I am all in favour of a free press. There will be times when they get it wrong, and will need to apologise. There may be times when journalists break the law. They should be punished like anyone else. There will be many times when they publish the inconvenient, the badly spun or the difficult to take. But I would rather live in a society where there is a free press than one where there is not. Sometimes they get their facts wrong, sometimes they express opinions I have good reasons not to agree with, but that is no case for regulating them.
Labour and Lib Dems are now keen to set up statutory regulation for the press. I do not like that idea. Labour’s excessively complex and extensive regulation of banks and financial services did not prevent the worst crash of the last eighty years occurring on their watch. The EU’s excessive regulation of our energy does not deliver enough cheap energy to homes and factories. No amount of health and safety regulation can prevent all untimely and unwelcome deaths in our hospitals. We need to be realistic about the limits of what regulation can achieve.
We also need to recognise that too much of the wrong kind of regulation can divert attention from regulators and governments doing what only they can do. The excessive detailed regulation of the Brown era meant they did not regulate the quantity of money, credit and capital that needed controlling to prevent boom and bubble, though they had powers to do so and were advised to do so by some of us.
So why do Labour think they would be any better at regulating the press? What action would they have taken to stop phone hacking in its infancy? How could a government regulator be truly independent of the government which has such a close relationship with newspapers? I will vote for the least intrusive regulation on offer, as I am suspicious of the motives behind the wish to regulate, and sceptical of the ability of any new regulators to get it right if appointed.