The press is throwing a toddler's tantrum over Leveson

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Here are ten truths the media needs to hear.

Recently I read some advice on dealing with a toddler’s tantrum. Try to ignore it, was the suggestion, by walking into another room. If ignoring doesn’t work, say something like “Time to stop now – I’ll count to 10”.

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Ignoring hasn’t worked, so . . .

ONE – The lack of self-reflection is truly staggering. The Leveson process is not something which was done to us. Nobody woke up one morning and thought “I know what I’ll do today – curtail the freedom of the press.” This is something entirely caused by the industry being, on the whole, out of control; engaging in occasionally illegal and often unethical practices. Take responsibility.

TWO – We had several chances at self-regulation which was not independently assessed and externally supervised. We made a complete arse of it. To ask for yet another round of the same sounds like an abusive alcoholic promising never to beat their spouse again, bathed in the light of the X-rays of their partner's latest fractures. The credibility, goodwill and trust necessary for self-regulation to work are just not there.

THREE – Attacking the individuals involved in the Hacked Off campaign with ad hominem and below-the-belt articles, only serves to prove the point that regulation is necessary now as much as ever. It is like waiting round the back of the school to beat up the kid who reported you for bullying. Publishing articles illustrated with Hugh Grant photoshopped to look like a pig only serves to make journalists look stupid and petty. Not to mention that, annoyingly, Grant makes the whole porky thing work and is still pretty sexy as a pig-man.

For comparison, here is a pig with the nose of Hugh Grant.

FOUR – Regulation of professional standards is part of modern life. Embrace it. Every profession on the eve of regulation has warned that it will be destroyed be it. None, that I can think of, has. Many have been reputationally enhanced. We keep complaining that we are crowded out by social media and blogs. A system of kitemarking quality, standards and ethics could be the unique selling point the industry desperately needs.

FIVE – Publications owned by Murdoch, the Barclay brothers and Lord Rothermere complaining that the Hacked Off campaign has secretly lobbied politicians is off the irony scale. Hacked Off’s agenda is completely public. They are saying what they have been saying all along, to anyone willing to listen. To claim that this somehow is tantamount to, for instance - a secret and unminuted tea date or dinner party with the Prime Minister on the eve of launching a huge takeover bid - is ridiculous.

SIX – If you wish to preserve your independence, you could start by demonstrating it. For example, you could do a hard-hitting piece investigating how and why David Cameron has arrived at his current position after promising to implement the Leveson proposals in full, unless they were “bonkers”. By not taking up the opportunity – because it is against the industry’s interests – and toeing the editorial line, you demonstrate the opposite of independence.

SEVEN – Prove your talent for factual and balanced reporting with factual and balanced reporting. Calling what is proposed “statutory regulation”, when you know it is not and everyone knows it is not and everyone knows that you know it is not, does not do you any favours. Stop claiming the world will cave in if this is allowed. Nobody believes it.

EIGHT – Listen to your professional union. "It is hugely ironic that those owners and editors who vehemently opposed Leveson's recommendations for an independent regulatory system, have so lost perspective in the collective hysteria that has gripped them in recent months, that they've colluded in a Royal Charter fudge that could risk opening the door to future political meddling in our press.”

NINE – Understand change. Invariably the players who do best in a situation where change is necessary are the ones who accept it the earliest and get involved in contributing to how it might best come about. Heckling and sulking is the worst possible strategy in a climate where public opinion is overwhelmingly – and rightly – in favour of change.

TEN – Most importantly, please stop suggesting that campaigners, by allegedly bullying politicians, have “become what they despised”. First, this involves an admission that the industry does bully politicians.

Second, you may intend to aim the slur at Hugh Grant, but the buckshot hits people like the Dowlers and the McCanns and Chris Jefferies – and they have suffered enough in this industry’s hands.

Campaigning for a piece of legislation is not the same as taking long-lens shots of families in grief at a funeral. It is not the same as naming an innocent person as a murderer based on no evidence. It is not the same as accusing the parents of a kidnapped girl of killing her; getting a paediatrician's home spray-painted with the word "paedo" after the Name and Shame campaign. It is not the same as hiding a note in a five-year-old’s schoolbag to browbeat her novelist mother into giving an interview. It is not the same as hacking a dead girl’s phone. This is the behaviour that has brought us to this point – not campaigners. Our behaviour.

Time to stop now.

Hugh Grant: more attractive without the pig snout, but only just. Photo: Getty

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.