"Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but in the
Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth
Estate more important far than they all."
Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero
"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all
those other forms that have been tried from time to
Winston Churchill, Houses of Parliament, November
"I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make
it possible for you to continue to write."
Voltaire, letter to Abbe le Roche, 1770
Nobody wants to have their mobile phone voicemail hacked and
listened to by a journalist, nor to have intrusive photographs
taken of themselves on holiday or to have details of their
messy divorce splashed all over the front pages.
So, doesn’t it make perfect sense to do what a
group of members of parliament have done and sign a proposal
urging the creation of a statutory body to control the press in
It seems an attractive prospect on the surface, muzzling the
rottweilers of Fleet Street and protecting the privacy of the
Delve a bit deeper, though, and it’s all rather
Sure, the phone hacking was abhorrent and the perpetrators
needed to be dealt with. But that’s rather the
point. We have a legal system that can deal with them, and they
are beginning to feel the force of that.
We also have the public’s reaction, which
ultimately caused the closure of the – allegedly
– most guilty newspaper. (Although, incidentally, the
most unsavoury accusation concerning a murder victim would
appear to have been false.) A combination of legal action and
public reaction brought an end to that sorry saga.
But what about the other side, the things that we do want to
The need for a free press
Without a free press, the likelihood of the taxpayers
and electors of this country learning about the misuse of their
funds by some MPs would have been very slim.
Would we have understood the extent of the deception about
Iraqi weapons in the run-up to the second Gulf war, or, in
another age and on another continent, would the citizens of the
USA have seen the corruption of the Nixon White House?
You see, that’s the problem.
We don’t like some of the things the press does,
but we need some of the others to keep our politicians honest
(if, of course, that’s possible).
In democratic societies, the elected representatives are not
rulers. They are the trustees of the public will, and as such
have to be fully accountable. If we allow them to shackle the
open discussion of their actions, then, sadly, we will lose the
ability to control their excesses.
I realise that this piece doesn’t say a lot about
metals, but nevertheless it’s important; I would
urge you all to oppose as strongly as you can attempts made by
politicians and their celebrity friends to muzzle the free
press in this country.
After all, would you rather line up alongside Edmund Burke,
Winston Churchill and Voltaire, or Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and
their cronies in the self-serving Hacked Off campaign?