More on privacy law “threat” to media revelations

I’d written this before seeing Mick’s post with a slightly different take… If the top judiciary want to protect individual judges from growing press attacks they ‘d be well advised to share libel cases more round the bench instead of loftily ignoring the fall-out. And oh, fees of £7,000 a day are obscene. But with Paul Dacre’s unprecedentedly personal attack on Justice Eady, you’ve got to look on in wonder at how parts of the MSM can mix sheer hypocrisy with a dose of brutal frankness at the same time. Dacre the frequently furious editor of the endless outraged Daily Mail has singled out one particular judge for the pillory for allegedly “singlehandedly introducing a privacy law by the back door.” And worse:

What was most worrying, Mr Dacre said, was that the judge was ruling that on morality issues the law was “effectively neutral”, adding: “which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being ‘amoral’.”

Not that all the press think alike! From Polly Toynbee scourge of all old fashioned right wing media proprietors, a swift slapdown

“Dacre, the nation’s bully-in-chief is, like all bullies, a coward:”

Toynbee continuing:

” Dacre refused to go on the Today programme yesterday to argue his case. He never dares face his critics, happy to fry alive all and sundry, never apologising, never explaining. There is a good reason for this: the stance his paper takes on just about everything is so internally contradictory and inconsistent that he could never survive even minimal scrutiny. The Mail’s mishmash of lurid scandal, bitching about women and random moralising zigzags all over the place, dishing out pain and praise often according to who it has succeeded in buying with its limitless chequebook, or who has infuriated it by selling their wares to another bidder.”

Phew! But the frankness comes in Dacre’s admission that his main concern is as much newspaper circulation as national morality. He approvingly quotes Baroness Hale in a House of Lords appeal in the Naomi Campbell Law Lords case in 2004 ……

“One reason why freedom of the press is so important is that we need newspapers to sell in order to ensure that we still have newspapers at all. It may be said that newspapers should be allowed considerable latitude in the intrusions into private grief so that they can maintain circulation and the rest of us can continue to enjoy the variety of newspapers and other mass media which are available in this country”

The directness of Dacre’s attack on Justice Eady provoked an equally unusual defence from top libel QCs on the grounds that a judge cannot directly answer. Plus a reasoned refutation from Geoffrey Robertson of Dacres’ case that the Human Rights Act was to blame.

His complaint about the Max Moseley judgment should be directed to the editor of News of the World, who betrayed the cause of press freedom by failing to appeal it. The appeal court could well have held that Justice Eady’s approach was in fact mistaken. He said that Article 8 offers a broad protection to “autonomy, dignity and self-esteem”. But the drafters of this Article decided that it should not protect honour or reputation: it was narrowly defined as a right to “respect for private and family life, home and correspondence” – words that hardly cover Mr Moseley’s pre-occupations.”

A wonderful example that of how a lawyer can have his cake and eat it. Robertson is saying that Dacre was right (to challenge the judgment), but did so on the wrong grounds ( the Human Rights Act).

Behind the flak, is Dacre right to sound an alarm that a privacy law is developing that could threaten disclosure in the public interest? The Independent speaks here for the media in general.

“Mr Dacre is quite right to sound a warning. Any move towards a privacy law would be a thoroughly bad thing.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London