After the News of the World phone hacking scandal, it seems some leaders in Great Britain are intent on using the resulting furor to institute new controls over journalism.
LONDON — After nine months of hearings sparked by phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, a landmark report released Thursday recommended new, independent oversight of newspapers in what was seen as a day of reckoning for the British press.
The nearly 2,000-page report sets up a politically explosive battle over how to eradicate a “subculture” of illicit news gathering in dark corners of old Fleet Street without treading on freedom of the press. It calls for a new press law — the first since the 17th century — that would safeguard media freedoms in Britain while also creating an independent body to act as a watchdog on an industry that has, thus far, largely regulated itself.
The claim is that this “watchdog” group would be independent of the government, and wouldn’t act as a censor, but that’s a little hard to believe. We may want to review the history of film ratings under the MPAA to see how these voluntary organizations can become defacto censors (see This Film Is Not Yet Rated).
This is yet another example of “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The phone hacking scandal in Great Britain was ugly, without a doubt, but shouldn’t be leveraged into a new era of censorship.
Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions–all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced.
There also seems to be a hostile attitude toward speech these days even among some of the largest media outlets. When I hear newspaper columnists or talking heads grouse about “polarization” and “partisanship” what I hear them complaining about is too much dissent.
As if that were a bad thing.