Free Speech or TruthFree Speech or Truth

Lord Leveson chair of Press Inquiry

A media which is free to say what it wants is one of the cornerstones of democracy. But with it comes responsibility. The free media can only be trusted so long as it is truthful, and working within the law, whilst respecting the rights of society and its private individuals. Just as it expects society to respect its rights to work unfettered. In Britain, we now find, that has broken down.

For the last few months the Government’s Leveson inquiry has been examining the working methods and morals of the nation’s newspapers. They (and in particular the popular but competitive tabloid papers which rely on sales to make a profit) have been found to be lacking in moral and ethical standards.

They have hacked private mobile phones to hear private conversations and searched through rubbish bins for gossip. They have obtained private information by bribing officers of the state such as the Police. They have obstructed attempts to investigate this, and only been straightforward in what they say when there has been no alternative.

This neglect of the truth, and lack of integrity, is ironically the very thing the newspapers involved claim they try to prevent through their work. They say their freedom allows them to uncover crime, dishonestly and cruelty. By exposing this, they say they can prevent it. It is ironic then that they should be caught and held up in public for the very things they claim to abhor.

And the result in 2012 could be legal limits on what the media can and cannot do. This will undermine the very freedom of the press which so many rely on. It’s a balancing act as clearly any regulation is counter to a free press. But if the readers and consumers of the media are to be able to believe everything they read and see, to have a right of reply when things go wrong, and to have their privacy protected, ironically that may be best provided for by reducing the freedom of the press. That regulation may actually be best for a modern democracy.