Britain is on the verge of putting news outlets under the thumb of a new regulatory body. The nation’s political parties have negotiated a royal charter that would, as the New York Times describes it, “replace the newspaper industry’s self-regulating body with an independent agency that could levy fines of up to £1 million, or $1.5 million, order editors to issue prominent corrections and provide arbitration for people who believed they had been wronged by the press.” Publishers don’t have to participate in the system, but if they don’t, their liability for defamation or privacy violations would be higher. The move is the government’s response to the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
Britain will end up with a media that only the pro-EU crowd in Brussels could love, says Daniel Hannan, British Member of the European Parliament:
In many European countries, newspapers receive tax-breaks or other forms of state subsidy. In a surprising number, it is quite normal for journalists to submit their copy before publication to the politicians about whom they have written. The result is the deferential attitude that supporters of press regulation like to call ‘grown-up’ and ‘responsible’.
It’s true that the papers in, say, France, are much less likely to intrude into the personal lives of politicians or celebrities; but it’s equally true that they are less likely to deviate from the approved line on questions of tax, immigration, Europe and so on. That’s the trouble with putting the state in charge of the media. What begins as an attempt to protect privacy ends with politicians deciding which opinions are acceptable.
Guess who is not standing up for free speech:
The [British] Europhile publications have been surprisingly muted in their opposition to state regulation; indeed, several of them have positively welcomed it. These, by and large, are also the papers that have been most peevish about the political pluralism ushered in by the rise of electronic media. [The Telegraph, March 20]
Publishers of content outside Britain—e.g. bloggers—should take note: “Lawyers who have looked at the proposal say it would also cover Internet news and opinion sites outside the country that could be read in Britain.” [New York Times, March 19]