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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Hacked off with Hacked Off

Regular readers of the Journal will not be surprised to learn that I have never been a big fan of Hacked Off. From the moment this group of would-be media censors started to bring its weight to bear on the Leveson Inquiry it has behaved like a bully, deploying highly unethical practices to advance its cause – namely achieving State regulation of the press and preventing journalists from investigating the activities of the rich and powerful. But even I was shocked by the group’s latest tactic, which was to instigate a vicious vendetta and smear campaign against Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. Whilst claiming to be opposed to “media intrusion” Hacked Off was instrumental in revealing aspects of Mr Whittingdale’s private life. The group had embarked upon this hypocritical course of action purely because the Culture Secretary had stood up for the freedom of the press and had resisted Hacked Off bullying and was thus considered a “legitimate target” in Hacked Off’s war against journalism.

What twisted morality is this? To target a Minister and to rake through his private life without the slightest shred of evidence of any political or other wrong-doing is an utterly vile tactic, even by Hacked Off’s warped standards. It shows how desperate this anti-press lobby group is becoming in its determination to impose full-blown State regulation of the press. In defending its actions, Hacked Off tries to point the finger of suspicion at the Culture Secretary, suggesting that he has an ulterior motive for his opposition to press regulation. The fact is, as we in the Institute know, that John Whittingdale has been a defender of press freedom throughout his political career, as his speech to the Institute six years ago, when he was guest of honour at our Presidential Handover at the National Liberal Club, amply demonstrated. Hacked Off wants people to assume that everyone opposed to State regulation of the press must have some hidden vested interest for so doing. In Mr Whittingdale’s case it is purely that he doesn’t share Hacked Off’s vision of tightly regulated newspapers.

Hacked Off is currently trying to get official recognition for its own press regulator, IMPRESS. Thankfully, it is not getting very far. So, knowing what Hacked Off is like, we can probably expect yet more bullying and demonising of journalists and of those politicians who oppose State regulation of newspapers. In these circumstances it is all the more important that our Institute stands firm in defence of Britain’s free press. We look to our new President, Mark Croucher, to lead the next phase of our campaign.

Andy Smith