A LITTLE READING BEFORE THE LORD PRONOUNCES
November 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Tomorrow Lord Justice Leveson publishes his report on the ‘culture, practice and ethics of the press’. I will write about it once I have had a chance to read the report, though I have already set out my stall on the question of media regulation in essays I wrote last year on the debate about privacy laws. I am with those opposed to greater regulation. In the meantime, here is a taste of the recent debate, from both sides of the argument about Leveson and regulation.
Almost every profession has a regulatory regime based in statute or a similar legal instrument (such as a Royal Charter). This includes professions which emphasise their day-to-day independence from the government of the day, such as lawyers and the police. ‘Statutory regulation’ does not, by itself, mean either government control or parliamentary supervision; indeed, statutory provisions can entrench independence from wrongful interference by the politically powerful. In this way, statutory regulation can provide a shield as well as a sword.
David Allen Green, ‘Statutory’ is not a bogey word, New Statesman, 11 October 2012
Some point to regulatory bodies such as the Law Society or the General Medical Council, and say that regulation does not affect those professions. But think. One can strike off a doctor or a lawyer – how does one strike off a journalist? Sure, you can sack her, but what if she starts a blog? Starts making phone calls? Starts covering stories? How do you stop people doing journalism?…Journalism is one way in which people can exercise their right to free expression, and the danger with statutory regulation is that one can actually create separate levels of access to a right – giving the journalist less of a right to free expression than anyone else. That’s not how rights work.
Padraig Reidy, Statutory regulation of the press will hurt free speech, New Statesman, 14 November 2012
It is perfectly possible to have an effective regulator that is independent of both the press and government, and it is perfectly possible to give that regulator teeth through legislation without placing ourselves on a slippery slope to Zimbabwe. A law could set up a regulator and give it powers while clearly establishing its independence from politicians (much as judges manage to be independent from politicians).
Brian Cathcart, In the press reform debate who speaks for freedom? Hacked Off, 1 October 2012
Freedom of the press is the freedom of all citizens to write and broadcast… Laws on the press affect everyone who blogs, tweets and posts. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that we are all journalists now.
Nick Cohen, Whose press, whose freedom?, Spectator, 3 November 2012
To characterise the argument as one between a free press at one end of the scale, and Zimbabwe at the other is simplistic, or irresponsible, or (most often) self-serving. There are, of course, many gradations in between those two poles… It is absurd to label anyone who believes in protecting citizens against the worst abuses of certain newsrooms as a ‘muzzler’ of the press.
Hugh Grant, Ten myths about press abuse, Hacked Off, 21 November 2012
There is no need to stir up horror fantasies about Britain becoming Zimbabwe-on-Sea in order to oppose statutory-backed regulation. Of course, we are not facing an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ of governments dictating newspaper stories and a boot stamping on a journalist’s face forever. But any involvement of the state behind a regulator would cast a long and subduing shadow over the press. The immediate danger we face is not censorship, but that we are left with an even more conformist, tame and sanitised press than today.
Mick Hume, Defending the press as an unruly mess, spiked, 8 November 2012
What is the problem facing Britain that we need to edge away from? The prospect of our media being run by a fascist state? Or the prospect of our state being run or over-influenced by a small number of powerful and corrupting media groups and their top executives?…The former is absurd while the latter was and remains the clearer danger, especially if the press escape effective regulation yet again.
Evan Harris, Where the Guardian has it wrong about press regulation, Guardian, 5 November 2012
If the government holds journalists to account, then who will hold the government to account?…Statutory regulation of British newspapers would create a constitutional absurdity: parliamentary scrutiny of a body the electorate depends upon to scrutinise parliament. The danger could not be reduced by the false compromise of statutory underpinning. Any state involvement in the regulation of newspapers would restrict their capacity to play their historic role as a bulwark of fundamental freedoms.
Tim Luckhurst, Responsibility without Power (Abramis)
Our social, cultural and political life needs media communication that is not only accessible and intelligible but can be assessed for its reliability and provenance. And yet, parts of the media do too little to make their communication assessable. Regulation to make media communication assessable does not work by regulation of content, and does not permit censorship. It would require only that the media use processes that good journalism has long used but other journalism ignores.
Onora O’Neil, So, what is a free press? Guardian, 23 November 2012
Look back at the big events of the past decade and ask yourself: did we find out too much or too little of what the powerful did in our name? Did we know too much or too little about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did we enquire too much or too little about the cheating of the bankers? When I posed this question during my testimony to the Leveson Inquiry back in January, I swear I saw the judge’s eyes roll. I fear Lord Justice Leveson had been persuaded long before that journalism was a problem for society, not part of the solution to its ills.
John Kampfner, The global war on free speech, Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2012
The precious freedom of speech of an individual is different from the freedom of speech of a media corporation with its capacity to manipulate the opinions of millions, which is why it must take place within the law and within a framework of accountability. Freedom is not only menaced by the state; it is also menaced by private media barons and their servants.
Will Hutton, Why I, as a journalist and ex-editor, believe it is time to regulate the press, Observer, 25 November 2012
We can argue forever about the chicken-and-egg of whether the press reflects society or shapes it. But the simple fact is that newspapers’ power, their very existence, is entirely dependent on us, the public. We may find it expedient to outsource our personal responsibility as citizens to someone else to regulate our own tastes for us. But is that really how we can create a liberal society?
Stephen Tall, As Leveson reports… Why I’m sticking up for ‘Press freedom with no buts’, 25 November 2012