Today, David Cameron rejected the central recommendation of the Leveson Report that a law is needed to underpin a new press regulator. The report, a culmination of more than a year of investigations, recommended legislation that “would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.” I would argue, as Mr Cameron does, that this sounds more like interference rather than protection.
Cameron’s opposing of statutory control has caused a divide within the Coalition and Parliament. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband want to see such a law implemented without delay and both are at risk of being labelled illiberal, opportunistic politicians who are jumping at the chance of the short-term advantage. The Prime Minister stated that the central recommendation of the Leveson Inquiry introducing new press laws would “cross the Rubicon” and undermine the centuries-old principle of free speech. He further urged the House of Commons, a “bulwark of democracy”, to think “very, very carefully” about such a move.
Leveson is firmly of the belief that the British press – all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time, and that press freedoms are a constitutional necessity and principle and part of our national culture. But he also states the very purpose of the press is to hold those with power to account and that there is “no argument but that changes do need to be made”.
In his reaction to the report, Mr Cameron is clearly trying to give the media a chance to right itself by installing its own stronger and better equipped regulator. The press, operating properly and in the public interest, is one of the true safeguards of our democracy and is something that Government should not interfere with.
According to the BBC’s political correspondent, Nick Robinson, “The Prime Minister knows he has given his opponents yet another stick to beat him with. He also knows, however, that the press are firmly on his side.”
But Culture Secretary Maria Miller points out the challenge Cameron faces, saying that “the gauntlet has been thrown down” to newspapers to clear up their own mess and self-regulate. If this challenge is taken up quickly it will rescue Cameron and enshrine him as a defender of the freedom of the press. However, if self-regulation is not improved in a timely fashion, public opinion may well force Parliament to follow the recommendations of the inquiry. But then, where would this regulation end?
I certainly agree with Mr Cameron in that the press needs to operate in a free manner, un-impeded by law and governed by itself. OFCOM needs to be given more teeth and the media must be allowed a chance to improve its own standing. The future of freedom of press is down to the press to gets its act together. Fast.
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