The price of a free press can be uneasy choices

As the last-minute late night deal between political leaders and Hacked Off sinks in amongst publishers and people consider whether to sign up to the yet-to-be-finalised regime of press regulation, people have been pointing out the crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the proposal. The use of legislation to support the device of the Royal Charter to set up regulation seems to make no distinction between the various roles that the press perform, and in particular its essential role as watchdog on the political process seems to have escaped those that advocate state-backed regulation. The press as watchdog in politics The media have for long been the UK equivalent of the US “Fourth branch of government“, one of our “checks and balances” within our unwritten constitution. Two recent examples come to mind, both likely to be relevant to … Read more

Press regulation and unintended consequence of a new UK constitution?

As the dust settles a little from the crisis over press regulation, Britain’s journalists have been contemplating the implications of the system devised between the leaders of the major parties in the small hours of 18 March. There has also been a steady stream of concerned criticism from overseas. The enormity of what has been agreed is beginning to sink in and, just maybe, bringing forward some major unintended consequences. What started as a largely celebrity-led protest at media intrusion into private lives through such things as mobile phone hacking, as vocally expressed by the pressure group Hacked Off, has transformed itself into the issue of political control of the media. Regulation is intended to make sure that the unacceptable intrusion “can never happened again”, in the words of my MP today. It is curious that somehow the use of … Read more

How do we balance freedom of expression with press intrusion?

The current state of confusion over press regulation here in the UK presents me with a very useful opportunity to start this blog – the attempts by politicians to come up with a model of regulation that meets the assumed need for reform and also satisfies the various scruples about freedom of expression. One could choose to start a blog at any time but what is so good about this one is that it once again presents us with that most enduring of political dilemmas, the relationships between rights and responsibilities, between freedom and constraint and between the individual and the state. Freedom of expression has long been assumed to be a corner-stone of British democracy and the key right of the individual. One classic definition is that of John Stuart Mill who wrote in On Liberty (1859), “However, positive … Read more

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