I am painfully aware of the unpopularity of this position. However, I tend to agree with the view outlined by Ian Hislop on this issue.
We already have laws against phone-hacking, libel, harassment, contempt of court and a plethora of other crimes in which significant parts of the press have been indulging. More to the point, we already have an “independent regulator” in the form of the judiciary. This newly proposed press regulation will add nothing to the laws we already have and would do nothing to stop the illegal acts that were carried out and led to this whole debacle coming to the fore. What is needed is for our existing laws to be applied properly and miscreants brought before the courts (as has been happening in the wake of the phone hacking scandal).
Is there a debate that needs to be had about access to libel? Yes. It is true that, unless you are super-rich, access to justice regarding lies printed about you in the press is hard to come by. Will press regulation resolve this issue? I fail to see how. This is a legal access issue and one that would be better aided by a discussion of legal aid than press regulation. The phone-hacking, harassment and contempt of court issues are clearly only dealt with when the law is enforced as it was intended.
At heart, this question revolves around whether the press are free to say what they will or whether politicians should be allowed to censor what they print. The laws listed above are laws that govern everybody – press, politician and individual person alike. Press regulation leads us into the dangerous territory of politicians deciding precisely what will be allowed into the public domain.
As with all issues of free speech, the answer very rarely lies in censorship and further regulation. The response, as Ian Hislop put it in relation to the Daily Mail, is not to ban it but simply “don’t buy it”. Surely the last 20 years worth of sales figures for The Sun newspaper in Liverpool show the effectiveness of this policy.
For me, the press should remain free to print what it will. Similarly, the law should be enacted fairly to bring about justice when the press behave in the heinous ways we know they can. The answer is not further regulation but fair and equitable implementation of existing laws. If harassment, contempt of court, libel and phone-hacking are things that will see me standing before a judge then the same should apply to the press.
Further regulation will not make one jot of difference to these existing crimes; fair and equitable implementation of the rule of law will.