A vital test for our democracy

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THE issue of how the Press in this country is regulated can often seem a matter of importance only to those in the media. Yet such a view ignores the fact that freedom of speech is the bedrock of any democracy, which makes it vital that any move to muzzle the Press, intentionally or otherwise, is resisted at all costs.

If laws which placed restrictions on our newspapers were to be introduced, it would raise serious concerns about the potential for politicians and lawmakers to exert a greater influence over what appears in print – with far-reaching implications for this country’s tradition of safeguarding freedom of speech and the importance of holding those in authority to account.

There is no question that certain sections of the media have been guilty of some abhorrent practices in their desperate attempts to scoop their rivals – methods which have rightly resulted in criminal charges being brought but which have also unfairly tainted the reputation of the Press in general.

It is worth reiterating that the Yorkshire Post has never hacked a phone, bribed a corrupt official or employed a private investigator to dig around a person’s private life. Nor will it ever do so.

While Lord Leveson was quite correct to call for a regulator with more muscle that can impose substantial fines for future misconduct, David Cameron pledged that he would resist the clamour for such measures to be backed by law.

Given that to do so would be to take the first step on the slippery slope toward censorship of the Press, a weapon that has been employed by many a corrupt dictatorship around the globe, he was right to do so. Yet, in his desperation to avoid defeat in the Commons, the Prime Minister has agreed to the element of statutory underpinning called for by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The result is that all three sides are now claiming victory, with Mr Cameron insisting that the legal clause inserted in the Royal Charter is there only to ensure that neither politicans nor the Press itself can hinder the new regulatory body’s work.

However, this halfway house has all the hallmarks of a fudge – hardly the ideal foundation for a measure which has such far-reaching consequences in terms of democracy and holding officialdom to account.