For those of us who write for the tabloids, there’s something almost poetic about the crisis currently engulfing our more respectable rivals. Ever since the Guardian ‘exposed’ the News of the World for deleting Milly Dowler’s voicemails — a story that turned out to be wrong — we have had to endure the moral censure of the establishment. That is, senior politicians, judges, A-list celebrities and those members of our own profession who describe themselves as ‘serious’, which is code for Oxbridge-educated and liberal.
There’s no great mystery as to why they look down on muckraking journalists with such disdain. We’re common, vulgar little people who insist on pointing out their extramarital affairs and other misdemeanours, often involving the fraudulent use of taxpayers’ money. We also have an irritating habit of reminding them that their views on immigration, capital punishment and benefits are completely at odds with public opinion. Scribblers like us have been a thorn in the side of the ruling class since the English civil war, and parliament has made numerous attempts to control the fourth estate ever since.
The Milly Dowler affair was a perfect excuse to mount an assault on our freedom because it enabled the rich and powerful to harness the cause of state regulation to widespread public revulsion at the excesses of the redtops. The Leveson inquiry was duly set up and a succession of ‘expert’ witnesses were summoned to give evidence against the tabloids, including a high-minded organisation called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It proposed that the state should be legally empowered to impose a ‘levy’ on the publishers of newspapers like the one I work for and the money given to the Bureau so it could continue its important work of investigating evil right-wing capitalists.