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Easy way for press to avoid legislation: be honest

NORMAN GILLER says that the Leveson Report’s recommendation for legislation to control the press is unnecessary – there are already laws against phone hacking, bribery and break-ins

I applaud and admire David Cameron’s stance against Lord Justice Leveson’s call for “essential” legislation to underpin a new self-regulatory system for the British press. I just hope for his sake it does not eventually bring him down. The PM just might be putting his head in the noose on our behalf, or perhaps to save himself embarrassing comebacks for getting too close to Rebekah Brooks and the horsey Oxfordshire set.

Big report – but will it amount to big actions?

Take it from this old hack (in the traditional sense), that to go down the statutory road will be the first step towards losing our precious freedom of speech and a free press.

If it were to be made the law of the land, you can bet Hugh Grant’s Best Actor Oscar that a few years down the line a powerful, self-protecting clique will add more bricks to the legislation. Suddenly we will be gagged Mugabe-style.

(Note from Ed: Grant has not won an Oscar)

(Note from Norm: He gets one for his performances on behalf of the Hacked Off group)

Leveson’s Report is a brilliant and balanced work that reveals just why he has been trusted with the role of a law lord.

It answers the concerns of all and – the legislation recommendation apart – gives the signpost that all newspapers should follow.

There is already a law of the land that nets the abusers among us. Several of my old colleagues are almost certain to be banged up next year for crimes ranging from hacking to corruption. We do not need any more legislation. A self-regulated system with proper teeth will suffice. It must be a watchdog that bites, not barks like the old toothless PCC.

If newspapers are to regain respect and the trust of the public, they must simply make a pact to tell the truth. They – particularly the tabloids – must stop parading gossip as fact and there are a minority of journalists out there who should get out of our proud profession if they cannot bring themselves to stop printing lies.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. When Harry Redknapp was being consistently linked with the England manager’s job I just happened to have copper-bottomed, inside information that he had not been approached by the Football Association.

Yet I was reading how much he had been offered for a four-year contract, who he was going to have as his coach, which players he was going to select, and his determination not to move house to Burton on Trent to be near the FA’s new St George’s training ground.

Every one of those stories was made up. They had to be, because there was not a grain of truth in them.

If reporters are going to sit at their keyboards and type lies, the Leveson demand for “essential” legislation will be justified. They would drown in their own dishonesty while we are crossing the Rubicon, and Cameron will be well and truly clogged, or rather, clegged.

We should all pledge to tell the truth. Simples.

It is going to take months before any part of the Leveson recommendations are implemented, and the 2,000-page report – longer than War and Peace, but less tall story than Tolstoy – could yet be kicked into the long grass.

Regardless of the fate of the report, it is the responsibility of every journalist to bring integrity and trust back to our battered profession.

I cannot help but think that the Leveson inquiry has been like a diagnosis of a terminally ill patient. I am convinced my youngest grandson, now aged 5, will never buy a newspaper.

It is online where the regulation is eventually going to be needed. There are scores of libels every single day on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Even as I write they are taking free pot shots at the press, unrestricted by any form of control or censorship. They are giving us journalists and Cameron a good kicking, and making statements that have little grounding in fact. It is clear that the Prime Minister is in a minority with his view of the Leveson Report and are making their opinions known with little regard for truth.

Who is going to restrain the Internetters? Over to Brian Leveson. He must now have time on his hands to handle that little problem.

Olympic heavyweight: David Miller

LEANING ON A favourite Leveson word, David Miller’s Official History of the Olympic Games and IOC is essential reading.

The only criticism is that you risk a hernia lifting it. The updated book, ushering in a full report on the 2012 London Games, is almost as long as the Leveson Report, but much less divisive.

Anybody seeking a role model in the hoped-for new era of honest journalism should look no further than David, who we used to call the Great White Hunter because of his penchant for wearing white cotton suits long before Martin Bell paraded them in the House.

He has arguably seen more major sporting events than anybody walking this planet and has always represented sports writing with dignity, style and intelligence during a 56-year career that has taken in specialist service with The Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph and Daily Express.

A treasured old colleague, I have always been in awe of the way David conducts himself. He is a bit of a lone wolf but continually comes up with the best-informed and most authoritative stories, and told with clarity and (here’s that word again) honesty.

Last time I saw him was at the House of Lords, where Sebastian Coe had commandeered a room to hold a cocktail party to celebrate David’s 50 years as a sportswriter.

I recall back in the 1960s we were on a trans-Siberian express with the England under-23 football squad. During the 21-hour journey the train pulled into sidings somewhere in Prague and we were told there would be a three-hour stop-over.

David scoured the skyline and then gestured for me to follow him. He walked us through to the heart of Prague, with knowledge of every landmark.

David Miller, always worth following.


UPCOMING SJA EVENTS

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza at the Tower of London. Click here for more details, news of members’ discounts and a booking form.

2013

Mon Mar 11: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London. Entry forms will be available early in December.