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Restricting opinion is war government can only lose

The various strands of media and libel reform that are swirling around the civic life of the UK would appear to be coalescing into something tangible. The trouble is, no-one knows quite what shape any new life form might take.

The issues thrown up are wide and multi-dimensional — and the current high-profile spats over Twitter, super-injunctions and Max Mosley’s privacy are just part of a much bigger, and fairly heady, mix.

It’s pretty frustrating in the world of regional newspapers though that, when it suits them, politicians and judges believe that standards of the national press and national broadcasters are the only benchmark for press freedom and media policy in general.

If our learned friends want to slap down the red tops for their prurient interest in the sex lives of the rich and famous, can’t they at least understand that the rest of the media will become collateral damage in their little war?

For The Media isn’t just the national tabloids, or the Sky/BBC axis: it’s the Belfast Telegraph and the Down Recorder, or the South Wales Argus, or the Impartial Reporter.

The Media is also Good Housekeeping and Mountain Biking UK. Hell, it’s Lego members’ club magazine, and Cbeebies Weekly too.

The point is everyone else gets blasted by the Government/judiciary blunderbuss aimed at the national media — and we all have to deal with the expensive, disproportionate and usually daft outcome of these battles.

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The fact is there are bigger issues facing the non-national media than the injunctions saga. Possible changes to ownership rules; proposals to axe government recruitment advertising that will precipitate a collapse in courts and councils coverage; the growth in England of council-funded local papers (or “town hall Pravdas” as they’ve been dubbed), the recession, structural change caused by the internet — the list could go on.

That’s not to say that the injunctions/Twitter/Mosley controversy isn’t important. It is. Taking the longer view, it’s a moot point whether the judiciary or government will succumb to the tidal wave that is social media, or decide to try to tame free expression on the internet, as has been hinted at this week.

Personally, I think they can no more restrict opinion online than halt blokes in pubs sounding off on whatever subject they fancy.

Good luck to them if they fancy having a go — however, they should understand before they set out that while they may win a battle or two along the way, this is a war they will surely lose. Remember Spycatcher, anyone?


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