There is No Such Thing as a Free Press: the Press can never be too free
IF you want to know about the importance of Press Regulation in the UK – and why it must be fought – then read Anorak pal Mick Hume’s There is No Such Thing as a Free Press and We Need One More Than Ever. Yesterday he wrote in the Times:
Three hundred years of freedom quietly ended last week, when Britain’s three main political parties agreed to underpin a new system of press regulation by statute and Royal Charter. This is the first attempt to impose state-backed regulation since Crown licensing of the press ended in the 1690s. Perhaps we should be grateful that there are no immediate plans to reintroduce sending insolent writers to the gallows.
The Conservative Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, dismissed the newspapers’ proposal to retain an element of self-regulation as “unable to comply with some fundamental Leveson principles and government policy”. To which the considered answer should be: so what? Since when did a free press have to comply with the whims of government ministers or judges such as Lord Justice Leveson? The hardest thing for some to swallow about press freedom is the F-word.
In all the legalistic debate, the true “fundamental principle” of press freedom has been lost. That freedom is not a gift to be handed down like charity, only to those deemed deserving or well-behaved by the authorities. It is an indivisible liberty that applies to all or to none at all.
You don’t need a licence to write an opinion. You don’t need State approval to hold an idea. But they want you to.
What, the Leveson lobby demands, about the treatment of Madeleine McCann’s parents, or the hacking of murdered Milly Dowler’s voicemail? Nobody needs to defend that. But such sympathetic figures have been used as human shields, behind which crusaders advance their agenda of purging the popular press. There should be no “victims’ veto” over press regulation. Of course, any media outlet can overstep the mark, from the News of the World to Newsnight, but that some might abuse their freedom should never be an excuse for the authorities to impinge upon it.