Press legislation threatens freedom at heart of society
Sometimes we British can be a little hard on ourselves.
We rarely give ourselves credit for the place our tiny island still maintains in the world, on a political and economic stage. We rarely pat ourselves on the back for living in a society that is tolerant, progressive, and inclusive.
Life here is comparatively safe, our police force, in the main, do not have to carry guns. We have a welfare system and a National Health Service that, though facing problems greater than ever before, are the envy of the world. We are governed by councillors and members of Parliament who are elected in free and fair elections.
This is not a rose-tinted view that is blind to the fact that the UK has massive challenges, but a general take despite those problems life here is all right.
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We benefit from an open justice system and functioning democracy that rightly prides itself of the maintenance of freedom of speech.
That freedom's greatest champion is our free press. the fourth estate, a crucial cog in the machine that makes Britain great.
There are some areas of the press that have taken that freedom too far. In some cases they have broken the law. The phone hacking scandal, for example, was a disgrace and those involved and responsible deserve to be reprimanded and punished.
But the outcry that prompted the setting up of the Leveson inquiry was out of proportion to the scale of Britain's press problem. That is, if it has one at all. In addition to the national press, Britain has 1,100 regional and local papers with 31 million readers. Despite the problems the industry is facing, newspaper titles remain integral and important parts of all of our communities.
The majority are fully signed up to the PCC's Code of Practice and operate within it. So for the majority of the press, self-regulation has been a real success.
Lord Justice Leveson recommended a new self-regulation body for the press, but independent of it, and free of serving editors. Very few disagree.
But Lord Leveson also recommended that the new body should be underpinned by legislation, and it is over this that Prime Minister David Cameron this week walked away from cross-party talks on Leveson implementation. Mr Cameron will not entertain legislation of the press, unlike Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Ed Miliband.
And he is right. Any form of legislation – even the minimum promised by Mr Miliband yesterday – will open the door for political control of the press – if not now, then in the future. There is too much at stake.
As we sit down in front of the telly tonight, the issue of press freedom and legislation may seem far away. But the freedom of the press in Britain is today under threat. MPs will vote on Mr Cameron's legislation-free proposals on Monday. We urge all MPs to back his plans. Underpinning by statute is a step too far.