On Thursday’s Question Time, Prime Minister David – sorry, some actor named Hugh – put forward the argument for increased regulation of the press.
The phonehacking scandal was so bad, he said, that there was a clear case for a print media version of Ofcom.
Free press go to hell – you’ve screwed up and now you shall pay.
It’s a kneejerk reaction, and absolutely not the way to go. Let’s be clear, what happened at the late News of the World was disgraceful, but would more regulation really have stopped it?
Ofcom monitors after the event, not before or during. A journalist in the desperate hunt for a scoop, who displayed a willingness to circumvent common decency, would hardly have been deterred by the possibility of censure. Otherwise no potentially libellous and unnecessary story would ever get published and no televisions or radio broadcast would ever be found to have breached regulations.
More importantly, more regulation is essentially shorthand for a weaker fourth estate. Journalists are by no means saints, but neither are they all moral wastrels. Look, this week, at The Times’ adoption campaign.
That’s one example of a glorious history of changing the world through the printed word – a tradition that should be guarded, not dismissed at the first sign of a crack.