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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Free press must not be sacrificed

THE Leveson Inquiry into press standards is due to report the first part of its findings tomorrow – and concern is mounting it will recommend statutory regulation of the British newspaper industry.

Louise Allonby
Louise Allonby

Like many, I strongly believe that state regulation of the press would be a blow against democracy. A free press is one of the cornerstones of a developed, legitimate, sophisticated society and is eroded at our peril.

And yet it looks increasingly likely that Leveson will indeed lead to the laying down of some form of state control.

Does the industry really need it? Existing legal frameworks, both civil and criminal, should surely be sufficient to deal with transgressions by the press. The Contempt of Court Act, the Data Protection Act and the civil law of tort (which encompasses defamation) are just a few examples of the way in which our legal system already provides remedies for victims of transgressions by the press.

What purpose will state control of the press serve, other than to bring a sinister new attack upon freedom of speech?

State regulation of the press would be a step very much in the wrong direction, however much Hugh Grant, Charlotte Church and other members of pressure group Hacked Off would like to see it.

Celebrities who have had infidelities picked over by a prurient press (fed by public demand), wish to see the press fettered on the grounds of their perceived right to privacy. But, again, existing laws already provide protection.

One of the strongest arguments against state regulation is that it would be unfair, given the unregulated free-for-all which is the internet. Why should the mainstream press have its “hands tied behind its back” when everyone can say what they like on Twitter and the internet?

Besides, as Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said last week, a “noisy and raucous” press is good for democracy and good for Britain. Without it, he argued, the state and powerful people cannot be properly held to account.

It is certainly hard to imagine a press regulated by politicians being able to uncover and report upon such things as the parliamentary expenses scandal.

Yes, the press often gets things wrong, along with virtually every industry you can think of. The phone-hacking scandal is shocking evidence of that.

However, self-regulation coupled with the existing legal framework should be more than adequate to deal with such behaviour, not to mention market forces.

Freedom of speech and the freedom of our press should be protected, not eroded. And I can say that, precisely because we have a free press. For now.

Have your say

@Louise Allonby. . . if free press is the cornerstone of our democracy, then its up to the people who work in it to make sure it stays free.
The Milly Dowler phone hacking etc is just one example of how the press has brought itself into disrepute by the behaviour of certain people in it. What with bribing Police Officers and MPs for favours etc, its an absolute disgrace. Louis Walsh has just won his case in Court for defamation of character by The Sun newspaper. If they want to be free then they must behave responsibly.

Posted by matt on 29 November 2012 at 18:05

A most amusing article, I was particularly amused by the line:
'Why should the mainstream press have its “hands tied behind its back” when everyone can say what they like on Twitter and the internet?'
I think the aftermath of last years riots and more recent news stories have demonstrated that nobody can say whatever they like on the internet, not without paying the price by losing their freedom.
The Murdoch empire has ruled our press for too long now, it's time they were prevented from telling people what to think. If this makes Ms. Allonby uncomfortable, then maybe that says something about her own particular style of journalism.

Posted by Clare on 29 November 2012 at 16:08

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