The Long and the Short of Press Regulation By Dan Hind

26 November 2012Return of the Public

Free expression is important. Its importance is often couched in terms of the common good. A society in which people can speak freely is one in which injustice can be remedied, corruption punished and so on. But it is also a good for the individual. Free speech is best means by which we  can discover our preferences, strengthen ourselves in argument, and make sense of the world we are thrown into at birth.

However freedom is an aspiration for human beings. The contrivances that we use to organize ourselves – the corporation and the other commercial collectivities – can be made subject to regulation that would be intolerable if imposed on an individual. It follows that the regulation of media conglomerates that enjoy limited liability implies no abridgement of individual liberty, the only liberty that matters.

If journalists, editors and owners wish to speak with entire freedom then let them speak as human individuals, without the protection of the corporate form. They will stand full square behind what they say and will assume all the risks that necessarily accompany this freedom. The state will have no special interest in regulating them. But those who wish to contribute to the creation of corporate speech, and so enjoy the protections of limited liability, can raise no principled objection to the statutory regulation of their activities.

However, if you think that regulation will establish an adequate system of communications, you are plain wrong. The News International crisis created an opportunity to introduce some kind of effective regulation of the worst abuses of the press. But sanctions on bad journalism will not create the journalism we need. For that we need a much more far-reaching set of constitutional reforms, which can be summed up as a Maximum Republic.

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