Europe’s Eroding Press Freedom

49e4george orwell Europes Eroding Press Freedom

Britain, last year, let a bunch of long-time,

would-be control freaks exploit a scandal about press (and
police) conduct to impose an inquisition into the news media under
the guidance of an authoritarian aristocrat. The predictable result
of the Leveson Inquiry was a call for government regulation of the
press, with Prime Minister David Cameron in the unlikely role of

somewhat principled delayer of a rush to censorship. But even
before our friends across the pond hash out
what this all means in application, and how tightly the leash
on journalists should be held, a leading participant in the Leveson
Inquiry already suggests the effort didn’t go far enough, and maybe
they should
think about curbs on this whole Internet thing. And quick
thinkers across the Channel are way ahead of the game, calling for

tight, Europe-wide regulation of the media in all forms.Robert Jay, the lead counsel for the Leveson Inquiry, traveled
to that free-speech sanctuary known as Singapore to dispel rumors
that he and his colleagues were blessedly ignorant of the existence
of the online world. According to the
Times of London:
Internet service providers could be sued for allowing their
customers to read defamatory comments online, under a new law
proposed by the lead counsel to the Leveson inquiry.
Robert Jay, QC, who led the questioning of key witnesses
including David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, has suggested a
solution for regulating the internet after Lord Justice Leveson
largely ducked the issue in his 2,000-page report.
Acknowledging that he was “entering a hornets’ nest that Lord
Justice Leveson wisely avoided”, Mr Jay said that increasingly
imaginative solutions were needed to make dissemination of
defamatory content online subject to civil law.
In a speech to the Singapore Academy of Law, he said: “One
possible way forward is to seek by statutory provision to bring
ISPs (internet service providers) within the scope of publishers
for the purposes of the law of defamation, even if provision would
need to be made for resultant claims to be served out of the
Anybody who has ever had a run-in with the UK’s rather
interesting and
celebrity-friendly laws of libel and defamation understand that
this might be a tad … problematic. Read “problematic” as yet
another huge poke in the eye for free speech within British
jurisdiction.Meanwhile, the European Commission’s High-Level Group on Media
Freedom and Pluralism (Orwell wasn’t secretly Belgian, was he?) has
issued its final report,
A Free and Pluralistic Media to Sustain European
Democracy. The document insists “a fair legal regulation
is necessary, balancing the new dimension of freedom of expression
and the justified rights and interests of other citizens.”The document includes some nice reassurances about press
freedom, but always within the context of “European values” and
“the public function of the media.” The document then goes on to
recommend such gems as:
To ensure that all media organisations follow clearly
identifiable codes of conduct and editorial lines, and apply the
principles of editorial independence, it should be mandatory for
them to make them publicly available, including by publication on
their website.
All EU countries should have independent media councils with a
politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse
membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with
built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to
investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also
check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and
have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of
interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers,
such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast
apologies, or removal of journalistic status. The national media
councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be
monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with
European values.
Note that “removal of journalistic status” would seem to require
licensing of journalists so that they would then have something
that let them do their jobs that could be stripped from them by
those media councils. That would be among the “real enforcement
powers” that media councils could wield against journalists and
media entities that piss them off by violating standards and values
as defined by bureaucrats.Overall, it would seem to be a really good time to start writing
an elegy for European press freedom — or at least for media outfits
on the other side of the Atlantic to consider moving their Web
servers to the United States.

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Europe’s Eroding Press Freedom

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