Dunfermline Press – “Youth Say” 17 October 2013

I’m not going to talk about the by-election. Bill Walker was a nasty, manipulative man, who never truly represented the people of Dunfermline. Whoever his replacement is, they will do a much better job than he ever could.

Anyway…

Press regulation is a stupid idea. A stupid stupid daft idiotic stupid idea.

Hacking phones to get stories is generally a stupid idea. Hacking phones to find out the words of distraught parents to their missing daughter is a nasty, sick, deceitful idea.

At the moment, the press is pretty much free to say what it wants. There’s good and bad points to this – it means they’re free to report corruption by those in power, and things that embarrass the powerful. On the other hand, it means that there’s little to stop editors getting reporters to ‘dish the dirt’ on celebrities, or writing about political leaders’ dead parents.

If the government starts telling the press what they can and can’t write, we’re all in trouble. Just because they don’t abuse it today, doesn’t mean they won’t abuse it tomorrow. Look at the revelations about the information the NSA and GCHQ has on us – a government regulated press could potentially stop that story ever reaching the public – a free press is a fundamental element of a true democracy.

It’s worth noting, of course, that this doesn’t mean the press is a law unto itself. The press can’t libel or defame someone, just like anyone else – but I do wonder how many of the general public are aware of that, given what gets posted on social media. You also can’t name a child involved in a court case, name a victim of a sex offender (unless they waive it), or say something which could prejudice a jury in a trial. These are all good, reasonable laws which help protect vulnerable people, and ensure that justice is conducted fairly – and these laws apply to everyone.

If the government regulation were extended to the general public, it would be rightly decried as a huge attack on the right to freedom of speech. The government shouldn’t be able to decide what you can, or cannot, say (bar the notable exceptions above).

This whole debate is the result of the Leveson inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Leveson, who heard from both sides of the media ethics debate in the wake of the closing of the News of the World. He recommended that the government have absolutely no power over what papers publish, and he suggested that the current system of self-regulation by newspapers should be beefed up.

Now, I’m not an expert here, but the government went and got Mr Lord Justice Leveson – an experienced senior judge – to conduct the most thorough inquiry into journalistic standards that this country has ever seen. Based on his findings, he made those recommendations. Maybe, just maybe, we should perhaps listen to what he has to say.

I would say where the government can put their Royal Charter, but I’m not sure I’d be allowed to…

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