Is British Free Speech Under Attack?


The Leveson report, a response to the British phone-hacking scandal and the other sins of Fleet Street, was released yesterday. Anthony Lane sizes it up:

Leveson proposes to scrap, or radically to remake, the Press Complaints Commission, about which, until now, the press itself has had amusingly few complaints. What should replace it, he suggests, will be a “new independent self-regulatory body,” which sounds the sort of thing that we can all approve of, especially those of us who eat enough fiber. This healthy body, moreover, should be reinforced by another body—a statutory one, backed by new legislation. And so the bodies mount up, to the evident alarm of those in the media who peer ahead and foresee a dark time when the press finds itself denuded of its traditional freedoms. Are they right to worry? Will British newspapers in five years’ time look and sound markedly different, in Leveson’s uncertain wake? A more pressing question might be whether half of them will even exist in five years’ time, at least in print editions, but my suspicion is that, as so often occurs in Britain, far less will change than is feared—(or, if you have been a victim of press intrusion, than you have fervently hoped for)—and that what changes are enforced will arrive at the pace of molasses.

Shafer suggests that the British public should share some of the blame for the press's misdeeds:

Perhaps the biggest problem in the UK is not unethical publishers and unethical reporters but contemptible readers who sanction criminality and privacy invasion every other time they buy a disreputable copy at the newsstand. Of course you can’t establish a voluntary, self-regulatory body of readers, funded by them with investigative powers to peer into their own dismal tastes in journalism. But if you could, I’m certain Lord Justice Leveson would take a stab at it. Every block could have a tribunal of its own, and every reader’s reading habit could be judged, and the worst of them fined or put in stocks and pelted with eggs.

Massie adds:

[O]ne cannot help but wonder if Britain's unusually uncorrupt public life will really be improved by anything Leveson has recommended.  But that is not something Lord Justice Leveson has paused to consider. In 2,000 pages of thumb-sucking, ponderous reflection and recommendation he devotes just a single page to the internet. If this is the end of one era that merely means it is the opening of another. The game is still the game.

(Photo: A box containing a copy of the Leveson Inquiry outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre on November 29, 2012 in London, England. By Oli Scarff/Getty Images)