This story has suddenly hit the attention of the Big Media – there were several reports about in the weekend – and it is true that the outbreak of a disease that kills ash trees is alarming. As a reminder of how virulent such diseases are, the UK was once full of elm trees and then the Dutch Elm Disease outbreak wiped them out, although some species of elm can, it is hoped, be bred to resist it. (Elm is a wood once used in things such as rudders and keels of boats). Ash has considerable uses in the furniture trades; the prospect of thousands of trees being wiped out is alarming enough.
Charles Moore, writing in one of his regular berths, the Spectator, makes a point about what he sees as the ineffectual performance of Britain’s state-owned Forestry Commission. (The UK government tried to privatise it, but caved in when the FC and its supporters claimed this would bring the End of Civilisation as We Know It a bit nearer.) He has a point, and this quote caught my eye: “A friend of mine who owns an extremely rare ash forest in Scotland (a fraction of one which the Forestry Commission destroyed in the 1950s) tells he has received no alert at all from the Commission before or during the present crisis.” Moore says his own efforts to research the ash issue on the FC website has carried very little useful data on it. When I click on it, there is an item on the disease.
By coincidence, the Forestry Commission’s performance comes under separate attack, in the same edition of the Spectator, by Matt Ridley. He blames it for spending more time on AGW alarmism than in dealing with the issue of imported bugs and diseases.
This leads me to a broader point. These last few weeks have provided plenty of evidence that state-run organisations tend to be jealous of their own privileges to the detriment of the public interest they are supposed to serve. The BBC, allegedly, has employed a sexual predator against young children (Jimmy Savile) for decades, and when this was pointed out after the man died, the BBC pulled a documentary about this fact and chose to air some crummy “tribute” to the old creep instead. Then there is the National Health Service, that symbol of 1940s infatuation with central planning and anti-market prejudice. It allowed Savile to roam around at least one hospital, for many years. By a strange twist, it appears one reason why the whole issue was tamely covered were fears, so it is said, by journalists that their industry could be regulated if the UK government accepts recommendations by Lord Leveson, who has carried out an enormous and expensive enquiry into the phone hacking scandal. And in the same edition of the Spectator, the actor Hugh Grant comes out with this piece of statist-leaning rubbish:
“We don’t know what Leveson will -recommend. But let’s assume he won’t back yet another helping of self-regulation (the so-called Hunt/Black plan). Let’s say he proposes a new regulator, independent both of the industry and of government, and with the minimum statutory underpinning to make it effective. According to a recent YouGov poll, that would be supported by 77 per cent of the UK population. Many of the national newspapers, on the other hand, say it will be the end of freedom of the press. But will it really?”
It won’t end it, but it will be a step in the wrong direction. The fact that 77 per cent of the UK population want X is no more proof of the wisdom of state regulation than it would have been proof of the existence of witches or intelligent life on Mars.
“It’s similar to how the judiciary, lawyers and doctors are regulated in this country. And none wanted to be regulated, but they’re fine with it now. In terms of regulation it would be nothing in comparison to how Ofcom or the BBC Trust regulate the broadcasting industries, and it’s hard to find a broadcast journalist who complains of being chilled or constrained.”
Oh great. Just what we need. So how does Mr Grant imagine that, say, an internet-based blogger, or chatshow host, or whatever, is going to be regulated? If only qualified journalists (qualified where, and in what ways, and by whom?) are allowed, then a lot of people who have jobs in the media are going to either retrain, at cost and inconvenience, or leave. And does Mr Grant not imagine that the whole world of non-mainstream media is going to be affected by this? (Also, it is nonsense to suggest that broadcasters are not feeling constrained: the people who made the abandoned Savile documentary certainly were, and I believe, were constrained to an extent by what the BBC is.)
Anyway, the reason why I don’t want the media to be regulated in the way that Grant wants is to avoid yet more parts of this country’s affairs succumbing to the same smug, inward-looking mentality that we see at the BBC, the NHS, a state forestry organisation, or whatever. The sins of the British media, such as the newspapers, are well known. What Grant does not seem to mention is that the UK also operates some of the most ferocious libel laws; this country does not have anything like the US First Amendment; and if there are serious wrongs (and hacking phones is wrong), there are already plenty of laws to prevent that from happening, or punishing those when caught.
From dead ash trees to a British actor. We cover a lot of ground on this blog.