The public itself is an independent press regulator - we don't need another

When the state, or even elected representatives themselves seek to define, consolidate and apportion morality, then the public is once again diminished

The press was born free, now everywhere is in chains
On 9 November 2012 09:56

When over 40 Conservative MPs co-sign a letter in The Guardian, you have to assume a certain level of organisation and collaboration. 

Formulating a letter that dozens of people feel at ease with putting their names to is no easy feat, especially, presumably, when many of them in question are devout Cameronistas, and others are 'the old guard'. 

But if you'll humour my skepticism for a moment you'll see why today's letter urging an independent press regulator is less likely to have been a sporadic coming together of like-minded individuals in the cause of 'unfreedom', but rather all a part of a prevailing narrative emanating from the Prime Minister's office.

David Cameron has been under great pressure to look as if he is doing something about a 'rogue press' following hacking scandals and the all too high profile Leveson Inquiry. This fact is no better proven than by those text messages that Cameron is said to have exchanged with the former editor of The Sun, Rebekah Brooks. And where better to publish such a letter than where you can be sure the statist intelligentsia will devour it and 'hopefully' think, "Well look at that. I guess the Tories aren't so bad after all," or words to that effect.

But before we even set about the issue of what press regulation might entail, and mention the millions of people fighting around the world to release themselves from the clutches of a state-regulated media (which is one small step away from nationalisation, I might add) - we must examine the most basic premise of the letter that has been supplied to today's Guardian.

"The worst excesses of the press have stemmed from the fact that the public interest defence has been too elastic and, all too often, has meant whatever editors wanted it to mean. To protect both robust journalism and the public, it is now essential to establish a single standard for assessing the public interest test which can be applied independently and consistently."

This is an entirely faulty premise; a non-sequitur in the argument towards a regulated press. 

In a free society, it is not just a theoretical basis upon which the idea of choice over consumption reigns. It is a very practical consideration.

As the editor of this website, I have my opinions as to what is in the interest of the market I wish to court. If my estimations are incorrect, my endeavour inevitably suffers. If my means are shown to be immoral, my credibility is shot.

To this simple premise I am beholden. 

It falls not, and nor should it, to a state-funded regulator, with 'full independence' or not, to decide what is and what is not in the interest of the general public. Quite simply put: the public interest is the interest of the public alone. There can be no denial of that fact.

Whether it is the tit and bum stories that flank the homepage of the Mail Online or the ill-gotten stories of celebrity trysts and political scandals in the tabloids, the interest is decided by those who procure the delivery method. That is to say, the consumer.

The consumers, also known as 'the public', currently have the final say as to whether or not a website or newspaper rises or falls. The death knell of print media has been long on the cards due to the decisions of the public to quit in their consumption of singular sheets and diversify their news consumption. But MPs are now seeking to drive the nails in the coffin prematurely using regulation based on an entirely flawed concept. This is not reflective of the organic way a progression that began with the printing press and has successfully led us this far to a thriving (and as yet unregulated) Internet.

But these are freedoms we cannot seem to ever be assured of. Indeed because of the immoral perversion of journalism by a minority, we as a nation do not simply face a crisis of conscience (albeit with a well warranted spate of arrests over criminal activity), but rather an existential crisis of liberty.

When the state, or even elected representatives themselves seek to define, consolidate and apportion morality (through an 'independent' arbiter or not), then the public is once again diminished and belittled.

It is hereby being assumed, on your behalf and without your consent, that you are unable to make informed choices, and that the rule of law is simply not enough. It is also being assumed that a free media prone to internecine warring are not effective balances upon themselves. None of this can effectively be argued, least of all from a conservative perspective.

If anything at all, the argument should be being made that there are too many curbs on the broadcast media, and that journalism as a profession should be freed rather than constrained. Instead we are trundling down a lazy and dangerous path towards unfreedom. This is a proposition that must be rejected at every turn.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam

blog comments powered by Disqus

We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.