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Financial Times betrays central principle in stance on media freedom
The Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Independent this week shifted their position towards a compromise on press regulation. Index criticises the change of stance, which risks threatening press freedom
14 Mar 13

The Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Independent this week shifted their position towards a compromise on press regulation. Index criticises the change of stance, which risks threatening press freedom


This letter appeared in the Financial Times on 14 March 

Sir,

It is a sad day when the Financial Times changes its principled and welcome defence of press freedom in the UK to one of pragmatic compromise  (“Time for Sensible Press Compromise” 11/3/13). Your own prior editorials on this issue tell us clearly why this shift from principle to pragmatism is wrong.

Print media are not and should not be above the law. But nor should politicians make laws — or define regulators — that are specifically for the press. The principles are clear. Politicians are in a position of power while newspapers like the FT both hold politicians to account for their exercise of that power through independent, high quality journalism, and they endorse or oppose particular policies, government strategies and advise readers on who they would vote for when elections come round. For all these reasons and more, politicians have every motive to want to influence and control the press (more so than broadcasters who have to remain impartial and balanced).

Statutory underpinning of the detailed characteristics a supposedly “independent” regulator must meet breaches this clear principle of keeping the print media free from political interference. The FT has been a welcome and staunch defender of this principle first when Leveson came out, insisting on the avoidance of a “press law by the back door” (29/11/12), and secondly, when the royal charter was first mooted by David Cameron “well-meaning reform must not unwittingly open the door to state interference in the press” (12/2/13), going on to say that the royal charter would not “banish the shadow of state interference.”

The FT has now moved to the fudge that it rejected a month ago, a fudge Index on Censorship still rejects for reasons we cannot put any  better than you did then: “While some may see such a fudge as a better expedient than statutory control, this newspaper [delete newspaper, replace with Index] continues to favour credible independent regulation at arm’s length from the state.”

 

Kirsty Hughes

Chief Executive

Index on Censorship

London EC1

 

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