There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press by Mick Hume

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There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press by Mick Hume

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's deliberately intended to start a discussion about the press - and is a brilliant antidote to over-indulgence in Leveson. You really should read it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 188 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Imprint Academic
ISBN: 978-1845403508

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I'll confess that the phone-hacking scandal largely left me cold. It seemed to be about people who had courted the media interest complaining that they had caught the media's interest when they didn't intend to do so. Then the hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler's phone came to light and disinterest turned to disgust. The Leveson Enquiry became the best show in town if you really wanted to hear about what celebrities had been doing and I moved to wondering what the outcome would be and whether it would prove to be a talking shop and waste of money. It might have remained that way if the Jimmy Savile scandal hadn't dominated the news for a couple of weeks and I really began to wonder if we here at Bookbag Towers were the only people hadn't known what was going on. Why hadn't this made headlines when other less important news had? I needed to know more about the press. I particularly needed to know if increased regulation - which seems almost inevitable - could produce more Jimmy Saviles.

Initially I'd been put off reading There's No Such Thing As A Free Press because it came from Imprint Academic. That's not a criticism of the publisher but an acknowledgement that they usually publish the more specialist works which can occasionally be a little too lofty for the layman, but a little research revealed the fact that Mick Hume had published a very left-wing magazine who was then recruited to work for The Times by Michael Gove. If nothing else I suspected that he must have a sense of humour. The book was worth a try.

The (lack of) ethics of a small part of the media has produced a backlash which put me in mind of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Celebrities have paraded in front of Leveson (and our television screens) telling of how badly they've been treated - and there have been some others for whom there was a great deal of sympathy. The result is likely to be a muzzled press unable to do what it should do. And we have to remember that the right to a free press has been fought for for centuries - Hume gives brief and very readable accounts of the history. It's interesting to note that John Wilkes, remembered for his fight for a free press, would have been seen as one of the hacks which society feels the need to 'contain' were he alive today.

Hume makes the point that just about everyone says that they're in favour of a free press - and then goes on to add but... and details the way or ways in which this freedom should be limited, at least for other people or in relation to themselves. He argues the need for a cultural shift not just within the press but in the public's attitude to it. Freedom is absolute - much like 'truth' or 'pregnancy' and it cannot be doled out as someone in authority sees fit. Least of all can you give freedom to the people you like - the better people - and deny it to others.

It's polemic and not presented as anything else, but it is extremely well written. I didn't find it a quick read but that was because I found my mind being pushed into corners long unvisited. There was a great deal to think about - why is it wrong for the press to pry into the lives of celebrities but laudable for Jamie Oliver to do the same thing to children's lunch boxes? I didn't agree with all of it but it can't be anything less than five stars because it made me think. And change my mind about certain things.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Hume makes the point that Rupert Murdoch has been demonised, perhaps unfairly. If you're interested in knowing more about him then we can recommend (if a little cautiously) The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff.

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Buy There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press by Mick Hume at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press by Mick Hume at


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Mick Hume said, ahad of The Political Studies Association Session on Leveson and the Futur of Political Journalism:

Hacked Off (the pro-regulation lobby group fronted by Hugh Grant) admit in their book Everybody’s Hacked Off that the lobby group:

(1) instigated the demand for the Leveson Inquiry

(2) set the terms for it to probe not just phone-hacking but the entire ‘culture and ethics’ of the press

(3) set the tone for the public circus through its celebrity witnesses

(4) penned most of Lord Justice Leveson’s final proposals.

Hacked Off also drew up the compromise on statutory underpinning that was accepted this week – and was even present throughout the late-night talks to seal the deal, unlike any representative of the people or the press!

Hacked Off high-level access is the consequence of their pushing at the open door of a political class that has abandoned any belief in freedom of expression. Cameron, Clegg & Miliband would rather put their faith in sanctimonious lawyers and celebrities than trust either the public or the press. It has not been a hijacking but a meeting of narrow minds.

A Royal Charter will further extend state intervention in the affairs of the press, and cast an even longer official shadow over freedom of expression

A Royal Charter is potentially even worse news for freedom than statute since there is nothing to stop any future government altering or expanding this statutory interference in the press with a simple parliamentary majority.

Cameron and Miliband are deeply involved in a culture war between the political class and the press. The political class unites in backroom closed door meetings to sacrifice press freedom in the name of the people (whom they don’t consult)

Hatred of the ‘popular’ press and the ‘mass’ media (or its owners) by the political class has is a thinly veiled code for expressing an elitist fear and loathing of the populace/masses who consume them.