Britain’s politicians have finally struck a deal to regulate their country’s press. Whether the press will allow itself to be regulated is another question.
Across Britain, newspaper front pages voiced disquiet at the establishment of an independent watchdog that would have the power to order prominent apologies and take complaints into arbitration.
“UNFREE SPEECH,” was the headline of London’s business-oriented free sheet City A.M. Britain’s top-selling tabloid, The Sun, compared the new body to the infamous Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s “1984,” while The Independent displayed the words “HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!” written in supersize font.
Many in Britain acknowledge the need for reform of the country’s press following a damaging scandal over phone hacking, bribery, and other media misdeeds. And partisans on all sides of the argument have loudly proclaimed their loyalty to a free press and free speech.
But newspaper groups are concerned that the new body agreed to by politicians will become a burdensome regulator, bogging down newspaper groups with endless and expensive complaints about coverage. Some in the British blogosphere are worried too.
Political blogger Paul Staines said the rules meant the end of “unregulated free speech” for citizen journalists. Bloggers who joined the regulatory regime would find every little online grievance being magnified into a formal complaint, he warned, while those who refused to submit to the regulator would become “media outlaws.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that he was convinced of the new watchdog’s merits.
“I’m confident that we’ve set up a system that is practical, that is workable,” he said. “It protects the freedom of the press, but it’s a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I’m convinced it will work and it will endure.”