A Free Press under Siege; Britain Seeks to Muzzle Free Speech with 'Regulation'
Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Freedom of the press, the late, great press critic A.J. Liebling once remarked, is guaranteed only to those who own one. We take his point. Mr. Liebling, who died more than a half-century ago, said some other colorful things about the press that still resonate with newspaper readers today. I take a grave view of the press, he said. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy. But better a weak slat than no slat at all.
Exposing the arrogance and pretensions of the press is one of our oldest sports, and nobody plays the sport with more heartfelt relish than newspapermen themselves, who learn early, if they become ornaments of their trade, to detect frauds, and nobody does fraud better than politicians. Fraud is what draws some men to politics, and this makes newspapermen and politicians mortal enemies (with frequent get-togethers under a flag of truce at the hotel bar), which is how it is when politics and press work best.
Politicians have always dreamed of muzzling the press, the better to lead the body politic onward and upward, into what Winston Churchill famously called the broad, sunlit uplands, with the body politic taking no notice that his pocket has been picked until he has been left naked and alone, freezing in the rain and wind.
That dream is one usually shared by politicians of the left and right, held in check in America only by the First Amendment. But in Britain, there is no First Amendment, and this week, the government presided over by David Cameron, a Conservative, announced that it would impose a new system of press regulation to be backed by law. Regulation of speech - and speech is what the press is about - always means suppression of speech. No government in history or in the imagination of man could resist the temptation to impose and suppress if given the power and authority to advise and regulate. …