Assault on media

Assault on media

Britain, which is the proverbial cradle of free media, is set to forge shackles which will curb its independent functioning.

The Tory-Liberal government and the opposition Labour have agreed to put in place a new regime of press regulation which will replace the present system of self-regulation. An ostensibly independent body, to be created by a royal decree, will enforce a code of ethics on the press and will have the power to impose huge fines on those who violate the code. Newspapers have the choice to opt out of the jurisdiction of this body, but will have to pay a higher fine if they are caught violating the code.  The proposed system will particularly hurt small newspapers, some of which may not have the financial strength to survive even a first time indictment by the regulatory body.

The proposed system is based on the recommendations of an enquiry commission under Lord Leveson,  appointed to probe the working of the press after some recent scandals which showed it in a poor light. The commission found much that was murky in the working of the press, especially the tabloid press. But its remedy is worse than the aliment it sought to treat, and politicians, always eager for an opportunity to restrain the press, were ready to seize the moment. The proposed regulatory mechanism is born out of a royal charter that will have the statutory strength to the bring the press to the heels. It will also cover all new forms of the media, including internet sites.

It will not be disputed that freedom of the media is misused and abused in many ways. But curbs on freedom are more dangerous than the excesses of freedom in any society. Controls and freedom are contradictory ideas. All  cases of misconduct, impropriety, unprofessional acts and illegalities resorted to by the press have remedial prescriptions and strict penalties under the existing laws. The very fact that the tabloid The News of the World, which was at the centre of an infamous phone hacking scandal, went out of business shows that there is a fatal price for misconduct. Britain’s democratic system developed through centuries with free speech as its life breath. So restraints on free expression, however camouflaged they are, would undermine democracy. The British public will hopefully defeat the ill-motivated political game.

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