Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Press regulation proposal  leaves many newspapers furious at 'historic' deal

East Germany lives on in Britain.  All-party agreement to create powerful regulator now in place.  A sad day for British liberties

A shellshocked newspaper industry was struggling to come to terms with a sudden all-party agreement on the future of press regulation, hurriedly adopted by parliament, to create a powerful new regulator designed to prevent a repeat of the phone-hacking scandal.

The independent regulator will have powers to impose fines and demand prominent corrections, and courts will be allowed to impose exemplary damages on newspapers that fail to join the body.

All three party leaders hailed the "historic" deal, sealed in extraordinary late night talks on Sunday in the office of the Labour leader Ed Miliband after months of wrangling, but many of the country's leading newspaper publishers were ominously wary.

Some Conservative MPs accused David Cameron of running up the white flag and the former Tory cabinet minister Peter Lilley urged newspapers to boycott the new system – an option which is being actively considered by some media groups.

The newspapers are furious that Cameron's policy adviser, the Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, sealed the deal at 2.30am on Monday morning in Miliband's office, accompanied by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and four members of the victims' group Hacked Off. No 10 was forced to say that Cameron had not been asleep in the early hours and that the critical aspects of the deal had been settled the previous afternoon in face-to-face talks between Clegg and Cameron.

Under the deal, the newspaper industry has lost its power to veto appointments to the body that will replace the Press Complaints Commission, the previous regulator discredited by its failure to investigate phone hacking by leading newspapers.

Cameron urged the newspaper industry quickly to sign up to the agreement by setting up the new regulator. "It is a neat solution. It is not a panacea," he said.

Quoting the Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, the prime minister said: "It is closing time in the last chance saloon. This replaces a failed regulatory system with one that will work because it has some real independence at its heart and is going to be properly overseen without allowing parliament to endlessly interfere."

But he stressed the new royal charter only sets up the body to recognise the regulator, and it remains a voluntary choice for the industry to decide whether to set up the system of independent regulation. If newspapers refuse to co-operate with the regulator, or set up a body that is not recognised by the new recognition panel, they will be more liable to exemplary damages if they recklessly publish inaccurate stories.

In a statement, Associated Newspapers, News International, the Telegraph Media Group and the Express publishers, Northern & Shell, said they would be taking "high level legal advice" before deciding if they could join the new watchdog. There were "several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry" in the deal.

They added: "No representative of the newspaper and magazine industry had any involvement in, or indeed any knowledge of, the cross-party talks on press regulation that took place on Sunday night.

"We have only late this afternoon seen the royal charter that the political parties have agreed between themselves and, more pertinently, the recognition criteria, early drafts of which contained several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry."

Cameron switched from a stance of defiance last Thursday to apparent capitulation on a range of points over the weekend. Major parts of the newspaper industry have issues with the statute that would be laid down to guarantee no change could be made to the royal charter, along with worries over the proposals to give the regulator the power to force apologies. They are also strongly opposed to the proposal that, for the first time, people from outside the industry would be involved in drawing up the newspaper code of practice, a code that has been widely praised and has been adapted by regulators in other countries.

"This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off. It is not a deal with the newspapers," said one senior executive in one newspaper group.

Associated Newspapers, News International and the Telegraph Media Group had been exploring the possibility of boycotting the government-sanctioned regulator and setting up their own body if they believed it could threaten freedom of the press. This is still "very much a live discussion", said one source.

"Nobody is threatening it, or saying we will do it, but we won't be making a decision before we have had high level legal advice," said the insider who claimed that the existence of a "no change" statute to guarantee the royal charter could not be amended by the privy council still opened the door to political interference. A second senior executive said the industry had already been advised that the proposal that the regulatory body could force newspapers into making apologies it did not agree would be illegal as it would be contrary to article 10 of the European convention of human rights which protects freedom of speech. But the editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, said the proposed regulator "isn't perfect but neither is it terrible" and said he did not think it would threaten journalism at his paper.

Clegg's office rounded on Cameron, saying: "If it looks chaotic that Letwin was meeting members of Hacked Off in Ed Miliband's office at 2am to discuss press regulation, that is because it was chaotic. It is chaotic because the prime minister walked out of the talks unilterally on Thursday rather than sitting down and having sensible discussions. We have ended up where we hoped, and expected."

Harriet Harman, the shadow culture secretary, hailed the concessions extracted from Cameron since last week. She said "What changed after Thursday is we got free arbitration, with a small narrowing of the route into arbitration, to reassure the regional press, we got the direction of apologies and corrections, we got abandonment of the veto on the appointment to the board of the regulator, and there is a role for working journalists in the writing of the code. We also got them to accept the amendment tabled by Lord Wilf Stevenson entrenching the Royal Charter for the press. We have been storming along."

No 10 said bloggers, tweeters, news aggregators and social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as special interest titles, will be excluded, but there is concern that the definitions will be hard to make workable.


Rachel Johnson explores ladyhood

The sister of the inimitable Boris was not cut out to be a lady

What on earth does being a lady mean in 2013, when anyone can and does call themselves one, including Lady Gaga, and David Walliams in full drag, hooting ‘I’m a laydee’ as if the word itself contains some hilarious, hidden joke? Could even I be a lady? I had to find out.

The first step, obviously, was to obey the command snapped to  uppity misses by dowagers down the centuries – I had to ‘learn some manners, young lady’.

So I dug a frock out of my  wardrobe, and drove to a charm school in Cheshire to meet William Hanson and Diana Mather, who run The English Manner. It was clear from the start that I had a long way to go. Not even my greeting cut the mustard. ‘One of the first things we’re going to teach you is the proper handshake,’ Mather said, withdrawing her limp hand from my lusty grasp. ‘You go on pumping too long.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, startled (I’ve heard many complaints in my time, but never that one.) ‘Americans go on pumping for seven seconds,’ Mather continued, ‘but here, three is ample.’

I also learnt that there is a right way and a wrong way to open and close a door, and to enter and leave a room. This is far more complicated than it sounds. Essentially, a lady never shows her posterior to the person she is taking her leave of, so she has to twirl herself gaily out of the room like the Sugar Plum Fairy.

After failing to do the catwalk with a Jeffrey Archer paperback balanced on my head (it kept slipping off, but then I have a pointy skull) it was time for ‘fine dining’. I sat with the students at a table covered with cutlery and glassware of different shapes and sizes, and learnt the important difference between a fish knife and a fruit knife. ‘Why on earth do you want to know all this?’ I asked girls studying at the school, and they all came up with good reasons.

‘It’s about feeling confident in every situation,’ said one. ‘It’s a question of acquiring some basic skills and manners and confidence, and learning easy tips and tricks to make life easier, and gaining respect from  your partner, friends and business colleagues,’ said another.

Fair enough. But being a lady, as I discovered next, is not just about knowing how to behave in every situation; in the past it was more about female suppression, and  the very word ‘lady’ has scythed through women’s lives like a  double-edged sword.

Young women may  be keen to become  independent, ‘modern ladies’ now, and learn how to arrange flowers and leave an interview, but pre-20th Century, the title was a verbal burka, designed to keep women in their place, just as the whalebone stays and strangulating corsets of a lady’s conventional dress were literally designed to hobble and constrict her movements.

As I continued on my quest I was shocked to discover how much had been withheld from my sex, on the grounds that it was ‘unladylike’.             

You can see why, as the investigation progressed, I began to feel as if ‘lady’ was a four-letter word: for, as I traced its past, what we were describing was the history of control and restraint of the upper-crust female.

I discovered that it wasn’t until Jane Austen’s day that the process of subverting these cramping conventions began.

A literary historian I met at Chawton House, where the author wrote, dated the moment to Pride And Prejudice – to when Elizabeth Bennet snags Mr Darcy from under the long twitching nose of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, an aristocrat of snobbish hauteur, who was outraged that a lower-born woman without family, connections or fortune could have such upstart pretensions.

Miss Austen rocked the boat by  suggesting that a lady is not necessarily to the manner born, but could be made, simply by virtue of her goodness, beauty and character.

In a way, that was good, because it suggested one was not a lady any more by birth or breeding, but by behaviour and attitude. In another way, it was a disaster – because it meant all women had a choice – and the evergreen Pygmalion theme was born.

However, I also learnt that ladette-to-lady transformations were not that usual.

I interviewed former debs and real ladies, and was told that, up until  the Fifties, a lady was, indeed, to the manner born, not made.

Most posh girls usually ended up not at university, but being groomed for marriage. So they would go somewhere like the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy, the alma mater of Sandra Howard, Joanna Lumley, and Jean Shrimpton, where gels were taught key life skills – such as how to walk with books on their heads and get out of sports cars with their knees clamped together.

And then, thank God, the Sixties happened. I interviewed writer Fiona MacCarthy, who was in the last batch of debs to be presented at court and loathed the whole thing.

While Twiggy was prancing up and down the Kings Road in a miniskirt, it was all over for tiaras and tea  parties with Mummy in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses at Buckingham Palace. ‘It all changed overnight, I suppose around 1960,’ Fiona said.

‘You didn’t want to be seen dead looking like your mother any more and  you didn’t want to be ladylike.’

It was at that point that the lady did a vanishing act. From the beginning of the Sixties, girls were no longer presented at court (Princess Margaret had complained ‘every tart in London’ was penetrating the Palace) and the young lady industry looked dusty and old-fashioned.

The lady became associated with male oppression and inequality. Her prim ways and prinked appearance had no place in a world where women could behave like men. Women wanted liberation, and careers.

This crested with the arrival on the scene of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and the whole new notion that a woman was the best man for the job.

In the Eighties and Nineties, the term ‘lady’ had lost traction. What mattered was powering ahead – in shoulder pads – and the languid Edwardian world of flower arranging and bridge and coffee mornings, and tea parties and ladies’ lunches seemed dull, constricting and old-fashioned. Coming-out balls and the Season slipped from view.

But, as I discovered, the industry never went away completely, and now the lady’s back and she means business. A global recession, a Royal Wedding and an increased sense that women need to trade on their social and sexual capital to maximise their value has triggered a renewed interest in that blue-chip brand, the English Lady, as Jennie Hallam-Peel, organiser of the London Season, told us.

The return of the lady is being spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge, who has become a poster princess for young women who hope that if they look the part, one day their prince will come, too.

We found the Season is alive and well, and met international debutantes who attended balls here and in Paris, New York and Dubai. So why has the lady returned?

Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, reckons the lady is having a resurgence as society becomes more conservative in a recession, and women, above all, have to retrench.

‘Recessions are generally bad for women because the squeeze in earnings puts a premium on the cost of childcare, forcing women back home,’ Dr Foreman argues. ‘On a macro-level, economic dislocation generally produces the equivalent of an adrenaline rush: fight or flight. If the country doesn’t erupt in violence it goes the other away and turns inward.’

Mmm. And is this a good thing? I asked Bidisha, the feminist writer. To my surprise, she said yes. ‘The return of the lady is about bringing a kind of formality and elegance back into a culture which is really quite vulgar.’

By the end of my journey, I was convinced that even I could become a lady, with effort and application. It’s about putting others first and attitude, and being at ease in every situation, rather than anything to do with white gloves or fruit knives.

There’s definitely something charming and old-fashioned about the lady and her ways, in the frenzy of helter-skelter modern life. But I’m still not sure I want to be one.

And I couldn’t resist a silent cheer when I asked the beautiful, elegant ex-model and author Sandra Howard, now Lady Howard, if she thought she was a lady. ‘Certainly not!’ she said, looking shocked


Motherhood, the career that dare not speak its name

Claire Perry, Tory MP for Devizes and childhood guru to David Cameron, says she's had three careers: she's been a banker, a mother and a politician. It is brave of her – and not because bankers and politicians are the most despised professions around. Ms Perry is brave because she makes claims for motherhood that has too many feminists and members of the Coalition sneering: it is a full-time, unpaid job.

Perry is promoting "Mothers at Home Matter", a group that wants the Coalition to recognise the contribution of stay-at-home mothers. Their message is urgent: when the state has to step in to care for children, the tax payers end up paying millions in creches and programmes like SureStart – now recognised as a hugely expensive Labour failure.

Worse, psychologists are now worrying that being raised outside their home environment by a succession of "professionals" can scar children for life. In Sweden, where this is a matter of routine, school records show the highest truancy and "worst classroom disorder" in western Europe. The star witness for MAHM was Jonas Himmlestrand, expert in Swedish family policy, who reported that his homeland, where 90 per cent of children are in subsidised child care, has seen a serious decline in adolescent mental health, between 1986 -2002 declined faster than in 10 comparable European countries.

So, forget the Swedish model. MAHM believes the key to happy families is to change the tax system that right now forces women to work. The UK is almost alone amongst developed countries in not recognising family and spousal responsibilities in its tax system. The burden on the single earner has more than doubled in the last 50 years. Many single earner families are in the poorest third of the population. MAHM want families taxed on the basis of household rather than individual income. They call "for a debate about income-splitting, transferable tax allowances and protecting child benefit for parents with dependent children."

Politicians should pay attention: the number of mothers who stay at home is down to a third — but, as I found out when I researched "What Women Really Want" for the Centre for Policy Studies, the majority of mothers would like to stay at home to look after their children. That's quite a constituency, Messrs Cameron et al. Ignore it (and your pledge to introduce family tax credits) at your peril.


Australian media giants warn Communications Minister Stephen Conroy power grab threatens us all
TELEVISION and newspaper bosses have demanded federal MPs reject proposed media changes, warning they would put at risk what Australians can watch and read.

In dramatic scenes in Canberra yesterday, Channel 7 owner Kerry Stokes blasted the plans as "draconian", News Limited boss Kim Williams said they were undemocratic and Fairfax chief Greg Hywood said the Government was seeking to impose a "nuclear option" on its critics.

Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews indicated he also was against the media changes, in a fresh blow to the Gillard Government.

As Julia Gillard's critics inside Labor claimed the legislation was a test of her authority and leadership, the Prime Minister said she was open to "sensible suggestions".

After talks between Ms Gillard and independent MP Rob Oakeshott broke down and he told the PM in writing he would not support any of the six media reform Bills, the Government was last night "actively considering" a compromise plan by Greens leader Christine Milne to "save" the legislation.

The Greens said they would vote with Labor if legislation were changed to "better define" a proposed public interest test, protect regional news and allow only two existing press councils.

Mr Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, said the Media Advocate at the centre of the changes was a "sledgehammer" with power beyond that of the Tax Commissioner.

He told a snap Senate inquiry that in his 40 years in the media "I have never seen anything so intrusive ... can only recall legislation in this haste in the wake of 9/11".  "The legislation is in my opinion draconian," he said.

Mr Williams said News Limited, which owns the Herald Sun, would mount a High Court challenge if the laws were passed.  "In the event that these laws are passed we will immediately be seeking leave to appeal to the High Court," he told the committee.

"These Bills breach constitutional rights, equate to direct government intervention and regulation of the media, and are a direct attack on free speech, innovation, investment and job creation," he said.

"These proposals will affect every Australian and the quality of their democracy. This is bad legislation with a bad process."

Mr Williams released a 20-page open letter to all MPs that he said was a "sober, non-hysterical analysis" of the problems. He said it was inappropriate the Media Advocate would rule on mergers and oversee reporting standards.

Mr Hywood, whose company, Fairfax, owns The Age, said the regulatory powers would have "too many dangers in the long term" and would "shut down" a news organisation.  "This is a nuclear option," he said.

He said the Advocate wouldn't be independent, as ministers appointed those who reflected their views.

Ten Network's Hamish McLennan said more regulation was not needed, while Foxtel's Richard Freudenstein objected to "flawed" legislation.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the Advocate would not look over the shoulder of media or rule on complaints.  "The Advocate's job is simply to say: does the Press Council uphold its own standards?  "The Advocate has no role in setting those standards."

Labor senator and committee chairman Doug Cameron referred to the phone hacking scandal in the UK.  "I find it absolutely breathtaking to be lectured by the Murdoch press about the privacy laws," he said.

Mr Williams said two independent inquiries had found no such activity had taken place in Australia.

Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews expressed reservations about the media changes.  "I ... believe freedom of the press is integral to our democracy," he said.  "People are right to take a free press and free speech very seriously. I certainly do."

Premier Denis Napthine said he had severe misgivings. "I am flabbergasted that the Federal Government would want to curtail the free speech in the media of this state," he said.

TV bosses were at odds at a separate inquiry looking at abolishing the "75 per cent reach" rule that prevented network broadcasting to more than three-quarters of the population.

Nine Network chief David Gyngell, whose company wanted to buy the Southern Cross network if the rule was axed, said it was outdated, owing to the internet.

"I wouldn't allow the 75 per cent rule to be removed without the certainty of the high-quality news content viewers currently receive," he said, adding that regional journalists would keep their jobs.

Other networks oppose the change.

The Senate committee is due to hand down an interim report on Wednesday, while the joint select committee will report on the reach rule on Tuesday.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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