Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Brief Plea for Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, also known as The Bill of Rights
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America states as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The crucial bit for our purposes is the bit about freedom of speech. If we had an equivalent clause in the constitution of the United Kingdom it would read:

"Parliament shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

Trouble is, we don't have a constitution in Britain. At least, not a written one. And now Lord Justice Leveson, after nine months of gathering evidence following the phone-hacking scandal at the now-defunct News of The World, has written a report recommending that a new statutory body, enshrined in law, should be created to regulate the press. Not since censorship laws were abolished in 1695 has Parliament attempted to legislate what should be printed in newspapers.
The late lamented News of The World
Which brings us to the oddest part of all this. None of what his Lordship has proposed affects bloggers like us. Just one page of his 2,000 page report was devoted to what he called the "ethical vacuum" of the internet. The other 1,999 pages are devoted to bossing around a declining print industry which I think we will miss, when it's gone.

His Lordship denies that any of this amounts to state regulation of the press. But it is obvious that if freedom of speech were enshrined in our constitutional law, and not just in our customs, that this new regulatory body would soon be struck down by the courts as a violation of the constitution.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to think of a single historical example of state regulation of the press which has turned out well. And I can't think of one.


1 comment:

  1. How ironic that the genesis of censorship movement was a media scandal involving good ol' liberal media basher Rupert Murdock. He must be pleased.