Why the ex-minister who left his lights on wants to curb an ‘over-mighty’ Press

From his cosy perch in the House of Lords, a peer has been haughtily condemning newspapers for having the temerity to challenge a threat to free speech.

Tory Lord Jenkin of Roding, who served as an energy minister in the Seventies and environment secretary in the Eighties, claimed the Press had become an “over-mighty subject” and compared the industry with aristocrats in the 18th century and trade unions in the 20th, according to Press Gazette.

His attack followed the Government’s decision to delay its presentation to the Privy Council of the proposed Royal Charter, which would underpin a new system of press regulation, to give more time for consideration of an alternative charter put forward by the industry.

In debate on the Queen’s Speech, he told peers: “It is no less than a really very blatant attempt by those newspapers and their proprietors to keep their status in society as an over-mighty subject.

“Previous governments have had to deal with over-mighty subjects. They had to face down the aristocracy in the 18th century, they had to face the Tory mill owners and factory owners in the 19th century and they had to face the trade unions in the 20th century.

“The Leveson Inquiry exposed the Press as the over-mighty subject of the 21st century, believing, like its predecessors, to be above the law and outwith the surveillance of Parliament. That can be acceptable to no democratic government.

“Some newspaper owners may dislike intensely the prospect of tougher regulation, but the way they are fighting their case does not make a pretty sight and I very much condemn them.”

Lord Jenkin apparently thinks Parliament should be scrutinising the Press, not the other way round.

We should leave it to our noble parliamentarians, who have served us so heroically in the past, to muzzle newspapers that have become too big for their boots, he suggests.

How patronising, and utterly hypocritical.

He asks us to trust the same parliamentarians guilty of shamelessly cheating taxpayers with their expenses fiddles, taking cash for questions and doling out honours for financial backers.

He must be joking.

Like many critics of the Press, Lord Jenkin (unelected, of course) has in the past been portrayed in an unflattering light by journalists.

During the miners’ strike of 1974, when Prime Minister Edward Heath imposed a three-day week to save electricity, he urged people to clean their teeth in the dark.

But then, rather embarrassingly, his house was photographed with its lights blazing.

He later admitted the incident had been “very damaging”, and that he had received 500 letters a day complaining about his “stupid remarks”.

Not that he would bear a grudge. Proponents of Press reform such as ridiculed former minsters, MPs exposed as expenses cheats  and celebrities with seedy personal lives to hide are driven by principles, not revenge.

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About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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