It looks as though Hacked Off has finally won its three-year battle for tighter regulation of the press. Why do I say this? Because on Tuesday it published a list of 200 people who agree with them in various national newspapers. These weren’t just the usual suspects — Hugh Grant, Rowan Williams, Richard Curtis. And this isn’t the same list of panjandrums Hacked Off has published in this week’s Spectator. No, these were, in Hacked Off’s words, ‘the leading figures in literature, arts, science, academia, human rights and the law’. Not some leading figures, mind you, but the leading figures.
So who are these luminaries? One of them is Zoe Margolis, described as an ‘author’. Presumably, she’s one of the ‘leading figures in literature’, so I looked her up on Amazon. It turns out that her latest book is called Girl With a One Track Mind: Exposed: Further Revelations of a Sex Blogger. Doesn’t sound like a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature to me, but what do I know? If Hacked Off have got Zoe on their side, the defenders of press freedom might as well give up now.
Who else? Well, there’s Albert Scardino, described as a ‘journalist’. He’s such a ‘leading figure’ that his name appears twice. I Googled him and the only ‘Scardino’ that came up was Marjorie Scardino, the former CEO of Pearson, who’s now on the board of Twitter. She’s married to a bloke called Albert, who used to work for the New York Times. Could that be the man in question? I’ve never heard of him, but no doubt the fault is mine. I’m sure his illustrious name will add an unstoppable momentum to the pro-Leveson bandwagon.
Then there’s Rufus Hound, a ‘comedian’. According to Wikipedia, he’s a ‘regular panellist’ on a quiz called Celebrity Juice. But you don’t need me to tell you that, do you, because Hound is a ‘leading figure in the arts’. Funnily enough, I recently got into a Twitter spat with him over an article he’d written on his blog in which he announced he’d be standing as a candidate for the National Health Action Party. The headline was: ‘David and Jeremy want your kids to die (unless you’re rich)’, and the gist of it was that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary don’t care about the health of poor children because they’re ‘toffs’. (Needless to say, Hound went to a £25,000-a-year public school.) Presumably, this is an example of the kind of responsible, civic journalism we can look forward to when Hacked Off has succeeded in bringing the British press to heel.
What other ‘leading figures’ have graciously allowed their names to be used to advance the Hacked Off cause? There’s Peter Jukes, a ‘journalist’ who managed to raise £6,000 from well-wishers to pay him to ‘live tweet’ the hacking trial. Apparently, he’s written a book called The Fall of the House of Murdoch: Fourteen Days That Ended a Media Dynasty. Hmmm. Bit of wishful thinking there, perhaps. But we should be grateful that he managed to tear himself away from Twitter long enough to sign this petition.
Then there’s Gary Lineker, the leading football pundit. I’m sure that anyone who has seen Lineker’s razor-sharp observations on Match of the Day will conclude that if a man of his towering intellect is in favour of curtailing press freedom then it must be a good thing.
And let’s not forget Anna Van Heeswijk, described on the Hacked Off petition as an ‘object’. At first, that struck me as a bit odd because, after all, isn’t Hacked Off against portraying women as objects? But a bit of Googling revealed that ‘object’ is the name of Anna’s ‘award-winning human rights organisation’. Among the long list of victories she includes on her website is the following: ‘Our Sport Challenge saw Parliament voting for the principle of independent, socially responsible regulation of the press.’ Nothing to do with Hugh Grant and his chums, then. The Royal Charter was entirely thanks to the efforts of the leading human rights activist Anna Van Heeswijk.
I have to confess, before I saw this impressive list of names I was beginning to think the cause of state regulation of the press was dead in the water. How wrong can a guy be? With this incredible roll call of the great and the good — the crème de la crème of British public life — Hacked Off has achieved a knock-out blow. It’s game over for Murdoch lackeys like me. Zoe Margolis and Gary Lineker have defeated us.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.