Welcome to the new United Kingdom, a country that the Index on Press Censorship has described as having “abandoned [the] democratic principle” of a free press. Here is the full quote:
“In spite of David Cameron’s claims, there can be no doubt that what has been established is statutory underpinning of the press regulator. This introduces a layer of political control that is extremely undesirable.”
Britain’s festering, dying freedoms
If you live in the UK, you probably think you live in a free country. I’m afraid you’re deluded. Here are two powerful reasons why:
- Defamation Law. For many years, this has kept lids on very dirty pots. Robert Maxwell’s crimes went unreported in his lifetime because he used this legislation so aggressively. There are countless unpleasant truths known to broadcasters and journalists today that can’t be published for fear of expensive litigation. Defamation law may be slightly liberalised shortly – if Lord Puttnam’s absurd amends can be ditched – but it won’t change much.
- Privacy law. This actually falls under the Human Rights Act (although privacy issues are also involved in the Data Protection Act and older Law of Confidence). Perversely, existing legislation prevents the press from publishing many things most of us would feel we ought to know, but is frequently too weak to protect us from public and private sector misuse of our data.
These are the most censorious laws in the free world. So anti-free speech, in fact, that the USA enacted a law to protect its citizens from them.
They are soon to be joined by the most powerful state-regulated press watchdog in the free world. It will have the power to levy fines up to £1 million for breaches of its code and prevent its ‘members’ (who will be paying for all of it) publishing things in the first place. It will also operate an arbitration service for people wishing to bring claims. This will hand out cash in damages – and will be free for users (but paid for by the regulated publishers).
Any publisher who fails to belong to the new regulator will face exemplary damages (for which read VAST sums) if they lose civil actions in court. This is almost certainly against European law (ironically, the Human Rights Act), but it’s being forced through against legal advice.
A vicious assault on YOUR freedom of speech
You may well feel this is condign. You watched the Leveson Inquiry, you heard the evidence. You saw how disgracefully many UK popular papers behaved. Like most people (including me), you were revolted by it. Like me, you probably feel the popular press has lost all authority to lead any campaign against this new regulation.
But here’s the thing: whatever your dislike for the tabloid and/or Murdoch press, this proposed press regulation is a vicious and sustained assault on some of the most fundamental British liberties that we all take for granted. It will chill freedom of expression for everyone trying to expose wrongdoing, criminality, hypocrisy and dishonesty.
And it was all cooked up at 2am by a couple of politicians and some luvvies from Hacked Off.
This is no way to decide essential issues of constitutional freedom. If you doubt that, don’t take my word for it. Ask Ian Hislop, or the editor of the Spectator – both thoughtful people unafraid to stand apart from both the mainstream press and the establishment.
What can you do about it?
Write to your MP. Now, today. By all means tell him/her how much you hate journalists, the press, the tabloids… whatever. Tell him/her what a bunch of immoral bastards they/we are. You’d be right, and I’d agree.
But make it clear, also, that the issue of freedom of speech – for everyone and anyone – is too important to be coloured by rage against criminal behaviour (which is what all the phone hacking and other harassments aired at Leveson were, BTW) that strictly has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s too important to be cooked up by a handful of luvvie actors, their lawyers and politicians in their pyjamas at 2am.
Please don’t be the person who stood by and said nothing while a small pillar of your freedom was chipped away in front of your very eyes. Think of your children and the state you want them to be living in.