So now the Executive Editor of the Times is at it. Rumour-mongering, stirring panic, spreading disinformation. He doesn’t want a statutory body, he says, because that would be the end of 300 years of a free press. The story’s here, and you can skip the Hugh Grant bit if you like.
Let’s be clear on this.
1) no it wouldn’t; and
2) no one’s asking for it anyway.
Look, Roger Alton, I don’t want a law that says I have to stand on my head every day for half an hour before breakfast. But I’m not going to go on Newsnight and talk about it, because no one’s actually proposing it in the first place.
And while we’re on the subject of a free press, please remember that the freedom of speech in the UK isn’t such a clean-cut article of faith as it is in (for instance) the US. We have very different approaches to balancing freedom of speech with (say) justice (note the contempt of court process here which makes selection of an intelligent but unbiased jury that much easier); or protection of reputation (defamation laws); or protection from violence (incitement). The press has never been as free as it likes to think it is, and nor should it be. But let’s look at what the differing proposals for regulation suggest would be required should a future Government wish to amend that regulation.
• Cross-party proposal: Royal Charter could be amended by Parliament, but only if there were a two-thirds majority in both houses
• Press proposal: Parliament could not block or approve any future changes to regulation. Instead the regulator, trade bodies and the regulator’s panel would have to agree to changes
So in either case, the press gets something it’s never had before: protection from regulation by simple majority in Parliament, like everyone else has to put up with.
The way I see it, the press have been offered a lollipop and told to behave themselves, and their response is to demand two lollipops and carry on kicking their ball at the greenhouse.