Opinion: Press freedom fight gets fiercer

As official inquiries into press regulation begin, there are growing signs of unease and compromise from all sides. It is a stand-off worth watching by all involved in media relations.

Many in Westminster wonder at the Pandora's box David Cameron has opened by giving the Leveson Inquiry quite such vigorous terms of reference. After all, little good has traditionally befallen politicians who have picked fights with the media.

The press, initially petrified by the implications of the Murdoch scandal on its own business, is increasingly vocal, with leader columns rejecting any changes beyond beefing up self-regulation.

A new chairman of the PCC, a body utterly discredited in the eyes of many, is warmly greeted as the saviour of a responsible and free press.

There is also a growing Fleet Street whispering campaign against the 'white knights' leading the charge towards tougher sanctions. It makes thinly veiled suggestions that advocates of a privacy law have all had sleazy secrets outed by a free press.

The position of the BBC is also intriguing. One very senior figure at the corporation has made his views known to at least one newspaper that the Beeb depends on the sometimes excessive freedom of the print media.

His argument is that the BBC, as a publicly funded body, has to accept more regulations than other media. However, unduly curbing the freedoms - or excesses - of the print media would mean even tighter restrictions on what the BBC can do. Thus the sum total of journalistic freedom would be reduced.

A crumb of compromise is thrown to the wolves by the Daily Mail, which has grandly launched a daily clarifications and corrections slot on page 2. So far corrections include an apology for printing the Union Jack incorrectly on a tea towel offer to readers.

The Mail on Sunday then apologised for having printed the 'fact' that West Ham were unbeaten in 18 home games: this should have been 18 home games against Blackpool.

Maybe laughter remains the best medicine ...

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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