Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Fourth Estate Is Too Powerful To Be Left Alone

A Privy Council Committee has rejected the newspapers' own ideas for the regulation of their industry and as such the ball is back in the politicians' court.

It seems utterly contrary to all principles of a free society to have politicians discussing - and preparing to legislate on - the freedom of the press at all, but in the UK in the early 21st century the sad fact is that our Fourth Estate is out of control.  Subject to no authority but its own and wielding immense power over public and politicians alike, the print media continues to dole out its own brand of harassment, influence peddling and political self-righteousness to often terrible effect.  This was seen in its most vigorous form again in the Daily Mail's now infamous article and headline about Ed Miliband's father.  When they printed Mr. Miliband's response to the attacks on his dead father, they ensured that his article was surrounded by further antagonistic reporting and editorialising.  This was hardly a brave lament for liberty.

The Spectator's Fraser Nelson blogs again today about why statutory press regulation should not even be considered.  An eloquent writer, he raises up the historical nature of the fight for liberty and looks abroad to the example such legislation might give to countries less enamoured of freedom and democracy than Britain.  These are powerful arguments, and the real tragedy is that they have been so utterly traduced by the behaviour of the press in Britain itself.  If we are to look anywhere for the betrayal of the principles of crusading journalism and fights for liberty, it is, alas, to the bulk of the print media itself.  There would be no debate at all on this issue if newspapers hadn't been revealed to have used criminal methods to obtain stories, or if there hadn't been a host of victims, such as the McCann family or Chris Jeffries, who came forward with their own distressing tales of how the press had cynically used their power to abuse them.  The press no longer preserves the freedom of innocent individuals in Britain, it too often inhibits it.

I blogged in March about why we should no longer take the press at their own valuation, and I have seen nothing since then to invalidate that view.  And it is a tragedy.  There is nothing better than a free, campaigning press holding those in power to account and throwing the light of journalism into the murky areas of our national life.  We just don't have that any more.  Sadly, the power that needs to be held to account is wrapped up in the very newspapers who should once have been challenging it.

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