Like everyone I have every sympathy with those private people such as the McCanns and the Dowlings whose lives were made still more intolerable by unscrupulous reporters. I totally understand their desire to see the recommendations contained in the Report by Lord Justice Leveson enacted in full. Where “celebrities” and politicians are concerned my sympathy is less easily given and their desire to see a “statutory underpinning” to press regulation I view with a healthy dose of scepticism.
I read newspapers; I view television; I use Twitter and read blogs. I can honestly say that scarcely a day goes by without my coming across an article or news report with which I profoundly disagree. Oftentimes those articles arouse in me a deep fury because I know them to be based upon falsehoods or half-truths; they can be horribly biased, they can be hurtful and even racist. But the right of an individual to express his views, no matter how much I or anyone else might oppose them is fundamental. Free speech is the oxygen that gives life to democracy and we tamper with it at our peril. A free press of course is an essential manifestation of free speech.
That does not mean that Leveson should be ignored. Improvements in the way the press is regulated can and should be made. Legislation, however is not the way to proceed and I offer one simple reason why I say that.
A couple of weeks ago we heard about the case of the foster parents in Rotherham who had three sibling children removed from their care for no other reason than the fact that they were members of UKIP, a political party that favours British withdrawal from Europe, a view shared by a majority of the population. The three children sadly, have now been placed in separate foster homes. The decision to remove them from a home where they were very happy was a political one, made by employees of a Labour run council who find UKIP’s policies distasteful. This is what happens when politically motivated people in positions of authority take it upon themselves to interpret the law according to their political beliefs.
Any statutory body that is established to “underpin” press regulation will be filled with political appointees and that single fact should be sufficient reason for anyone who cares about free speech to run a mile from any suggestion of statutory control. For if a council can decide that membership of a mainstream political party is grounds for being considered unsuitable to be a foster parent, just imagine what havoc politicians might wreak if they controlled our press.