In the autumn of last year, in the prelude to formal hearings for the Leveson Inquiry, Baron Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said:
It is the birthright of the citizen that the press should be independent. It is therefore not a right of one section of the community, not just a sectional right. It is the right of the community as a whole. It is, if you like, our right, the right of every citizen.
Reporting on the curious omission by newspapers of any mention of that warning to the press, post-Gutenberg asked:
Why … is no one in the British media mentioning the prohibition by a leading newspaper of free discussion – by ordinary citizens – of the future of the press, on three separate occasions last week?
On the last Sunday before d-day — the 29th of November, when Lord Justice Leveson is due to deliver his report – The Guardian belatedly opened to comment by readers two vital contributions to the press regulation debate from Observer writers. Reader commenting had been barred for most of the day after these pieces were posted in the (ahem) Comment-is-free section of the web site shared by these newspapers but administered by The Guardian (which bought its rival several years ago).
That must have been quite a fight behind the scenes, before The Guardian relented and, by mid-morning on the 25th, let justice and common sense prevail.
Read the excerpts from these opinions The Guardian found so threatening, and be amazed. Better yet, follow our links, read the rest – especially the few reader comments permitted before commenting was once again closed, after less than half a day – and be astounded by the usual categorisation of The Guardian as a ‘liberal’ newspaper.
— from the Will Hutton column, ‘Why I, as a journalist and ex-editor, believe it is time to regulate the press’ [24 November 2012]:
The precious freedom of speech of an individual is different from the freedom of speech of a media corporation with its capacity to manipulate the opinions of millions, which is why it must take place within the law and within a framework of accountability. Freedom is not only menaced by the state; it is also menaced by private media barons and their servants, …
An avalanche of highly spun journalism to serve partisan interests has become habitual. The public realm has become degraded. The trade and craft of journalism has been abused; the journalists who work in newsrooms, where standards are routinely sidelined, need protecting.
— from an editorial in The Observer, ‘Leveson report: do we need a new law to rein in the press?’ [24 November 2012]:
The press – as anachronistic as that term now sounds in a digital age – have not, on the whole, been a great advert for plurality in the last month. In that time, they have fixed Leveson in their cross hairs and unleashed a ferocious ordnance in his direction.
There are reasonable, cogent arguments to be made about regulation or the lack thereof. There is a proper debate that we need to have post-Leveson, one characterised less by tribalism and more by reason.
As we wondered, last November:
[The] question no one in the media apparently wants to face is, will the public grant professional journalists a continuation of special privileges in the digital age if they no longer adhere to the traditions of fairness, neutrality and dedication to the truth that won them those privileges in the 18th century? Earlier this month, this blog mentioned the media’s refusal to acknowledge – or indeed discuss at all – the public’s dismay about an increasingly partisan press.