How clever John Adams was to say that all democracies end up in suicide. The British democracy has been trying to top itself off for while, but as the recent Leveson report has concluded with a demand for a new regulator for the press, the signs are that its end is very near now.
An independent body, ultimately validated by the State, to regulate the ethics of the press has been recommended – paradoxically - in order to ensure that the press is really free. Free not to embarrass public figures with revelations of their misconduct, while, at the same time, the onerous libel laws in Britain make us the destination of international crooks and London the capital of reputation laundering? But no judge would speak out against this state of affairs, for this is what keeps them in clover.
Furthermore, who, on earth, would be independent enough to oversee such an important wielder of power as the media, and who is independent enough to appoint the independents? Essentially, what you will get is the politicians in charge of those supposed to bring them to task.
This impetus for tougher regulation betrays, in fact, a very pessimistic view on the capacity of the British public to meditate on what they read and to control the media themselves through their own free choice and demand. A free press - no matter its derelictions - trains the people’s power of reason. Why should we fear intrusion by the media? This is what keeps a more frightful kind of intrusion – that carried out by the State itself - in check.
We already have a plethora of statutes and powers that can be used to deal with abuses by the media; the fact that these were not used by the past Labour administration in the historical cases heard by Leveson is a far more serious matter.
Do not be fooled by the vociferous ‘public’ outrage and the cant of those now putting pressure on the government to conceive new laws for the press - those virtuous citizens and victims of press indiscretions are simply actors in a play scripted by politically motivated higher powers, powers who simply wish to grab more control over us.
Ill-advised creatures, signing petitions, may not realise that they could usher in a regime similar to that described in Orwell’s 1984 or in Mercier’s utopian novel, The Year 2440, where most books are destroyed and where ‘dangerous sceptics’, authors of literary works deemed bad for the people’s minds, are rounded up and interrogated until they are willing to admit to their errors.
Intrusion by press does not destroy lives – it may temporarily upset them – but, in the end, freedom provides the necessary self-redressing mechanisms that an authoritarian State does not possess. What can destroy lives, however, are the gags imposed on the media, journalistic cowardice and the lack of ability to make your mind and your own choice.
We hope that the Prime Minister will think carefully, as he said he would, and will not be swept away by this flurry of pre-meditated madness.