Eleni Roumeliotou MSc
March 21, 2013
For the first time in 300 years, politicians managed to interfere with press freedom in the UK, producing the foundations for a new watchdog, which will essentially have the power to “decide what is factual and what is true”, reminding dangerously of the infamous Ministry of Truth by George Orwell.
In the early hours of March 19, all three political parties of the current UK coalition government met in order to finalize the 20-month long negotiations about the establishment of a new media regulatory body. The plan was approved 530 to 13, while all political leaders rushed to proclaim themselves victorious. The Prime Minister stated that he was “delighted with the outcome”. This “successful” new regime will be formalized by a royal charter, a special document signed by the British monarch, which means that any amendments in the future would require the support by two thirds of the parliament. It is interesting that nobody from the newspaper industry was present or even aware of these final talks taking place. After the phone hacking scandal, where Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World released illegally obtained information from hacked phones of celebrities and crime victims, the Prime Minister agreed to set up a media watchdog in order to avoid any similar violations in the future.
While it is noble to aim for the protection of victims in such disgraceful cases, the definition of who is a publisher has been left suspiciously broad in the new regime. It is unclear who will be monitored by the new regulatory body; the official description refers to “news-related material”, meaning anything written on a newspaper, magazine, blog or website, whose primary audience involves British people. Any potential insult, comment or opinion that can result in a complaint, can inflict on the publisher fines reaching the amount of one million British pounds and front page apologies. Could this affect the nature of blogging and freedom of speech? Who would dare to blog freely about politics, consumer products or even athletic events, if they could receive such a life-destroying slap?
Is it the end of free blogging?
It is funny how the inability and reluctance of the state to effectively stop and prosecute criminal actions that violate fundamental freedoms can actually form the basis for the establishment of regulatory bodies that restrict the very same freedoms they are supposed to protect even more. If Mr Murdoch and his personnel are so much beyond the law, and we have seen good proof of that, then is it really the lack of another complicated bureaucratic organization that is the reason of hacking scandals popping out so effortlessly? Apparently not.
Furthermore, this new watchdog is not really designed to keep Murdoch and his kin at bay. Is it a big problem for a media mogul to pay one million pounds for damages to any victim if they violated fundamental human rights through the publication of a misleading article? Certainly not. But would such a fine make a difference for an amateur or even a professional blogger that commented negatively on the toxic product of a big pharmaceutical company or the hormone-disrupting properties of a compound found in a popular food? The answer is too obvious to ignore. Europe has never really been a place of freedom, but instead has had a wide collection of monarchs and royals imposing their will on the people, for hundreds of years. Unfortunately politicians are so willing to hand over fundamental freedoms of the people to self-imposed authorities that they even celebrate it as a victory.
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This article was posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 6:13 am