Pick of the news

How would not having a free press affect YOU?

I can imagine to the average person all the talk about whether or not the press should be ‘regulated’ has become somewhat boring. After all, we’ve all got better things to do – where we’re going out tonight, if we can afford that new extension, what to wear – even what to eat for tea. After all, this isn’t really going to affect any of us in our daily lives is it? Pick of the news

I have to say that it if statutory regulation came in – which would be laws passed in Parliament governing what papers can and can’t say – it might not affect many journalists much either. After all, at Featureworld interviewees come to us because they want their story to be in a magazine or paper. Then all copy is read back to them.

And from a commercial aspect, it won’t even matter much to papers either! Because, rather than fill papers with government exposes or strong opinion pieces, they can simply fill their pages with more PR shots from I’m a Celebrity or X Factor. So papers will still exist and people will still read celebrity stories – which are given for free to the press by the PRs trying to get their client publicity. So those ‘sneaky shots’ of someone in their bikini on press websites (where the PR has told a photographer such and such will be on a beach with their new partner etc in the hope they will be ‘secretly’ photographed) will still exist – I am afraid, whether you like it or not, they gain the most clicks!

So if regulation comes in papers will survive, the extraordinarily successful Daily Mail website – which we all take for granted we can visit and read for free (and which will even post your nasty comment about its own paper to boot!) – will undoubtedly continue in its popularity anyway (it’s already the world’s biggest publishing site).

In fact if regulation comes in life could be better for journalists – this is because we can all ignore those stories that are extraordinarily time consuming (but we don’t get paid any more for them!) So rather than spend weeks investigating an issue and painfully checking out all the legals for a double page expose that might not go in anyway if everything doesn’t check out, we can simply fill those pages with some happy unworrying story instead.

It will make turning down stories that the public come to us with even easier. Right now – because of new laws that were introduced over the past few years – some hard news reporting has become fraught with difficulty. For example privacy laws make it much more difficult to report anything about someone’s private life – hence there’s been a big turn away from Kiss and Tell stories.

And then the new Bribery Act means many whistleblowers can no longer be paid. As most whistleblowers don’t want to put themselves at risk for no financial return whatsoever, many of those stories never see the light of day now anyway.

Then, even if it did happen in the past (and remember those journalists arrested on hacking charges have not been found guilty yet…) there’s an abundance of criminal laws to ensure that information can only be got in the right way. Any journalist not abiding by these criminal laws risks going to prison for longer than someone found guilty of killing someone.

And by the way – don’t forget the UK has some of the strictest libel laws. All those who even retweet something libellous now stand to be sued.

We are also all free to choose what we read. You can buy a newspaper in this country or click on one of the many excellent free websites of your choice to get your news as a freebie. You can also choose NOT to buy a paper you don’t like and you can decide not to click on a publication’s website if you don’t think it reports stories in a way you like.

However, if regulation underpinned by law comes in the will be fewer ‘real issues’ than there are in any newspaper now. And some real issues that would affect all of us will no longer be exposed. Newspapers do much to protect the ordinary person, to reveal where our tax really goes, to look at the true stories behind government and celebrity PR’s spin.

The biggest danger is if a government is able to decide what is and what is not in the public interest, it can ultimately use the press to push its own agenda. It could use it to stop stories of corruption or criticism getting out. Editors could be told they will be fined if they publish a story that the government doesn’t want printed. But you and I will never even know.

Free speech is at the heart of this issue. You might not read papers or even watch the news but the laws that are made do have a direct impact on your life, your children’s lives and everyone’s futures.

This is not an issue about newspapers and magazines surviving or continuing to make money because even if regulation comes in, they will do this anyway. The issue is that if regulation underpinned by law comes in, it could stop the press asking questions. It could mean it becomes illegal to speak out negatively against the Government. It will ensure MPs and those in power can cover over any wrong-doings because they will be able to stop stories such as the MP’s expenses scandal from ever being printed.

If regulation of the press comes in what will be next? Perhaps you will find you are no longer allowed to post a your point of view about a celebrity on a website unless they approve it first, perhaps blogs like this will cease to exist? Maybe in future any British person will have what they say on Twitter and Facebook monitored?

A free press is at the heart of free speech, free expression and opinion. It is something we should all value.

What are your views? Do let us know below…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.