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After Leveson – The Unified Code and the Internet

December 4, 2012

More views from my friend Andrew Morton on press freedom. His comment and my reply are to be found under the comments attached to the previous post. But I’m reproducing them here also.

Referring to my argument that a “unified code” dealing with all media would be almost impossible to implement, Andrew came back with:

Just to ride my little hobby-horse a little longer before I dismount – regarding the much vaunted 300 years of press freedom- I assume this is referring to the 1689 “Bill of Rights”. However, the Bill of Rights, rather like Magna Carta was really about readjusting the power relationship between one set of aristocrats and another. Admittedly, both documents have a powerful symbolic significance, and in reality mark stages in the tortoise-like crawl of this country towards some kind of democracy. Those who cite the Bill of Rights are likely to be exactly those people who want to keep the debate about press freedom in the privileged arena of powerful interest groups regardless of the potential dire effects of press freedom on ordinary citizens. Having said all this, I agree that the matter is complex and to be approached with extreme caution.

My reply, with a few additional thoughts inserted here, was:

One of the reasons I blog is that after decades of watching the world go by while getting on with the mundane job of making a living and tending to the needs of the next generation, the internet has given me an independent platform to air views I have shared and discussed with people – such as yourself – on an individual and collective basis since childhood. And I can air my views without having to become a politician, a journalist or a preacher. That’s not to say that I’m free to write everything I would like to without consequences. I live in a region that is increasingly paying attention to online ramblings.

I don’t really care how many people choose to visit this site, only that those who do find it interesting. The important thing is that the axe I grind is mine alone. No need to squeeze through the portals of the opinion-formers in the print or even the mainstream online media. And an opportunity to reach anyone in the world who sits at the end of a copper wire, an optical cable or a satellite signal.

Millions of people, like me, write for love, not for money. What we write may not be of more than passing interest to any but a tiny minority of internet users, but that’s for the user to decide, not the writer, and – unless the writer falls foul of current legal and moral codes – not a mediating third party.

The print media is not yet in its death throes, but it certainly appears terminally ill. From my standpoint it is more important in the long term that national or international regulators and commercial interests do not exert the same type of control – often stemming from monopolistic and ideological instincts – over the online media as they do over TV and newsprint. Otherwise my voice, which matters to me even if it doesn’t to anyone else, might in the future fade away and return to the confines of four walls.

The increasing migration of conventional media to the internet means that we have a greater choice in what we view and read. And that means that we cannot so easily be prevented from access to content that others might not want us to see. And that content, as we all know, can be malevolent, manipulative and destructive as well as life-enhancing. The internet gives us a choice. We can exercise our critical faculties or swallow without thinking. At the risk of sounding like Eric Cantona, now we’re wandering through the forest and picking our own mushrooms – instead of buying them in a supermarket safe in the knowledge that what we buy is unlikely to kill us.

So for me, the debate over control of the internet is the big one. Arguing about the print media is starting to look like a quarrel over a sick man’s will.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts.

From → Politics, Social, UK

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