The hysteria of Hacked Off

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech

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For a few months now, Hacked Off, the self-elected moral arbiters of the British press, have been posing as the one and true defenders of press freedom. It’s a bit like Shane MacGowan making a stab to become the next chief exec of Alcoholics Anonymous. That this gang which instigated Leveson and breathed life back into the 300-year-old corpse of state regulation of the press can claim to care about press freedom confirms that what they lack in basic understanding of liberty they more than make up for with brass neck.

Anyone who bought into the idea that these redtop-haters are modern-day Miltons – a story more fact-free than anything that ever dis-graced the front page of the Sunday Sport – must surely have had the scales roughly ripped from their eyes following yesterday’s Hacked Off meeting in parliament. For there, in gory Technicolor, the hysteria and intolerance of Hacked Off was on full display.

Hacked Off invited various of the luvvies and worthies who support its censorious campaign to do their usual thing of bashing the tabs and demanding that politicians Do Something about them. In his comments, one of those luvvies, Seventies sitcom actor John Cleese, compared hacks to murderers. On the shock-horror suggestion that the press should regulate itself rather than being regulated from without, Cleese said: ‘Builders, accountants, murderers, they’d all like to regulate themselves… The murderers would make a very good case – they’d say we murdered a lot of people, we know people who have murdered people. We really are best qualified to regulate.’ Well, writing a salacious story about someone is exactly like murdering them, isn’t it? In the swirling minds of the Hacked Off folk, for whom the raucous rabble’s press is a vulgar crime against decency and humanity, it is.

This isn’t the first time Hacked Off hyperbole has shone an unwitting light on its inner intolerance. Steve Coogan, funnyman turned Sun-hating pub bore, has said tabloid journos are ‘sociopaths’ who inhabit ‘an amoral universe’. Defender of imprisoned writers turned defender of the imprisoning of tabloid hacks, HO boss Joan Smith, says tabloid writers are ‘a different breed’ to her and her broadsheet friends. During Leveson, a Guardian journalist described tabloid hacks as ‘an off-putting example of the species’. Murderers, nutters, an inferior breed, the untermenschen of the media – Hacked Off’s view of tabloid journalists speaks volumes about its own swaying, censorious urges.

And those urges were on grim display at yesterday’s meeting. When Alex Wickham of Guido Fawkes tweeted about Cleese’s murderer remarks, the room became outraged. In what sounds like a miniature version of a Two Minutes Hate, the attendees asked the tweeter to stand and account for himself – how dare he tweet disapprovingly of St John of the Dead Parrot and the decent people of HO?! When Wickham stood up, he was promptly told to sit back down again, by HO’s Evan Harris, who said ‘I don’t want to give you a platform’.

So there you have it, clear as anything, an insight into HO’s ugly soul: a meeting at which they casually chortled as journalists were spoken about in the same breath as murderers, and at which a reporter was admonished for reporting, and at which same reporter was then told to STFU by HO folk who would quite like to say to all tabloid hacks, ‘We don’t want to give you a platform’. There can’t be many left who believe Hacked Off’s codswallop about being pro-press freedom, but if there are, yesterday’s events will hopefully have disabused them of such an arse-about-tit belief.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Free Speech


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