better and we should enshrine that value judgement into the law.’

    Index on Censorship? More like Windex on Censorship…

    • Liz

      Freedom of speech is great when I own all the communication channels and the people I spread propaganda about can’t be heard above the din I make.

      • Paul Laroquod

        Poor Steve Coogan, it must be so difficult for him to have his voice heard above the din of the people clamouring to get pictures and quotes from him….. /s

  • davidshort10

    Comedians and entertainers look ridiculous when they attempt to be serious and take part in political debate. No wonder they are always dismissed as luvvies.

  • Gwyn Parry

    Coogan ? As “edgy” as my settee. I do admit to finding him funny with his Partridge persona…yes I do…..everything else he does is unfunny. It’s almost as if he’s become Partridge himself.

  • George White

    Oh bollocks. Coogan is some kind of censor?

    Look to the fucking NSA and GCHQ you fucking gimps.

  • guest

    “Free press”, oh the irony, they were all so very fair when regards 9/11 debates, bunch of controlled junk, every last single one of them, and most here know it.

  • global city

    “Since when has Steve Coogan stood against censorship?”

    Sine the Left took hold of the narrative and began dictating the language….. remember Nick, you’ve written about it in this mag!

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  • Cyril Sneer

    Ah Steve Coogan, this was the man who was all too happy to appear on Question Time and the subject matter was muslim paedo grooming gangs. Steve gave us his input, as did the others, but it was Steve who looked the most uncomfortable and between them all, for several minutes on this subject, not a single one could mutter the religion of these offenders. Not one. The Catholic Church got several mentions, but if you had just come down from Mars, after watching this snivelling liberal tripe you’d be none the wiser as to the identities of these religious cultural paedos.

    They were muslims by the way…..

  • Plutark Heavensbee

    Since collectivist illusions are generally conjured up to exploit our emotions and attempt to justify plunder’s injustice, we have no reason to accept them as moral, legitimate, or just.

  • trobrianders

    I bought a right wing Hoover and sucked both Coogan and IoC right up. Easy.

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