Hugh Grant presented his first TV programme last night and it looks as though he will be snapped up to present many more – just so long as the programme makers can find a subject that he believes in. ‘The Tabloids’ was his target on Channel 4 and it was a subject he definitely cared about. It makes a change for a presenter to care about his subject and he took the papers on with a self-deprecation familiar from previous public appearances. Unafraid to face head on the cynics’ view of Hacked Off as an assortment of rich celebs who want to keep their lives private, he laughed at himself and showed a painful unease when appearing on a panel show in order to speak with Boris Johnson.
Taking on the mantle of journalist himself Grant visited people who had suffered from the newspapers, and spoke to a journalist who felt he had gone too far when writing about the daughter of a celebrity. The girl had gone on to kill herself. Without doubt there are many people who have been harmed by the activities of the media and there is a need for them to have redress. Hacked Off wants to achieve this with regulation and an element of statutory ‘underpinning’.
Whether this is the right approach is still to be decided. The editor of The Times was one of the few on the other side of the argument to agree to speak to Grant. James Harding put to him the view that to give any sort of control over the media to the government was to break a very important principle. Once the government is involved in any way there is a danger of mission-creep. Some commentators say that it would discourage democracy and encourage other countries on the basis that if it’s good enough for the UK... I think that overstates our influence, but nevertheless a very important precedent would have been set. Unfortunately the best system still seems to be for government not to be involved at all. Like democracy itself, it’s the worst system, except for all the others.
As a presenter Grant is urbane and witty and would enliven the dullest of subjects. I recommend the BBC snap him up for next year’s Budget coverage as soon as possible.