Mick Hume argues that there is no such thing as a free press in the United Kingdom and his polemic is convincing. It is also intelligent. This is because he explains why media narcissism has generated the political and moral panics that have led to so many bizarre events in recent decades- from the extraordinary mass sentimentality over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the shutting down of Britain's most successful newspaper 'The News of the World'- with little protest, and the Leveson Inquiry where moral entrepreneurs- mainly powerful and successful celebrities and public figures, are asking for more legal controls and sanctions on a media already shackled by law, politics and culture, and more disturbingly by an internal mind-set.
Mr. Hume declares his interests and past- he was the editor and proprietor of 'Living Marxism'- effectively closed by a libel action that was lost. He writes well and clearly. He draws on the history of John Wilkes, the writings of John Stuart Mill, and George Orwell and in many ways he is part of that awkward, independent and bloody-minded 'against the grain' tradition that has made Great Britain the source of democratic, libertarian and egalitarian values since the Enlightenment.
I am going to recommend it to my students because he covers important ground and analysis. He deals with the increasing problematization of journalism- the 'shooting the messenger' syndrome in terms of the enduring lecture 'I believe in a free press, but...'
Whilst there has and continues to be a great fashion for journalism and media ethics in universities, he justifiably asks 'whose ethics are they anyway?'
He joins a growing criticism of the Leveson Inquiry in that the process seemed to be more of a mission to purge the press than improve it, though I personally feel the difficulties Lord Justice Leveson has had were not of his own choosing and caused more by the legislation (2005 Public Inquiries Act) and somewhat absurdly wide-ranging terms of reference given him by the Prime Minister.
And Mr. Hume's polemic is by no means a destructive tirade. Very much in the style of Nick Cohen's excellent 'You Can't Read This Book', in Chapter 7, he offers a thoughtful manifesto for a free press.
The book chimes with a feeling I have had for many years, that the media and the people in it have delusions of grandeur and think they are more important, powerful and significant than they really are. Whilst it is an old-fashioned view, journalists should factually report more, emote and self-aggrandize themselves less.
Better to find and quote the people who really are significant and do things that are important, than try to compete with them or begin to believe that you really are more of the story than the people you report about and the events you cover.
In conclusion, Mick Hume's book is worth buying and reading because he is well worth disagreeing with as well as confirming your own anxieties that media freedom is diminishing and 'Hackgate' and the Leveson Inquiry is not doing very much to increase it.
In view of the current debate about fake reviews and manipulated ratings for Amazon books, I am happy to confirm that I have never met Mick Hume, have no ties, or obligations with the publisher, and any publicists working for it.