The British press – now only partly free

Echoing Freedom House‘s comparative assessment of global political rights and civil liberties, following the failure in the courts to block the UK government’s plans for a statutory press regulator, one can declare that the press in Britain is now “partly free”.

The peoples of Britain have never enjoyed a constitutional right to a free press, but in practice we have, courtesy of our patrician liberal ruling class, had a rumbustiously free press for the past few hundred years. In that time we have had a print media free of state interference, with privacy protections provided for in common law, and a strong public interest defence for journalists.

Failing a mass rebellion by publishers, which is quite unrealistic given the financial interests involved, the court judgements on Wednesday signal the end of the free press in Britain. In its place we will see increasing interference from politicians, corporate interests and celebrities, and more self-censorship on the part of journalists and their editors. Investigative and satirical publications may well go to the wall, what with the risk of crippling legal costs being awarded against them even where they defeat libel, defamation and other actions brought by the aggrieved subjects of their investigations.

One thing is certain, and this is confirmed by experience. Once the political class gains any influence over editorial matters in the media, it develops a taste for it, and as a result clamours for more.