Saturday 16 December 2017

Ruth Dudley-Edwards: A free press is essential and must not be nobbled by the judges

There is a danger the UK's Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking may go too far, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I was young when I said to my father, an historian, that if I ever got the chance, I would expose Charlie Haughey for the criminal he was. I've never forgotten his look of sheer terror. The man I considered -- and still consider -- to have been a moral giant in his service of truth, said: "No, my darling. Don't even think of it. He'd destroy you. And any newspaper you wrote it in."

So I went back to London and looked with new appreciation at a free press. It wasn't wholly free, of course. Nor should it be. It's unfair, for instance, that in the US, there is almost no recourse for those subjected to even the vilest calumnies. Their press is too free and -- as we have learned painfully over the past few decades -- unaccountable institutions become corrupted. But in Ireland, the press was bullied, threatened, outspent and stifled by dodgy clergy, politicians, businessmen and other wrong-doers. France, too, was a political cesspit because of draconian privacy laws.

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