Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Press freedom ? You can't be slightly pregnant ...

Perhaps it's a sign of a more compassionate society that we should (rightly) be so concerned with victims of one kind or another - all provided, of course, that they are the right kind of victim
On the other hand, it's undoubtedly true that some 'victims' of press misbehaviour are more victimised than others; those who live by publicity and actively court it to promote their successful and well paid careers are probably worthy of far less sympathy (and protection) than 'ordinary' members of the public who may suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves unfairly catapulted on to the front pages of a tabloid newspaper and be subjected to a frightening degree of  intrusion into their private lives without any real prospect of redress and restitution of their damaged reputations. 
We have nothing to fear from the current proposals to increase regulation of the British press (and blogosphere? - see Cranmer's comments yesterday,)  hatched it seems at an overheated and overnight meeting in the offices of the Leader of the Opposition - warning bells should ring at that information alone-   just so long as we can depend on Parliament and the executive not to misuse the undoubted increase of influence (both overt and behind the scenes) over the press they, or their surrogates, have been handed. 
But what, to take a not so far-fetched example, given the volatility of the public mood, if a deepening economic and social crisis were to hand elected power to the British equivalent of, say, the late Hugo Chavez or a mirror image on the so-called 'right' of the political spectrum? How confident could we be then about the prospects of the survival of our free and independent sources of news and comment?
Even in the absence of such dramatic developments, history teaches us that whereas the State will always make use of such power and influence it acquires, rarely, if ever, does it hand it back.
And, of course, we should remember that those responsible for the recent 'phone hacking' scandals are being dealt with under the existing criminal law. Why, then, is there the current somewhat hysterical clamour for state regulation? 
In terms of civil liberties (including freedom of religion) and their constitutional protections, if for no other reason than the fallenness of  human nature itself we should always think the worst of our current and prospective rulers, however 'democratically' elected,  and legislate (or, more to the point, refrain from enacting legislation) accordingly. We either have a free press or we don't; like pregnancy, it doesn't admit of qualification.

James Delingpole in The Telegraph is right to express concern:
"...Problem is, the moment you try to muzzle the rabid attack dog of the free press, it's not just the reasonably nice guys you protect. It's also, the really bad ones - the people wholly deserving of being torn to bits because if they are not torn to bits by the avenging media then they're going to carry on doing bad, bad things to the rest of us with complete impunity. Is it really a mark of a more civilised society that we have laws in place which make it easier for the rich, powerful and malign to get away with murder? I'd say not. I'd say any form of press censorship – like they have in Australia and like we're about to introduce now – is a retrograde step right back to that ugly era when even reporting on the goings-on in parliament was illegal.
It's amazing that this should need spelling out. (Actually, not so amazing given the last twenty or thirty years' dumbing down in our education system). But since at least the days of John Wilkes until very nearly the present, this was something that most civilised and intelligent people understood: that the reason a free press is so worth fighting for is that is our greatest bulwark against tyranny.
In Britain this issue may seem like a local problem. It's not as Mark Steyn in the US and Andrew Bolt in Australia are among many clued-up commentators to appreciate, this is a global problem indicative of the way all our democracies are slouching towards tyranny. (Weird, isn't it, that some people should be agitating for less press freedom in the week when the EU suddenly decided it was legitimate for governments arbitrarily to confiscate money from people's private bank accounts) ..."

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