We are frequently told that the freedom of the press is to be compromised by any reform of press regulation. It is also regularly asserted that the press in the UK is a free one. But not everyone subscribes to this point of view, and the people at Reporters Without Borders, in compiling their 2014 Press Freedom Index, have devised a methodology that does not show our press in the best light.
Indeed, the UK has slipped down this year’s listing, from number 30 last year to 33 this time. So who is at the top of the pile? As for the last two years, Finland occupies first place, and the Netherlands and Norway in second and third. There is a preponderance of EU member states and other European countries in the top places, although New Zealand (9) and Iceland (8) are in there too.
So where is the United States? Regrettably, it has fallen several places this year, to number 46 in the list. It is separated from France at 39 by Samoa, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Papua New Guinea and Romania. Those recalling all the abuse hurled at the French for the lack of questions put to Monsieur le Shaggeur Hollande over his recent partner difficulties may allow themselves a smile.
The UK and USA have both slipped in the rankings for the same reason: For the USA, “the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power”. The UK “has followed in the US wake, distinguishing itself by its harassment of The Guardian”.
So it was no surprise that the deeply subversive Guardian was the only paper to report on this news, in Roy Greenslade’s blog on Wednesday last. Most of the rest of the Fourth Estate would rather like to have the Guardian harassed, and so keeps schtum. And most is rendered yet less free because of the lack of media plurality – the concentration of titles in very few hands.
What will also count against those titles in future Press Freedom Index releases is the move to establish a press self-regulator that is not independent of the industry. And, as Hacked Off has discovered, supposedly new regulator IPSO has had its articles of association altered so that its initial appointments panel could be appointed in secret – in a flagrant breach of its declaration of openness.
It should surprise no-one that Finland, which has just scored its third consecutive first place in the Press Freedom Index, has properly independent press self-regulation. That means proprietors, editors and politicians cannot interfere in its working – unlike the UK. What so many hacks and their bosses claim would end press freedom – adopting the Leveson recommendations – would do the opposite.
Is there a free press in the UK? Maybe for the few – certainly not for the many.