The fourth and final policy brief from our series assessing the progress of the Leveson Inquiry and the future of media regulation sees the Director of the Media Policy Project at the London School of Economics Damian Tambini provocatively argue that we should abandon the concept of press freedom altogether.
In his view, the term is increasingly used to protect the self-interest of one of many converging media sectors, to block reforms, and close down debate about the appropriate form of media accountability.
The policy brief shows how the terms ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of the press’ have often been used interchangeably, which was reasonable when printing presses were the principal information distribution platform, but with the rise of broadcasting and the internet it is no longer appropriate to conflate freedom of expression and of the press. In light of this, references to ‘freedom of the press’ in policy debate should be carefully interrogated.
Tambini argues that, if we free policy debate from the constraining notion of freedom of the press, but apply stringent tests of freedom of expression, we are more likely to achieve a policy settlement that stands the test of time.
Freedom of expression and an effective, ethical media system is not always served by reserving special privileges to certain forms of delivery (e.g., print, or ‘the press’), since there is nothing about paper, as a delivery medium, that makes it deserving of special treatment compared to electronic media.
Tambini concludes by predicting that in the future, media regulation will not be determined by delivery platform. Instead, he makes recommendations for a new regulatory framework in which size of enterprise, its importance in opinion formation, and its ability to effectively self-regulate, rather than medium of delivery, should be the guiding principles that determine the scope and nature of regulation.