Suppose that a UK water company – let's call it "WaterCo" – were discovered to have been involved in human trafficking. Would we declare that Ofwat (the body that regulates water prices and water quality) had failed, and that the system of economic regulation of the water sector needed to be completely overhauled? I reckon not. Why not? Because human trafficking is a crime, and it's the job of the police to prevent and discover crimes, not the body that regulates water prices and water quality.
Hacking phones is a crime. It was never the job of the Press Complaints Commission to prevent or discover phone hacking, so it cannot possibly be any kind of failure for the Press Complaints Commission not to have prevented or discovered phone hacking. Doubtless it didn't prevent journalists from speeding or parking or drunk driving, either – are those failures of press regulation?
Some celebrities complain that the press publishes lies about them. That definitely happens. That's why we have libel laws. If someone libels you, sue. If you think libel cases are too expensive to bring or guilt is too difficult to prove, perhaps you have a point and we should reform libel proceedings. But that's the right way to go about things – improving what we already have and what has worked for centuries and been compatible with an orderly and free society. If someone publishes falsehood – sue. I struggle to believe that Hugh Grant really lacks the resources to do so.
Perhaps the press is too intrusive on the lives of celebrities. Maybe the fact that some folk makes money trading off their public image does not mean the press should be able to probe that public image to test its truth. In which case, argue for stronger privacy laws.
Why aren't an overhaul of police procedures for discovering and preventing 'phone hacking, a review of libel laws, and a review of privacy laws the right response to recent events? Why do we need any "stronger" regulation of the press at all – whether a state regulator or a "voluntary code"? A state regulator would be both totally impractical in the age of the internet and a remarkable uptick in our already markedly authoritarian trend of the past two decades, destroying all kinds of key constitutional principles providing checks and balances to Executive power. Once the Executive has got rid of the House of Lords and the Monarch and the Judiciary and the Press and bypassed Parliament through regular "consultations", "independent regulators" and referendum, we'll finally be back to the Carolingian utopia of 1629-1640 and Charles I can be upgraded from "King and Martyr" to simply "Saint".
A "beefed up voluntary code", on the other hand, would be little more than an anti-competitive device to vest the power of established media brands, closing out competition from newer internet-based rivals. Only approved journalists would be able to attend lobby briefings and carry articles by mainstream politicians. Unregulated and disrespected, internet-based hacks would be freed from all professional ethics and probably engage in more disreputable conduct, not less.
It is remarkable how, in a country that imagines itself an international beacon of freedom, there is so little resistance to encroachments upon that freedom. Do we imagine that by saying "We are the 'Lovers of Liberty'" we got the tricky bit out of the way in our name, and thereafter don't have to do any actual defending of our liberties? Our forefathers would be ashamed of us, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for the way we have plundered the treasury of liberty and left a poor inheritance for those that will come after us.