James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - An independent press is essential for democracy (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - An independent press is essential for democracy
12:00pm Thursday 21st March 2013 in News
I voted for – and welcome – the final agreement over press regulation. It seems to answer our demands for higher standards of behaviour from the press, and to do so without introducing any kind of state control.
The excesses of the national press in recent years – the phone hacking was despicable. So was the selling of police information to the press. So is much of the character assassination which the tabloids in particular love to feed us with. Yet all three things are already either against the law or risk action for defamation.
Many journalists, policemen and others already face prosecution and probable prison sentences and/or substantial damages.
Existing law protects us against many of those abuses, and always has. So the line of argument which those who were in favour of heavy legislative regulation of the press were using: “If you feel outrage over Millie Dowler, then vote for Parliamentary control of the press” was simplistic and substantially misleading.
Our democracy depends on a free press. The Royal Charter secured by Mr Cameron will ensure that this continues, while preventing further outrages.
It provides the robust independent regulation called for by Lord Justice Leveson, for prominent apologies, million pound fines, a standards code, a free arbitration service for victims and speedy complaint-handling mechanisms.
By coincidence, I was a bit unhappy with last week’s Gazette. John Craig’s excellent article entitled ‘How do we restore faith?’ was all about the mis-selling of insurance, and the fatal undermining of public confidence as a result of it.
In the middle appeared a photo of Chris Huhne, with the caption ‘Chris Huhne is the latest in a long line of disgraced MPs’ despite the fact that there is no other mention of him. The quote: “We now know that many MPs were fiddling their expenses and cheating the public” positioned above Duncan Hames’ and my columns, seemed to insinuate that we were involved in the scandal. That ignores the fact that Duncan was not an MP then, and that I was exonerated.
Had I known about it, I might have been tempted to try to persuade the editor to change the presentation.
Yet I support the Gazette editor’s right to report news and views about public figures in whatever way he chooses. An independent, enquiring and outspoken press is an essential element of our free democracy.