[An extract from this was printed on the letters page of i]
Are we really happy to surrender the freedom of our press? People need to think very carefully about this question because a free press is the cornerstone of civil liberties and our descendants will curse us if we give it up. The proposed royal charter may not be overly restrictive in its current form but it includes a provision for its future amendment by parliament…
It’s worth bearing in mind at this stage that the Leveson Inquiry only came about in the first place thanks to investigative reporters revealing that not only parts of the press but also large numbers of politicians and swathes of high-ranking officials were embroiled in fraud and corruption right up to their well-nourished necks – and if journalists hadn’t discovered this then it would never have been uncovered at all, because everybody else had a vested interest. Are we now suggesting it is inconceivable that anyone in the corridors of power might ever again be untrustworthy and desirous of preventing their behaviour from being exposed?
Still, we are told, there is no fear that these rules might someday be made more restrictive because it would take a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to alter the terms of the charter. Of course, that’s not much of a guarantee if you don’t have absolute faith in our democratic process.
We currently have an unelected government with no mandate which has nonetheless seen fit to sell the Royal Mail, dismantle the welfare state, strip away the right to free education and privatise the NHS piece by piece – all this while continuing to protect and reward those who caused the current economic crisis! It appears that our system of parliament isn’t doing too well at democratic accountability. Call me a cynic but I’m not entirely convinced that the interests of the public are their number one priority.
Yes, certain elements of the press acted unethically in the recent past but legislating to gag it would be like lobotomising oneself in order to prevent lewd thoughts. If we really disapprove of a newspaper’s methods then we can stop buying it – and if, as a nation, we are too weak-willed to even do that then we deserve everything we get – but only a fool willingly gets locked into a strait-jacket trusting that no-one will ever tighten the restraints.