As I said when the phone hacking scandal was starting to whip the unthinking mob into a frenzy, back in July last year:
“The real danger of the phone hacking “scandal” is that this ill considered public outrage is used by the government to introduce draconian legislation to “protect privacy” that will inevitably damage genuine investigative news reporting.
The sort of reporting that exposed Watergate, the corruption in FIFA and countless other political scandals and criminal conspiracies.
Corrupt politicians and public officials everywhere must be rubbing their hands with anticipation at the thought that their murky activities may soon be hidden from the public behind a wall of legal protection.”
I just hope that the Inquiry has the good sense to listen to his comments on any future regulatory regime, which I wholeheartedly endorse:
Future Regulatory Regime
The public interest is best served by an unregulated free press. The laws of defamation should be rationalised and the existing criminal laws better enforced. The hacking and blagging scandals of the recent past were illegal under already existing laws, there is no real need for further legislation.
The public interest will not be well served by privacy laws which will effectively create judicial censorship. The privacy laws currently being made from the bench in English courts are a travesty of the intentions of the original drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights. They had in mind protecting the human rights of individuals from oppressive states and agencies of those states. They did not have in mind sparing the blushes of footballers caught having extra-marital affairs or celebrities who have exotic tastes in the bedroom or dungeon.
The popular press is in danger of being shackled by privacy laws and “media standards” which are really a euphemism for censorship. This will undermine the popularity and commercial viability of newspapers, inevitably doing damage to media plurality in the long term. The public interest is best served by having the most competitive and open media markets we can devise. The BBC by its size and method of funding is the biggest threat to media plurality with a dangerous dominance of news. It undermines the commercial sector by undercutting it, local commercial media can not flourish when BBC local radio and television is free at the point of consumption to the extent that it crowds out competition.
Worrying about cross-ownership of the media when newspapers are in an existential crisis seems to me to be a distracting luxury interest at this time.
Any future regulatory regime has to consider technological convergence. My daughters watch Children’s BBC on my mobile telephone, they watch the US Public Broadcasting Service’s children’s television shows on my laptop at our French holiday home.
The reality of convergence and cross-border broadcasting via the internet of all forms of content will mean that any regulatory regime will be porous. In the future there will be a regulated sector and an unregulated sector, with the latter prospering all the more if privacy restrictions inhibit the regulated media from covering more and more stories. The readers will go where the news is, the advertisers and the money will follow the readers, the regulators however will not be able to cross borders.
It would be in my commercial interest and to my competitive advantage to see the British media heavily regulated, draconian privacy laws enacted and politically correct “media standards” enforced. All of which would be cheerfully ignored by the Guido Fawkes bIog. It would however be a sad day for press freedom.
I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.
10 January, 2011