Conservative MP Dominic Raab has some good sense on the case against regulating the press here. (Again, non-UK readers should be aware that they might not be able to read this in full). Excerpt:
On Thursday, Lord Justice Leveson will report on press standards. If, as Churchill declared, “a free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize” then statutory regulation is an insidious sedative that threatens our democracy. We take for granted investigative journalism that speaks truth to power – from the exposé of Stephen Lawrence’s killers to the revelation of MPs’ expenses. But, look to France to see what a state-regulated press means. It left Dominique Strauss-Kahn to walk through the raindrops to the cusp of the presidency, despite a string of ugly reports of sexual violence. It allowed Jacques Barrot to be appointed European Commissioner, despite a conviction for embezzlement masked by law. From Hungary to Russia, regulating journalists has inevitably stifled media freedoms.
Sometimes I overcome my squeamishness and read the comment sections on pieces like this. Here, below the article above, is an example from a guy called Keith Meldrum of why I sometimes wonder whether I should regard some of my fellow Brits with pity or contempt:
“It appears that 80% of the British public want greater press regulation. That 80% still holds with readers of the Telegraph and Daily Mail. The complaints of journalists and newspapers that they are sorry and they will not do it again remind me of my children. Although I’m sure the protestations are sincere, I find them hard to believe.”
Well no doubt Mr Meldrum can assume what he likes, but I notice no horror here from him as to the fact that such a high percentage of the UK public are fine and dandy with taking this country back 300+ years in terms of freedom of the press. I guess he regards such ideas as “hopelessly out of date”, rather as how former UK prime minister Tony Blair, in a disgusting speech a few years ago, referred to a concern for such “19th Century values” as the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, habeas corpus, respect for privacy, and so on.
And then there is this creature, by the name of “Celtictaff”:
“What’s so special about the press, they have always worked hand in glove with politicians. The people of Britain don’t have free speech, that freedom has been slowly eroded for years. There are subjects that affect the very future and stability of our country, which are far too anti-diversity and PC to even discuss, our country is being stolen from us, and we are not allowed even a whimper of protest. Couple that with the constant barage of propaganda from the MSM. The press deserve all they get.”
In other words, because the MSM have behaved like berks at times – and they have – we won’t be missing much if the media are regulated like doctors or whatever. Great. This is classic dog-in-the-manger thinking: Other people don’t have liberty, so why should you? This is dangerously short-sighted and foolish. The proper response, of course, is to demand equality before the law and repeal the current restrictions of freedom of speech that now exist, by copying the US First Amendment and enforcing it.
Instead, like bitter, sad people in despair, we lash out at a decent argument for free speech because of the imperfections of this world. It is a classic case of the best being the enemy of the good. We are not going to achieve a perfectly free society soon, but let’s surely fight to protect what liberties are left.
And remember, as the playwright Tom Stoppard said some years ago, you can tell we have a free press in this country because of the amount of crap that gets printed. Inevitably, a lot of what we read and see in the press and TV will be mediocre at best, or sensationalist rubbish, at worst. But that no more invalidates media freedom than it would justify state regulation of party clothing on a Saturday night because most Britons have the style sense of a toad. The point is that a free press, unshackled by the chilling effects of regulation, has the potential to do good and useful things.
Of course, when the UK media is so dominated in the terrestrial broadcasting sense by a state-financed broadcaster such as the BBC, any idea that we operate a full free market in media and broadcasting needs to be hedged with a bit of a qualification anyway.
An organisation that ought to be regarded with suspicion is the National Union of Journalists, which says that regulation of the media is okay. The NUJ must surely know that the next, almost inevitable step would be state licencing of journalists, something that the NUJ, no doubt keen to enforce a closed shop on journalism, would see as bolstering its power.
Finally, if the letter-writers to the DT and other places think the media needs to be regulated by the sort of people who have done such a splendid job regulating financial services, for example, then they might want to emigrate to a place more to their liking, such as North Korea. Or maybe they should choose France, which operates under a draconian privacy law as Raab points out. Given that many French people are fleeing France due to its high taxes, though, there may not be many takers for this idea, however delightful that country is in many other respects.