As a result of the outcry regarding ‘phone hacking and the Leveson Report we are probably going to have a Royal Charter regulating the press. Of all responses to my previous post Peter perhaps sums up best the views of those looking for press regulation.
“Basically I hold the press and journalism in some contempt because of my own experience but also because of all that was revealed during the Leveson enquiry.
“Surely the point is that sections (and an increasing number of sections) did not act ‘occasionally’ but consistently and over many years. One may forgive an occasional lapse but what has been revealed is an industry that in the name of ‘freedom’ has acted without morality and decency over and over again. This was no occasional lapse but a capitulation to illegality and interference. My blood boils when I read of some of the inappropriate intrusions (coupled with law breaking) into people’s lives.
“Seems to me that the ‘Press’ use the word ‘freedom’ as a cover for activities that (as you write) are/have been undertaken with the morality of pond scum. Who is to reveal press corruption? Hasn’t a line been crossed?”
Peter’s reaction to press corruption is one which the Bible would describe as ‘righteous anger’ something we have too little of today. He is totally justified in this reaction, a response shared by most of us.
For those who are deeply concerned with press freedom Peter’s accusation that many in the press have used the concept of the freedom of the press as a cover for reprehensible criminal activities strikes at the heart of the debate. Our position is that the best defence against abuses of a free press is a free press.
The transgressions of the press which have outraged us are already punishable by criminal law. The indefensible practice of ‘phone hacking has already ended, and will not be repeated. It was revealed by a free press and already existing law was able to take its course.
Aristotle told us that ‘Law is reason, free from passion.’ There is little reason and much passion behind this proposed regulation.
The present proposals for a Royal Charter with a form of parliamentary oversight have been produced by a consensus of politicians and the pressure group Hacked Off. The press who are being asked to sign up to this regulation were excluded form Sunday’s inter-party discussions, but Hugh Grant’s chums were present and consulted. The result is that for the first time since the seventeenth century we will have political interference in British newspapers.
We may yet find that in order to prevent journalistic abuse we have opened the door to political abuse.
We should ask ‘Cui bono?’ Who benefits most from the regulation of the press, the people or the politicians? We have more to fear from the loss of press freedom than we do from an unregulated press. Journalistic abuse hurts individuals, political abuse hurts nations. We don’t trust journalists, do we have any greater trust in politicians? We know why Max Mosely and Hugh Grant want the press controlled, why do politicians?
Legitimate journalism will be hampered by the new Royal Charter for the press. The fact that men are serving time for the murder of Stephen Lawrence is due to the actions of the Daily Mail who bravely put themselves in a position where they could be sued for accusing those men of murder. The information from within the police regarding the murder came to a press free to use such inside information. Under the new Royal Charter the Mail would have been unable to take the gamble. In this case justice was done due to a free press.
The Daily Telegraph broke the cash for questions story. David Henke, the journalist responsible, is on record as saying that he doubts that the story could have been published under the Leveson recommendations. Likewise it can be reasonably doubted that the Daily Telegraph would have been able to break the story of political corruption in the expenses scandal.
Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that a Christ Huhne figure could get his political chums to pressurise a regulated press to keep silent on his crimes? If the press could be brought before a politically appointed group of regulators how many editors will take the risk of revealing the wrongdoing of politicians?
Think of how the BBC, who operate under a form of Royal Charter, caved in to Alastair Campbell over the sexed up dossier during the Iraq war. The abject failure of the BBC concerning the Jimmy Saville scandal tells us all we need to know about the usefulness of a neutered media.
When politicians license the regulator, or retain the right to take more powers if the regulator does not do what the politicians consider appropriate, then we have crossed a bridge. When we begin to chip away at a fundamental principle that principle has been lost completely. A principle is like virginity, it is either there or it isn’t, there are no partial virgins. The principle of a free press is too important to the freedom of us all to cast it away because of justified disgust at sections of the press.
Churchill had it right when he said, ‘A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right free men prize.’