THE furore in the bourgeois press about the lenient treatment handed out to the Tory culture secretary, Maria Miller, who was found guilty of over-claiming expenses in a ‘second homes’ scandal, has once again focused on the unrelenting push by the coalition to introduce state control of the press in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards determined that Miller had over-claimed by £45,000 and should repay the money.
This was overruled by the House of Commons Standards Committee composed of ten MPs and three lay members, who decided she only had to repay £5,800 and make an apology to the House of Commons – there was no call for her to resign.
What is causing fury is that, at a time when the government is demanding press ‘regulation’ and threatening to put every newspaper under the political control and scrutiny of MPs, these same MPs – who denounce press regulatory bodies for not being ‘independent’ – have no difficulty in acting as judge and jury when it comes to their own conduct and rule breaking.
But there is a lot more behind this story than the hypocrisy of MPs.
When the Telegraph first started its investigation at the end of 2012, its then editor, Tony Gallagher, complained that he and the paper had been ‘threatened’ by aides to the culture secretary to drop the story.
Gallagher repeated this claim yesterday on BBC radio, where he said: ‘I got a call from Craig Oliver (senior Cameron aide) pointing out that she is looking at Leveson.’ Also, No. 10 had contacted the paper, and the reporter responsible for the story, in a way that Gallagher described as ‘menacing’ and leaving him feeling ‘threatened’.
If Gallagher and the Telegraph felt menaced and threatened, then the Guardian paper clearly felt even more under threat over its handling of the Edward Snowden documents which revealed the massive, illegal covert tapping and electronic surveillance carried out by the US and British state against its own citizens and foreign governments.
Speaking at a radio conference in Dublin last week, the Guardian deputy editor, Paul Johnson, revealed that the paper feared that the British government was prepared to close down the paper over the spying affair.
He was asked what specific threats were made by the government if the Guardian published Snowden’s revelations and he replied: ‘Yes, we were being threatened with being closed down.’
He added: ‘Well, there are specific threats made and there have been specific threats made legally. We didn’t know if they were under the terror laws or the more ordinary laws about the seizure of journalistic material.’
In a subsequent letter to the Irish press, Johnson has stated that he meant to convey that the British government would close down its coverage of the Snowden leaks, rather than the newspaper itself.
Whether the whole newspaper was under threat of closure by the state, or just a legal ban on reporting the illegal activities of the spies at NSA and GCHQ, is not the issue.
The fact remains that, in this period of capitalist economic crisis, the Tory-led government is demanding the complete subservience of even the right-wing bourgeois press.
All the press laws under consideration have nothing to do with protecting the public from the criminal activities practised by the News of the World and others, and everything to do with whipping the press into line and imposing the kind of censorship needed to carry out the class war against the working class.
In this war to dump the full weight of the crisis on the backs of workers, there can be no question of allowing any newspaper to probe the activities of the state and its representatives and exposing their activities.
There can be no ‘free press’ under capitalism. The only truly free press can exist under socialism when the ownership is taken from the press barons, and the media placed under the ownership and control of the working class.