Facebook And Sir Nick -- Does Hypocrisy Know No Bounds?

The hypocrisy of Sir Nick Clegg has been laid bare today as extracts from David Cameron's memoir reveal that it was the former Liberal Democrats leader who insisted on the so-called "double jeopardy" law on press freedom before going on to be Defender In Chief of Facebook.

As a reminder, Sir Nick formed an alliance to keep David Cameron in power after the global financial crisis. He has come in for plenty of criticism over dropping the Lib Dem promise not to introduce fees for university education, but it seems, drew a line in the sand over press regulation.

The result, as Mediatel reminds us this morning, was a terrible piece of legislation that Cameron had to go along with to keep Sir Nick -- just Nick back then -- carrying on as Deputy Prime Minister. 

For a liberal politician, it is worth reminding ourselves that this forced through a situation where newspapers would pay both sides of legal costs -- even if the court ruled in their favour. That is, of course, unless the paper in question signed up to be regulated by a regulator approved by Royal Charter. This section of Cameron's memoir helps us British journalists get a hook on why such an unfair, unworkable law was brought in.

It has, of course, never been enforced. No major newspaper has signed up to a Royal Charter because there is a fear that this is akin to state control of the media. Instead they belong to their own regulator.

Those who have gone for Impress, the regulator backed by Royal Charter, tend to be small newspapers and magazines that are likely to have been influenced by the potentially crippling cost of paying both sets of fees, even if they are judged to have been in the right.

Of course, Sir Nick then goes off to take up some spin-doctor role for Facebook that involves defending the indefensible, such as Zuckerberg not bothering to turn up to the Commons to answer questions about the conduct of his company.

Today, the BBC brings further news that he and Facebook will not act as a "referee" on posts from politicians.

This raises the question of what constitutes a politician and what happens if they tell outright lies, such as Boris and his red bus claiming that GBP350m a week goes to the EU. Fact-check alert -- the EU takes around GBP4bn off the UK's membership fee ever year as a rebate and then spends around GBP4bn in the UK, meaning that the overall GBP17bn figure claimed to go to the EU is nearly half that figure, in reality. 

So in Clegg's opinion, newspapers should be overseen by the equivalent of a state regulator or pay both sets of fees in libel cases. His fellow politicians? They get off free and shouldn't expect Facebook to be a bothersome "referee" providing oversight. 

This is the hypocrisy of holding the press unfairly to account, while letting politicians say whatever they like on a platform that pretends it is not a publisher. 

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