“I can’t believe a great democracy like ours is questioning
the need for a free press—it is a fundamental pillar of it.”
- Dr Liam Fox, UK MP, tweeting his response to the Leveson Inquiry
"Leveson has recommended legislation to "protect press
freedom,” although he doesn't identify what threatens it.
Typically, the number one threat to press freedom, is legislation."
- Liberty Scott, “What you need to know about Leveson”
In the wake of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the British press, into media ‘culture and ethics, into telephone hacking and press intrusions into politicians' privacy, the birthplace of the Enlightenment sense of freedom is about to contemplate, for the first time since the first Elizabethan era, stifling the freedom of speech with legislation--in retribution against acts that were already against the law--criminal acts--when the members of the press did them.
“In the war of words around the Leveson report,” says Mick Hume at Spiked, “too many on all sides have accepted the myth that the UK press is too free and must be tamed.”
The truth is however that the press is neither free nor open enough, even before a new regulator is appointed to wash its mouth out with soap…
You can use whatever inoffensive-sounding weasel words you choose – statutory backdrop / underpinning / recognition etc. – but a law to regulate the press still means more state intervention in a supposedly free press by any other name.
A statute compelling newspapers to sign up to a new regulator would look like a modern version of state licensing of the press. That system dictated that nothing could be published without the permission of the Crown. People went to the Tower and the gallows to fight for a free press until licensing was ended in 1694…
The danger is not crude censorship or an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ of government-controlled newspapers.
The threat is more insidious: that the shadow of state intervention and the consensus on the need for tougher regulation leaves us with a more conformist, tamer and sanitised press. The mission of the Leveson Inquiry has been to purge the press of that which is not to the taste of those who consider ‘popular’ a dirty word. A conformist culture of ‘You can’t say THAT’ is the biggest threat to press freedom after Leveson, whatever new system of regulation is finally agreed.
That sort of stale conformity has far too much hold here in EnZed. I’d hate to see it further infect Britain’s rambunctious broadsheets and tabloids.
The [British] press is already far too unfree, hemmed in by dozens of restraining laws and by informal self-censorship. A top editor has warned of an ‘ice age’ for investigative journalism even before a new regulator is imposed. What we need is more diversity, boldness and troublemaking in the press. The last thing required is another policeman, state-uniformed or not, looking over the shoulders of journalists and editors…
In the post-Leveson debate, almost everybody will begin by stating that of course they support press freedom, before adding the now-obligatory ‘But…’ of one sort or another. It is time we raised the banner for free speech and a free press, with no buts.