So, Hugh Grant’s at it again! His supporters’ club must be dwindling by the minute. But none of it would matter too much were it not for the fact that he insists on lecturing us on matters which have a distinct whiff of humbug about it.
Nothing irritates the British public so much as hypocrisy. While Grant’s latest antics seem only a short step from the broom cupboard episode of poor Boris Becker, at least Becker showed genuine humility at how he had let himself and his fans down. But the self-obsessed, narcissistic Hugh Grant shows none. What’s more, Becker has demonstrated over the year a touching regard for his child, shock as it was and totally unplanned for, and knowing as he did what opprobrium that incident brought down on his otherwise lustrous head. He has nonetheless shown himself to be a marvellous father and totally, in my eyes, redeemed himself for that moment of madness.
Forgive my scepticism in Grant’s case (notwithstanding a few fine words from him), but looking at his track record I shall be very surprised if fine words translate into reality ten years down the line. Yet I hope, for his child’s sake, that I am proved wrong.
Grant has had a lot to say recently about press intrusion, and it does worry me tremendously that this inquiry into the Press Complaints Commission has so many people on it that seem ill disposed towards the press (including people who, for want of a better term, have been caught out at one time or another: Keith Vaz is one who immediately springs to mind). The political establishment will find it difficult to forgive the humiliations of being exposed as venal and self serving in the expenses scandal. It is a running sore which some politicos believe cries out for vengeance. I hope the majority are public spirited and big enough to acknowledge that the press were doing no more than their job – indeed their duty – in bringing it to the attention of the public.
But let me be quite clear about one thing. We are talking about the most vibrant and fearless national press in the whole world; an institution of which we should all be proud. And while in pursuit of stories, some of its people have been over zealous and crossed the line in to criminality, we have perfectly good laws which could have dealt with these matters, if only the Met had been doing its job.
It cannot be repeated too often that it was the press which blew the whistle on itself over phone hacking. I never subscribed to the venerable (in age) News of the World, but how I grieve for its demise. It’s a bit like that old saying ‘the death of any man diminishes us all’. Well, the death of the NoW has diminished us. It was offered up as a sacrificial lamb in the hope that it would silence the baying hounds, when in truth it should have been James Murdoch and his band of miscreants who were offered up. The paper had by then been cleaned up (Rebekah Brooks excepted), but as usual it was the ‘poor bloody infantry’ that was laid on the altar.
While watching BBC2 recently, who popped up lamenting the invasion of people’s privacy? Yes, you’ve guessed it: our old friend Hugh. It was truly nauseating listening to him. Equally vociferous in the cause of muzzling the press has been Max Moseley (caught out by the News of the World). For all its sometimes sanctimoniousness, and often own hypocrisy as well sleaziness, the News of the World could still boast a proud record of expose. How many, many were the stories down the years – which the public had every right to know about – did it break in its 168 years of publishing? Sad, sad that it has gone. Even the sleaziness – or most of it – can be forgiven. Experience has shown that an element of tittilation is required to spice up sales. I would argue that it is a small price to pay to help in the battle for survival. Sad, sad that it has gone.
It is uniquely difficult in today’s high speed, digital world to maintain a financially viable press, and many regional papers are having tremendous difficulty competing for readers’ attention. Many are closing. They will never return. We risk, at our peril, taking away their necessary freedoms (which in any case are subject to strict laws of defamation).
When I was in the States recently, I had an object lesson in how very good our press is by comparison. Theirs was boring, parochial and expensive. The BBC’s founder, Lord Reith, spelled out what he saw was the Corporation’s duty to the public: it was “to inform, educate and entertain.” Our press does that in bucket fulls. Let’s keep it that way.