Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

The Spectator’s two-letter response to politicians’ plans for licensing the press

What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand? Our politicians have proudly unveiled their new plan to license the press, as if this was is in their power to do so. In fact, the press in Britain has been free from political interference for generations. The British government simply does not have the power to regulate the press, so it’s not clear why ministers have wasted their time acting as if this is their problem to solve.

The mechanics of the new charter released today are not the issue. What the politicians propose is a near-duplication of the regulation which the press has already  to set up: the £1 million fines, the toughest system in the Western world. The press has already agreed to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, to the millimetre.

The argument now is about whether the politicians should be allowed to impose regulation on the press for the first time in 300 years – or whether they should whistle Dixie instead. We at The Spectator are in the latter camp.

And it’s not just about the UK press.Free speech groups world over are asking the newspapers not to sign up to government regulation because if the notion of a fully-independent press dies in Britain it sets a dangerous precedent for countries where governments would like a similar power grab.

To recap, here’s what’s at stake.

  • The politicians’ charter* implements a plan which does not ‘consider the signal that the creation of such a draconian regime would — if implemented — send to the rest of the world.’ So says the the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations.
  • The politicians’ charter would set a template that could be imitated in other countries still fighting for press freedom.

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