The Spectator

Press freedom isn’t ‘sentimental’ – it’s vital

‘We can be quite sentimental about some of our so-called treasured assets,’ said Lord Johnson, one of Kemi Badenoch’s business ministers, earlier this week. ‘The reality is that media and information has moved on. Clearly, most of us today don’t buy a physical newspaper or necessarily go to a traditional news source.’ His implication was that it doesn’t really matter what happens to The Spectator and the Daily Telegraph, both of which are currently up for sale, and that it is old-fashioned to be concerned about the state of press freedom in general. We beg to differ.

John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia, put it well when he observed recently that law, parliament and the free press are the three main components of a functioning democracy. To Thomas Jefferson, the free press was the most important factor. ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government,’ he said, ‘I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’

It is not ‘sentimental’ to worry about Britain’s oldest weekly magazine being snapped up by the UAE

But newspapers have long been haemorrhaging readers, money and influence as people move online and get bite-sized news summaries for free. The BBC has exploited its licence fee-funded status to launch free websites and become the biggest single force in the written word, as well as the spoken word. This hasn’t done much for media diversity. Newcomers such as BuzzFeed, Vice News and Huffington Post have all made valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at news and agenda-setting investigations. When it comes to scrutinising the powerful, there is no real substitute for the ‘traditional’ media.

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