Parliamentary sketch – Freedom to speak…or to bully?

“Citizen Kane” inspiration, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), once described news as “something, someone, somewhere doesn’t want to see published – everything else is advertising“.

The American newspaper tycoon introduced sensationalised journalism, is accused of initiating the Spanish-American War of 1898 to boost newspaper sales and advocating political assassinations before they happened!

Although the ability of some newspapers to create news (rather than report it) is better understood by a less gullible public these days, the recent Leveson Inquiry concluded that the press were incapable of regulating themselves.  (It’s like asking all the school bullies to clamp down on bullying rather than to excuse it.)

So this week all Party Leaders eventually agreed to introduce a Royal Charter to approve a panel of folk to keep a wary eye on what the press gets up to.  (I’ve got a feel that Her Royal Highness herself will give a genteel three cheers to that!)

Of course the paragons of virtue and high moral standing in our local newspapers are exonerated from all that I have said and am about to say.

After all, you have to remember that tabloid journalists have to be specially reared in veal crates in an alien land in order to fully develop their sub-human view of the instincts and priorities of their readers and listeners.

They and their editors are now crying foul.  Accusing politicians of introducing “state control” of the media – and with it curtailing “freedom of the press”.

If that were the case I’d be the first to protest.  But we cannot ignore Lord Leveson’s report nor the lessons we must learn from the press treatment of the family of Milly Dowler or the McCanns.

The so-called freedom of the press has to be balanced with responsibility; something which had been sadly lacking under self-regulation.  The freedom to phone-hack, invent and sensationalise is an abuse of power not a civil liberty.  It is especially an abuse when powerful corporations are driven more by concern with sales than with truth.

Indeed, it has been some sections of the press who have compromised the freedoms of innocent families or of victims.  It is those freedoms which are pre-eminent to the freedoms of wealthy press tycoons.

 

Andrew George MP

MP for the West Cornwall &

Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives

19th March 2013

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