The Washington Post

Murdoch, please don’t hurt our free press

A protester wearing a Rupert Murdoch mask demonstrates with a David Cameron puppet outside the London apartment of the News Corp CEO. (Andrew Winning/Reuters)

But some say the scandal is also poised to claim another victim: Free and open journalism.

Cameron has said the country’s press regulatory commission “has failed” and has pushed for a new commission separate from the journalism industry that would examine it more closely.

English writer and political activist George Monbiot is calling for a Hippocratic oath, or promise to practice a profession ethically, for “the least accountable and most corrupt profession in Britain – journalism.”

Professor Juan Cole at the University of Michigan suggested a return to the Fairness Doctrine, a policy of the Federal Communications Commission that required holders of broadcast license to present important but controversial issues in an honest and balanced manner. The policy ended in 1987.

But some are worried about that these kinds of reactions are outsized.

Eric John at Impact Nottingham, the University of Nottingham’s student magazine, wrote in an article “Mr. Cameron, please don’t hurt our Free Press”:

Amid tougher restrictions and strict governance, the journalists who don’t descend on celebrity wheelie bins like a plague of hungry locusts and who don’t mistake public interest for downright perversion might find it harder to do their job. Journalism shouldn’t take the fall when most of the blame lies so squarely on Murdoch’s territory, but I fear that Cameron is in it too deep. ... The public inquiry will probably go ahead, whether we like it or not, and it will probably mean an even more restricted press in a nation where gagging orders are becoming the norm.

In the Christian Science Monitor this week, John Hughes explains the difficulty of such inquiries: No one can agree on whether they are a good idea. Hughes says American media have long debated experimenting with press councils, or independent bodies that would serve as a sounding board for readers who believed a story was unfair, or badly reported. But when the American Society of Newspaper Editors would vote on the desirability of such councils, “the non-binding vote was generally one-third for, one-third against, and a third don’t know.”

It’s hard to imagine French journalist and philosopher Albert Camus agreeing with the vision of regulatory commissions or inquiries clamping down on the press. Camus famously said that “Free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything but bad.”

Would Camus approve of a middle road path, such as a Hippocratic oath or return to the Fairness Doctrine? It’s hard to say.


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