Will Hutton, writing in The Observer, says the “precious freedom of speech of an individual is different from the freedom of speech of a media corporation with its capacity to manipulate the opinions of millions.”
Hutton argues that the phone hacking and general stench of British rags such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch signal a need for new regulation.
Yes, freedom of speech is the great Enlightenment gift that comes with the freedom to dare to know and to challenge. But it is not a charter for systematic character assassination by powerful media organisations that offer no right of reply, nor redress for mistakes.
The precious freedom of speech of an individual is different from the freedom of speech of a media corporation with its capacity to manipulate the opinions of millions, which is why it must take place within the law and within a framework of accountability. Freedom is not only menaced by the state; it is also menaced by private media barons and their servants, a reality that those doughty, self-anointed champions of freedom, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, never address.
Thomas Jefferson, who was hounded relentlessly by a rather shoddy press in his own day, famously wrote in a letter to Edward Carrington, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” This is one of the most oft-quoted defenses of unlimited free speech where newspapers are concerned. Most journalists tend to agree with that sentiment, owing their living to a right to free and unintimidated speech. However there’s a line from the same letter that supports the view Hutton takes in his Guardian/Observer piece: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right. ...”
What do you think? Does Britain, or the United States for that matter, need a commission on journalistic standards? And what would become of Fox News?
—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.
Simon Gibbs (CC-BY-SA)