The Leveson Report has predictably sparked a huge debate over the nature of press regulation in the UK; the enquiries’ decision to recommend a form of statutory regulation has proved highly controversial. Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are falling over each other to propose regulation underpinned by statute, predictably following the populist outrage resulting from the phone hacking scandal. However, those who were rightly outraged by the phone hacking scandal should be careful what they wish for.
A free press is essential in any democratic and transparent system. Any regulation controlled by politicians could be used to cover up information that they would prefer to remain secret, which is probably why so many of them want to usher in press regulation!
Just imagine the stories that could be covered up with this kind of press regulation: the expenses scandal may never have been uncovered; controversy over the Iraq War could have been brushed under the carpet and the phone hacking scandal may never have hit the headlines at all! These are just three examples that show how effective the press can be at standing up to the establishment and acting in the public interest. We cannot allow a system that will risk stopping this from happening.
Of course, without statutory regulation there are still valid concerns about press abuses. To counter these, the courts should be used. Libel and privacy laws can be used to hold rogue editors and journalists to account – and legal aid should be available to help those who cannot afford to bring legitimate and strong cases of press abuse to court. Because of these laws, which can be very effective, there is already an effective way for grievances to be redressed.
For these reasons, David Cameron was right to ensure that statutory regulation was not implemented in full, making the Conservatives are the only mainstream party opposed to statutory regulation – and in favour of an open and free press.
Matthew Corner, President
First published by Pi Media, March 2013