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Goodbye to media freedom campaign

THE CAMPAIGN for Press and Broadcasting Freedom - the union-based movement for media reform - has wound itself up because of dwindling support. London Freelance Branch had been one of the strongest backers of the CPBF, which was set up by the unions in 1979 to combat the growing power of the big corporations that were intensifying their control of the industry, using technology to slash their workforces, weaken the unions and force ever more right-wing politics into the papers.

Now the cause of media reform is again at a turning point, since the government killed off stage 2 of the Leveson inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal, which had been suspended for the criminal trials in which a few senior journalists - though not the top executives - were jailed. The inquiry was scheduled to resume with further probing of the conduct of newspaper executives and of the Metropolitan Police, but that has been stopped.

The government also scrapped a section of the Crime and Courts Act, the law that (among other things) enacted Lord Justice Leveson's plans. Section 40 of the CCA would have permitted judges in limited circumstances to impose discriminatory legal costs on publishers defending defamation cases, according to whether or not they had signed up with a regulator that operated a credible scheme to arbitrate complaints without the need for costly trials.

The fall-out from Leveson had the effect of alienating a lot of journalists, subjected to a deafening blast of propaganda from their employers that their jobs and future were under threat, from supporting moves to reform the traditional media. This was hardly surprising, considering that Leveson's ideas, mild as they were in comparison with potential statutory solutions, were universally described, by gloating politicians and media critics as much by as wolf-criers in the industry, as an attack on the press.

While the NUJ was pleased to back the CPBF in the past, there are now fewer journalists willing to support calls to put limits on the control of the big publishing corporations and make them more responsive to public demands for fair reporting and fair treatment.

So it is back to business as usual, with the old interdependence of Tory government and press. As before we have a right-wing government pandering to a rampant right-wing press that could finish it off tomorrow if it chose.

But the CPBF has been fatally hit by a fall in revenue as unions have lost the resources and, in some cases, the will to support the work. The energy has passed mainly to academics and the online campaigning bodies, whose loose grouping in the Media Reform Coalition (MRC), based in the media department at Goldsmiths University in London, is restructuring to take a stronger co-ordinating role. CPFB's archive will stay online for the next ten years at www.cpbf.org.uk.