Free press too important to free society for state to regulate

Adrian has sent the following letter to the local press:

“Dear Sir,

More than 40 Conservative MPs and peers wrote a letter to the Guardian last week calling for state regulation of the press. They are supported by MPs in the other main parties. Lord Leveson’s inquiry may also call for regulation of the press.

Given the phone hacking scandal and some of the other intrusions into privacy, such calls are well-intentioned, but they are nevertheless wrong.

A free press is a fundamental element of a free society. We have just remembered those who died in war. The regimes we fought in those wars had strangled their free press .

Even if regulation is well-intentioned it may not be effective. The BBC is regulated – that regulation has not prevented the woeful errors made recently in that institution. The criminal law, not least that of libel, provides a check on any press excesses.

It was a free press that exposed the MP expenses scandal and they continue to expose corruption and incompetence in public bodies. In a democracy with elections only every 4 or 5 years, what holds governments and local councils to account in the years between elections? Surely it’s a confident and questioning press not hidebound by regulation that reminds those in authority that they are servants and not masters.

The system for licensing publications was abolished in 1694 following the Bill of Rights. Let’s not time the clock back more than three centuries."

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