It's not clear why politicians, judges and bureaucrats around the world feel the need to control the media and citizens. The latest example of this comes from Great Britain. A 2,000-page report from Lord Justice Brian Leveson recommends that an independent press "regulator," one to be backed up by the law, be created to police the press. The report was the result of the phone-hacking scandal by the now defunct News of the World tabloid, owned by press baron Rupert Murdoch.
Thankfully, British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed reservations about the proposal. And while we understand the reaction of disgust in Britain to reporters who hacked into cellphones of celebrities and victims of horrific crimes, and stole personal information for their scoops, that's the point - such over-the-top behaviour is already against the law in Great Britain. After all, several of those reporters face criminal charges, Murdoch has paid out millions of dollars worth of fines and settlements to victims, and faces many more, and the best-selling paper in the U.K. was shut down. Clearly, the current laws seem to be working.
There are also laws already in the books that criminalize problematic speech, such as libel or the incitement of violence or hatred.
Insisting that the state have no role in regulating the press is a tenet of all free societies. It is impossible to have a true democracy without a free media. A regulatory body overseeing the media by government threatens that.
Lest we turn a critical eye only on the United Kingdom, let's look a little closer to home. In Canada, two years ago, Parliament passed a motion to rebuke Maclean's magazine, this after the newsweekly had the audacity to print a cover and magazine story labelling Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada. Funny, in light of current events.
Reasons for disliking an independent press and free speech are multiple. They range from the tendency of those in power not to like being held to account. Others simply like to tell the rest of us how to think. But whatever the reason, from justices in the U.K. to politicians here at home, all of them need to remember that a free society is dependent upon a variety of freedoms - which cannot exist without freedom of expression.
© Copyright 2013