Remember Hacked Off, the campaigners for state regulation of the press? You know the ones, a peculiar mix of raggedy, left-wing headbangers and celebrities narked about their media coverage. They used to rail against the invasion of privacy, the way a “feral” press used to poke its nose into the private behaviour of the rich and famous, and their solution was to allow politicians to introduce restraints to the freedom of the press.
Well, it seems like they’ve been replaced by a subtly different group of the same name. They’re still the exact same people, operating under the exact same name, but apparently they aren’t bothered any more about invasions of privacy or the press poking its nose into private behaviour. In fact, today we learn that they’re very strongly in favour of newspapers writing about the personal relationships of the powerful – so much so that they are furious that some newspapers refused to do so.
The story? A single man dated a single woman. He didn’t know she was a sex worker, and when he found out, he ended the relationship. Some months after that happened, he became a Government minister.
Hacked Off’s reason for believing this story ought to be a priority for the newspapers? Well, erm, you see, there’s a public interest reason. Probably. Somewhere. Maybe he could have been blackmailed about the relationship? Oh, no, the Hacked Off-allied blog which reported it stated in its own coverage that it was “an open secret”, which makes that ridiculous. Curses. What else? Well, er, maybe the media used the threat of the story to force the minister in question, John Whittingdale, into supporting press freedom? Ah, he made his first Commons speech expressing that view in 1993. Damn.
Regardless of the inconvenient lack of a justification which really meets their own (former) standards, they decided to take up the cudgels anyway, and in doing so revealed all we need to know about Hacked Off. They are now in the bizarre position of trying to promote precisely the type of story they once claimed to oppose, and criticising newspapers for following principles they once attacked them for not abiding by. They use flimsy innuendo to justify the position, and pretend the negative coverage of Whittingdale’s private life is mere collateral damage. The fact their target is a Conservative who disagrees with them about Leveson suggests a deeply unpleasant motivation of personal and political animus. The hypocrisy stinks.
There’s one footnote to this sorry tale. While various newspapers, of both right and left, decided not to run this story, the BBC elected last night to bring it into the mainstream media. Quite why they chose to do it now, when it aired online a fortnight ago, is unclear. Tory pro-Brexit campaign sources are asking serious questions about why this rather old story has come to light now, shortly after Whittingdale declared his support for leaving the EU.