Thursday, 19 March 2009

PCC to investigate Dunblane article

I imagine the prospect of a Press Complaints Commission inquiry looming over you must be somewhat like watching a penguin stamping its foot and preparing to charge you. I can't help but be reminded of the exchange between Hans Blix and Kim Jung Il in Team America: World Police when the scientist threatens to write the leader "a very angry letter" telling him how angry everyone is.

We live in a culture founded on the free exchange of ideas. The freedom of expression is more important than many other human rights, in that it is about not only the protecting of individuals from coercion by higher powers, but also the safeguarding of societies ability to progress and evolve. The writer J.S. Mills described a free market of ideas. Nobody has any idea what kind of society people will ultimately be happy in, and therefore no reliable way of predicting what new proposals, ideas or forms of expression may help us to progress. In his free market place, natural selection would provide that the right ideas surface and the bad ideas will be drowned out. Any restrictions, even partial ones such as film certification and bans on public displays, would have the effect of inhibiting the natural flow of the market.

You don't have to be an arch Socialist to see the problems with the free market principle.

Perhaps nowhere but in the realm of expression are these criticisms better illustrated. as the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship pointed out in their 1979 report, "Truth" will not always triumph if left to fend for itself. Demand for the contrary may well drown it out. A lifeline, in the form of interventions such as state subsidising of reliable and impartial news sources, or the encouragement of media designed for purposes other than to attract viewers or boost circulation.

Likewise, in an unregulated market there is nothing to stop particularly strong forces from gaining an unduly strong grip by monopolising and dominating the distribution of information of all forms, such as by large media corporations which are sources of huge power for their owners or majority share holders.

The system we have for regulating the press in the United Kingdom has been widely acclaimed by members of the press, who also constitute the members of the PCC.

The British media can never be allowed to face censorship. The free market model may be unworkable, but the free exchange of ideas is integral to the development of any democratic society. What cannot be allowed, however, is for individuals to face exploitation at the hands of an industry geared towards profit, as we saw in the Murray article in the Express on Dunblane, without any recourse to anything other than a code built entirely on honour. We would not defend so rigorously the right of any other industry to trump the rights of individuals, and the press can be no exception. It is not viable to rely on honour when the circulation figures accorded a higher status. The blame cannot however be placed solely on the editors. In an economic climate where many newspapers are facing collapse, the editors will of course be under intense pressure to deliver the circulation required to keep the business model ticking over.

It is clear that the area of media regulation needs to be revisited, whether in the form of tighter controls of the ability of newspapers simply to intrude on the lives of individuals, particularly subsidising of substance.


  1. Wasn't really wishing to comment on this article particuarly

    What, no link to newspaper articles on Obama's disgraceful gaffe regarding the 'Special Olympics'?

    The Labour Club is usually so ready to highlight some Republican or right wing bigot putting their foot in it, so why not Mr Obama?

  2. Firstly I only heard about that for the first time today.

    Secondly he does seem to have genuinely (at least genuine for a politician) apologised and meant it.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, as you yourself said "The Labour Club is usually so ready to highlight some Republican or right wing bigot putting their foot in it". This is not an impartial news service. I post about republicans slip ups because I dislike a lot of the Republican party. I like and respect Obama so I give him less of a hard time.