In the United Kingdom, the
into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” has released
its long-awaited awaited report, and the
result is pretty much as expected (PDF): Assurances as to the
value of a free press, coupled with calls for regulation of the
press backed by law. As you might expect, the report has been met
with glee by most politicians — with the perhaps surprising
exception of Prime Minister David Cameron.
In the House of Commons, the prime minister
Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this
They break down into issues of principle, practicality and
The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have
crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into
the law of the land.
We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the
potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for
centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing
If that sounds to you like a less-than-enthusiastic enforsement
of unfettered freedom, it’s still the best you’re going to get from
a prominent British official. Especially since Cameron has
promised to resist press-regulation even if it’s approved by
Nick Clegg, Mr. Cameron’s coalition partner, chose to
demonstrate that there’s damned little that’s still liberal about
his Liberal Democrats by breaking with Cameron and
endorsing regulation of the press:
I have always said that I would support Lord Justice Leveson’s
reforms, providing they are proportionate and workable. I will come
onto why – at first glance – I believe that to be the case for the
report’s core proposal: for a tougher system of self-regulation,
supported by new, independent checks, recognised in law.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party which was
largely responsible for turning Britain into the charming
quasi-police state it is today during its years in power, endorsed
the idea of press regulation even before the report was released.
No surprise, he
signed on whole-heartedly to its recommendations.
For its part, the British press has been remarkably subdued in
its reactions, generally praising Cameron for holding the line,
while engaging in a little public-self-criticism to satisfy the
mob. The lefty Guardian went so far as to
largely endorse the Leveson recommendations.
Of note, the weekly Spectator
vows defiance of any regulatory regime, and Mick Hume at
The press is already far too unfree, hemmed in by dozens of
restraining laws and by informal self-censorship. A top editor has
warned of an ‘ice age’ for investigative journalism even before a
new regulator is imposed. What we need is more diversity, boldness
and troublemaking in the press. The last thing required is another
policeman, state-uniformed or not, looking over the shoulders of
journalists and editors.
It’s easy to be smug, as an American, and rest on this country’s
First Amendment protections and history of relative respect for the
free press. But we’ve had periods of state-domination of the media
in this country, especially duing wartime, and most of the media
complied with barely a whimper. I’m not convinced that American
journalists would show more defiance than their counterparts across
the Atlantic if the control freaks in D.C. sought more power over
the profession that’s supposed to hold them to scrutiny.
But, since we do still have somewhat firm protections for the
free press in the United States, it might be worth extending that
umbrella to our colleagues. Even before a new British media
regulator is in place, I’d like to see American media offering to
help their colleagues defy such control by publishing material
online and out of reach of the U.K.’s government. A little
subversive solidarity wouldn’t be a bad thing.
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