Belfast Telegraph

D-Day for press and democracy

Editor's Viewpoint

Tomorrow the Privy Council will meet to consider how newspapers should be regulated in future. It is no exaggeration to say that this could be a defining moment for the print media and its attempts to preserve the 300-year-long freedom of the press.

The industry is proposing a regulatory system by Royal Charter. For those who would deride such self-regulation, they should realise the proposed system can levy very substantial fines and can summon editors to account for their actions.

It is one of the toughest regulatory schemes in the western world. Some politicians – and lobby groups such as Hacked Off – want newspapers brought under the control of Parliament, a move which the industry believes could be used to muzzle the press.

And their crusade has been given fresh impetus in recent times by the Daily Mail's attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband's father, Ralph, who the newspaper branded as the man who hated Britain.

This newspaper believes – a belief shared by the vast majority of respondents to opinion polls at the weekend – that this was an ill-judged attack. Ralph Miliband lived in a time when divergent ideological views were probably more strongly held than today, but that did not make those opinions which were contrary to the mainstream enemies of the nation. However even the Daily Mail's articles – wounding as they were to the Labour leader – should not be allowed to obscure the real debate on press freedom.

These articles were opinion and any media outlet which does not have opinions is a pretty limp organ. Readers may not always agree with the views expressed in the media but they feed debate which is healthy in any democracy.

Labour and its lobbying pals should not be allowed to neuter a free press – a press which shares their demand for strong regulation to prevent a recurrence of the hacking scandals and invasions of privacy which resulted in Lord Justice Leveson's report. The Privy Council must see its role as the preservation of freedom of expression, a keystone of our democratic way of life.

Belfast Telegraph


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