The Lord's Prayer

Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations should be rejected if they contain even one iota of statutory regulation of the press

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The Commentator
On 29 November 2012 10:08

What little bit of freedom Britain still treasures is currently, though perhaps not for long, bound up in our printed presses.

Think about it, almost every other industry in Britain has a precariously unhealthy ratio of regulators to sector workers established by government oversight or that most oxymoronic of terms, 'independent regulator'.

Finance, construction, aviation, high-technology, broadcast media, retail, energy... you name it, it's regulated. And does that regulation stop scandal? Does it halt the march of greed, corruption, bias, cartelisation or otherwise? Like hell it does. 

What it really does is one of several things:

1) It makes it look like they care. Not about problems caused by industry, but usually for the people who don't have the ability to self-regulate. Like those who took out 100%+ mortgages, or who cant be bothered to find a cheaper energy supplier for themselves. Don't fear. The politicians, industry heads, and of course those employed by the regulator... care. 

2) It's jobs, stupid. How many thousand of people in Britain now work for some regulator of sorts? Well, your guess is as good as ours, but it's got to be damn high, doesn't it? And it's ok. It's not like government is spending any money it doesn't have or anything. Well, after all, if it needs more, you're there to help, aren't you? And while creating one or two regulators here and there isn't going to drastically affect the unemployment rate in the UK, with every job loss or two getting headlines, creating a few more here and there can't hurt. Except in this area - it really can.

3) It's scapegoating. If the Financial Services Authority or OfWat or OfGem or OfCom of ForkOff (no doubt the cutlery regulator) has someone it can hold accountable, well then the government can point fingers at the regulator, and the regulator can point fingers at basically anyone it wants. Even the public. 

Today's release of Lord Justice Leveson's report reflecting on the nature of Britain's free press and the mostly forgotten scandals that go along with it is expected to include some form of recommendation towards regulating one of the last standing free industries. And no doubt it has been the toughest nut for the regulatory vultures to crack. After all, you never (well, hardly ever) pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel. 

But if Leveson's presumed recommendations are rejected, as they rightly should be, well then this has just been a trial run for the bureaucrats and jobsworths - and no doubt it won't be their last shot at getting their talons on the free press.

Despite the fact that the public has it well within themselves, through the power of consumption, to regulate the press (and The Guardian's declining sales figures are proof of that if you need it), it is believed that powers are needed to curtail already illegal activities such as bribery and phone hacking. We have laws for that. 

If anyone can see off the illiberal threat of statutory regulation of the press, it is indeed the (not Fleet Street anymore) Fleet Street Editors. 

This applies to new media organisations as much as it applies to the old papers and magazines. A wall of dissent must emerge from those who currently bear responsibility for the content of their outlets. It must be bellowed, and repeatedly it seems, "You shall not pass!"

Lord Justice Leveson's attempts this time around may fall at the final hurdle, but a continued and consistent defence against regulation must now be made to stop this from turning from simply the Lord's prayer, to a victory for the forces of statism. 

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