Press Freedom

I’m rather hacked-off at Hacked Off, the collective front of the rich, corrupt and criminally inclined who want to stifle free speech in order to prevent their indiscretions and criminality from coming to life – and, worse, are doing so by hijacking the legitimate concerns of innocent citizens whose phones were hacked by an equally unpleasant bunch of journalists, using the forore to whip up and direct the voices of the ‘Moral Majority’ to distinctly immoral ends.

The UK already has overly stringent curbs on freedom of speech and the freedom of speech, with libel laws that are ridiculously easy to abuse. What is more, we already have laws against the various activities of those journalists who brought their profession into disrepute. We do not need new laws. Introducing new laws is the automatic reaction of a rudderless government desperate to be seen to be doing something as they are not active in enforcing the law itself. And, that can make them prone to manipulation, as we have seen.

About the only change that was necessary was one to ensure that retractions and corrections are displayed as prominently as the original story – no more burying an apology for huge front-page headlines on page 26 in tiny print. But, beyond that, if anything, the current system is in need of more press freedom, not less.

Of course, this all goes hand-in-hand with political correctness and attempts to extend anti-hate crime legislation that would equally stifle freedom of speech. Yes, there should be some sort of protection against actual abuse, but not at the expense of being able to hold or express an opinion. Indeed, by slapping down polite debate of controversial topics, all the law is doing is escalating disagreement to outright abuse and conflict from the outset on the principle that one might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, or, in this case, punished for abuse or assault as for a polite difference of opinion.

Once freedom of speech is eroded, all other freedoms swiftly follow as there is no longer any reliable means of bringing abuse to light. One only has to look at the many cases of NHS whistleblowers being gagged and suspended and the subsequent revelations to see what happens when free discourse is prevented and people live in fear of speaking out. Already, too many people find themselves self-censoring for fear of being accused of intolerance, at best, or being arrested. Even where the fear exceeds the reality, and it is difficult to say if that is the case any more, the fact that a climate of fear has been created means that our freedoms have been successfully encroached upon. And, let me be clear, none of those using the Hacked Off campaign for their own ends is doing this because they want to protect you. No, they want to be able to do whatever they want without being called to account to their actions – and that cannot be allowed to stand.

Thankfully, there is a growing resistance in press circles to the proposed new regulations as outrage at what is being done overwhelms the shame-by-association that had muted opposition until now. The press as a whole did nothing wrong. Those that did break the law should face the penalty, but the remainder should not be blamed. Everyone at all levels of the writing world, from individual writers and bloggers, through the small presses and local newspapers, to the largest publishing houses and newspaper syndicates needs to stand firm in the face of oppression and say, with a single voice, NO! to the restriction of their freedoms.


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