Wednesday 24 May 2017

Making a stand for free press

IT MIGHT appear self-interested to praise the British PM David Cameron for his courage in declaring that he will not ''cross the Rubicon'' of legislating to control the freedom of the press. However, defiance in the face of public hysteria is a quality rarely seen in modern politics. The stance of Cameron on this occasion is all the more courageous, given the libidinous attitude the British media has taken to its situation as the 'last chance saloon' during a period when six major investigations into its workings have taken place. The tenacity with which it continued to misbehave has at times been staggering.

This latest unveiling of a culture of graft, hacking, illegal interference with emails, unhealthy political relationships and the 'outrageous' wrecking of the lives of countless private citizens reads like the tabloid equivalent of the Mahon Tribunal. But, despite the excesses embraced by Mr Murdoch, hard cases and excessive concerns about 'public perception' make for bad law. As we see from the 'light touch' style response by RTE to the electoral consequences of the tainted presidential debate on Frontline, state-regulated broadcast institutions are as susceptible to imperfection as the free market.

The merit of the Leveson Report is also qualified by its failure to satisfactorily deal with the dangerous question of the consequences of an unhealthy concentration in press ownership. In fairness, many others, particularly amongst the Irish political and media elites, have skirted around that chalice. Within Ireland, meanwhile, a somewhat different situation to the UK applies. And not merely in the fact that one cannot imagine any Irish politician, with the possible exception of Pat Rabbitte, echoing Mr Cameron.

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