The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

Well, my intention with submitting this short note was to respond to the questions that were posed because I thought they were very important questions. I think we've seen with the Inquiry as it's gone on the notion of the free press being used as a principle and a reference point in a way which is usually helpful but I would say not always extremely helpful, and we need to be careful in using the term.

It may be helpful if I -- if you'll permit me, I'll tell a short story for an example of when it's used in an unhelpful way. As a policy adviser in the early 2000s, I, whilst at IPPR, commissioned quite a lot of research on privacy and the press. In collaboration with the pre-Ofcom regulators, I commissioned, for example, a large survey on the attitudes of the public to the public interest in the context of different forms of media intrusion, and I also published a book on the topic.

Now, the reason this is relevant to the notion of the free press was because I was thinking about what, as a very low level policy wonk, you might do. There were clearly some issues there coming out of the research in terms of public concerns. At the time there was a Select Committee inquiry looking at similar issues, there was a controversy about whether a privacy law might be necessary and the impact of the Human Rights Act, and thinking about how to take things forward, having developed this research, I, as normal in these kind of circumstances, began to speak to people close to the government -- advisers, et cetera -- and one of the things which I found very memorable about this conversation was the phrase which met me from one of these relatively senior policy advisers: "We won't go there; that's freedom of the press."

This alerted me to the fact that whilst, motherhood and apple pie, this is not a -- nobody would ever argue against the freedom of the press, you must really be a little bit concerned about when this term is being used in a way which is, if you like, a slogan to protect press interests rather than what I would hope is being meant in terms of a principled objection to forms of censorship.

I can go into, if you would like, some description of some particular problems which I've outlined in the note with the term and how it is sometimes used.

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