Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 22 November 2012

The Daily Mail last week risked alienating its millions of women readers (whom I assume from its normal priorities to be interested only in health, beauty and plastic surgery) by running pages of indigestible stuff about a conspiracy to curb the freedoms of the British press. It was perhaps a selfless initiative in the public interest, disclosing things that the Mail felt its readers ought to know even if they probably didn’t give a fig about them.

The burden of its message was that a network of ‘elitist liberals’ from the Blair era had been exerting undue influence on the Leveson inquiry to get it to recommend statutory regulation of the British press. It identified its chief villain as Sir David Bell, a Leveson ‘assessor’, a former chairman of the Financial Times and a man with a stake in a number of strange organisations united by a common urge to impose some sort of ethical discipline on the British press.

They have names like Common Purpose, which trains high-flying people in ‘networking’ and ‘leadership’; the Media Standards Trust, ‘which aims to foster high standards in news media on behalf of the public’; Hacked Off, a group of celebrities begging for protection from the glare of the tabloids; and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which seeks to educate the media and the public in ‘the value of honest reporting’. Well, you can’t be on as many trusts and committees as Sir David Bell without sometimes having a tangential involvement with cock-ups of one kind or another. And we shouldn’t hold it against him that the Millennium Bridge across the Thames, of which he was chairman, should have wobbled; or that the Orwell Prize for political journalism, of which he was also chairman, should have been awarded in 2008 to Johann Hari of the Independent who turned out to be dishonest and a plagiarist.

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