Of Hugh Grant and media abuses (continued)…

I know I shouldn’t, but I really do have to comment on Hugh Grant’s interventions into the phone-hacking scandal.

Hugh’s a splendid chap and I have huge respect for what he’s trying to do. The cynic in me fears he’s motivated less by selfless concern for the public good than by revenge (it was News International papers that cheerled the story of his embarrassing roadside blowjob), but I’m willing to suspend my cynicism. Hey, right thing even for wrong reason etc etc.

My worry about Hugh and his enthusiastic cheerleaders is that they risk exemplifying the dangerous adage that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I don’t disagree for a second with his analysis that “there has been a grotesque power over our lawmakers.” Spot on. That’s how Murdoch (and, for ages, Conrad Black at the Telegraph) kept scandal at bay. Nobody in public office (or in a private position of power) wants to offend the media – obviously. It’s dangerous.

And yes, it IS grotesque. It affords the media, as I’ve said before, a disproportionate and shocking power. Which they will abuse. That’s human beings for you.

But here’s the thing: The alternative – politicians wielding grotesque power over the media – is far worse. If, like me, you deplore the vices of a free media uncontrolled by government, wait until you see the behaviour of a ‘free’ government unrestrained by media.

Speaking for myself, I’m forever amazed by what our lords and masters get up to even when they know the eyes of the press are upon them (parliamentary expenses, anyone?).

Believe me, you do NOT want to live in a country where the media lives in fear of politicians. On the contrary. We want our lawmakers and powerbrokers to fear the press. We need them to.

The downside, as ever, is that this has a price. Freedom – of the media, of the individual, of society – always does.

Example: You want to be free to own a firearm? Fine. But you’ll have to put up with an increased risk of being shot, or seeing your children shot. Americans, on the whole, understand this freedom dilemma better than Europeans, and I admire them for it. This side of the Atlantic, we’re all for minimising risk – all risk – at the expense of a wide range of freedoms.

When it comes to press freedom, it is exceptionally dangerous to tinker – no matter how noble or desirable the goal. I’m all for preventing a repeat of the phone hacking, and all the rest of it (I have an even greater interest in stopping it than a non-journalist), but every ‘solution’ proposed, so far, scares the shit out of me.

It should scare the shit out of you too. We must get this right – which means cool, unemotional deliberation and great, great care.

We do not need excitable luvvies running around talking about grotesque press power and demanding that politicians ‘control’ the media.

5 Responses to “Of Hugh Grant and media abuses (continued)…”

  1. Tanya Walton Says:

    Maybe if we get rid of all the politicians and the media then life would be a lot simpler….people in power tend to be those that cause the problems…..

  2. Gavin McEwan Says:

    Hugh also said: “I am not for regulating the proper press, the broadsheet press, but it is insane to me that the tabloid press has been unregulated for all this time.”

    In other words it’s all right for hacks on the sort of papers you & I read to chance their arm a bit for a good story. But as for what the lower orders read, well, you can’t be too careful.

  3. Soilman Says:

    Gavin: Precisely. The hypocrisy – and ignorance – is breathtaking

    MediaOrganic: Totally agree. US media failed shockingly to hold Bush properly to account throughout the post 9/11 hysteria. Disgraceful.

  4. mediaOrganic Says:

    Quite the well-stated argument. Here in The States we have the same well-intentioned risk-free factions trying to protect us from ourselves, the argument usually being that a curtailment of individual rights benefits the society at large. I recommend everyone take a trip to Iceland where the only thing between you and a trip over Gullfoss falls is a thin rope that warns “proceed at your own risk”.

    My personal perspective on government is that if “all men are created equal” and imbued with inalienable rights, then government’s primary raison d’etre is to protect those rights. But as usual, the politicians just want to pass laws. And with every law they just create new criminals. Uh oh, you’ve gotten me started…

    Anyway, regarding the NOTW scandal, by nature the press are a bunch of piranha and are now in a feeding frenzy on one of their own. Where the fuck were they when George Dubya was lying through his teeth making a case for the war with Iraq? Uh oh, you’ve gotten me started again…

  5. Jaette Says:

    I think you have hit the nail on the head here Soilman. If I may paraphrase, there needs to be a balance. Balancing anything can be quite difficult, but the balance between the power of government and the press has been a longstanding struggle in the modern era. Take Burke’s statement (if you believe Carlyle) that in 1787 the fourth estate wielded more power than the three other estates of parliament.

    Freedom of the media is critically important, but so are regulations to prevent complete abuse of media power (take the proper use of libel laws for example). How that balance is achieved may make the difference between a media oligarchy and totalitarian rule. Why does it seem human endeavors respond like a pendulum to the slightest perturbation?