A press law is not needed
B Y THE time you read this, it may be clear what MPs will be voting for (or against) when they discuss press regulation in the House of Commons tonight. Then again, it may not. The arguments and counter arguments between politicians and protesters have become labyrinthine. What is absolutely certain though, is that whatever politicians decide will replace the discredited self-regulation of the Press Complaints Commission, it will be bad news for local newspapers. There is a consensus that regional papers like The Sentinel play an important role helping to hold together their local community. Even Lord Leveson agreed. They don't tap phones, hound celebrities or make up stories. They spend their time reporting from local magistrates' courts and council chambers. However, through no fault of their own, local papers now find themselves as impotent bystanders in a dispute – between national politicians and national newspapers – the outcome of which could make their lives so much more difficult. For the new regulations – whatever the detail – will inevitably cost local papers money, resources and time they can ill afford.
T HE most effective way to ensure that newspapers behave in a responsible and proper fashion is to enforce existing criminal laws. This, after all, is what has exposed phone-hacking and illegal payments to police officers. However, the sins of the national tabloid newspapers mean that there is a public mood for a new press law. So we must make the best of a bad job. This means supporting the plan which is least restrictive of free speech. At the moment this is a watchdog underpinned by Royal Charter rather than by laws drawn up by politicians with vested interests. Putting politicians in charge of our media regulator – which is what full enforcement of the Leveson Report would entail – is a dangerous move down the road to State censorship. Very soon, Britain will have the toughest press regulation in the Western world. The only question is whether that regulation will be enforced independently or by the state. Placing MPs in control of such a draconian set of rules may be something that we would all live to regret.
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