State Regulation Did Nothing to Prevent This Smearing of an Innocent Man - but a Free Press Exposed It

Article excerpt

Byline: THE Melanie Phillips COLUMN

LAST Friday, more than 40 Tory MPs and peers published a letter in the Guardian calling for the introduction of state regulation of the Press.

They were helping inflame the already boiling controversy over the report into press ethics by Lord Justice Leveson -- which not only has not yet been published, but may even not yet have been finalised.

In their letter -- in its third paragraph, no less -- the politicians wrote that statutory regulation of the BBC and ITV had not compromised the independence of these media institutions and so should cause no concern.

Their enthusiasm for state regulation was somewhat unfortunately timed. For the very next day, the BBC went into meltdown over an egregious failure of journalism that unleashed the internet's hounds of hell against Lord McAlpine, the hapless individual whom Newsnight's wholly unreliable source had falsely accused of being a paedophile.

The impulse behind this item was undoubtedly a desire to make amends for the previous Newsnight debacle, in which its editor had canned a report that would have finally lifted the lid on the blind eye the BBC had for decades turned to the sexual assaults by Jimmy Savile on under-age girls, even in its very own dressing rooms.

All this occurred despite the fact that the BBC is partially regulated by Ofcom which, among other things, monitors it for harm, offence, fairness and privacy.

Complex This gross institutional failure took place under Ofcom's oversight because its causes lie deep inside the dysfunctional, managerially top-heavy culture of the BBC itself. The key point about the Newsnight carehome debacle was that the anonymised item was apparently referred upwards through senior management figures and BBC lawyers -- none of whom apparently asked the basic questions that would have exposed the falsehood.

The BBC's internal regulatory structures are simultaneously fiendishly complex and spectacularly useless. The root cause of that is surely the licence fee, which subsidises complacency, arrogance and introverted group-think and means the BBC is never forced to be truly accountable to the only people who matter -- the general public.

Ofcom is utterly incapable of correcting these deficiencies, and it has hardly had any greater success in maintaining standards among commercial broadcasters. It doesn't prevent Channel Five from regularly broadcasting smut, for example.

Nor did it prevent the ITV Good Morning presenter Phillip Schofield from sloppily waving at a startled Prime Minister a list of alleged paedophiles culled from a few minutes' trawl of the internet, as if such material could ever be thought reliable or true.

And let's not forget that it was an revealed that Lord McAlpine had been falsely accused as a result of the activities of a regulated broadcaster.

Any further external regulation will not stop the rot at the BBC, which has simply lost its way.

The Newsnight mess is said to represent a dagger at the heart of the Corporation, which depends entirely on absolute trust in its journalistic brand in order to justify its position as a publicly funded broadcaster.

But, in fact, BBC journalism has long betrayed that trust by its incorrigible, institutional Left-wing bias.

There have long been entirely justified complaints that it presents a vast range of topics such as America, the Middle East, big business, Europe, environmentalism, conservatism, immigration and many more through a Left-wing prism.

BBC Leftism is nothing less than a hermetically sealed thought system, with most of the Corporation's journalists and executives simply incapable of any insight into their condition.

As for Newsnight itself, this has long been a failing programme given to putting across a risibly cartoonish Left-wing view of the world. …