One thought that occurred to me when thinking about reaction to the Leveson Report – which calls for statutory regulation of the UK press – is that those journalists frightened of such regulation, and concerned – rightly – about the dangerous consequences have had a very sharp lesson in the problems of regulation. (Here is the official Leveson website for those who have the stamina).
Consider the following: After the recent financial crisis of 2008, almost the entire media, political world and associated industry put up a chorus that what the world needed or still needs is “more regulation”. The fact that the banking industry already is subject to the laws against fraud and force, that it operates under rules about capital (the Basel system), has to lend to certain groups (US legislation to help minorities), or that central banks set interest rates like Soviet planners, seemed not to matter one jot to those arguing that we need even more rules. And rules enforced by such paragons of wisdom and omniscience as the Financial Services Authority or Bank of England.
Yet this time, when the media itself is in the cross-hairs, we see journalists from across the spectrum arguing about the dangers of quangos, of unelected boards of governors running the show, of the dangers of moral hazard, of the problems of losing freedom of action. It is as if George Monbiot had morphed into FA Hayek.
As I say in the title, maybe this is a teachable moment for the British media. Of course, the state-supported BBC and, for that matter, the partly state-subsidised Guardian (all those public sector ads) might be more amenable to state controls, although in the case of the Guardian, even those guys might understand the dangers. (Would, for example, the Guardian be able to use the likes of Wikileaks in future under a statutory regime?).
I might be optimistic here, but when people find their own livelihoods and freedoms come under attack, it can make them understand the value of liberty and rule of law more generally. Let’s hope that the next time a journalist writes an article which calls for more regulation of X or Y, that they see the irony, and think again.