Why Press Freedom matters

Stack of newspapers

Most people probably give little thought to how lucky we are to live in a society where we can enjoy freedom of the press.

Journalists take a bashing every week for their salacious headlines and alleged scaremongering, but we should be in little doubt about the great service the British press provides.

Yes, the Leveson Inquiry illustrated to us just how far some members of the press will go to get a story, from hacking the mobile phone of tragic murdered teenager Milly Dowler to celebrities and actors.

However, the bigger picture shows us that they have achieved much – not least keeping a watchful eye on those who are elected to represent us, both at a national and local level.

Take the MPs expenses scandal that broke in 2009.

Without The Daily Telegraph breaking that story, we would never have been made aware of the widespread abuse within Parliament, where MPs were using public funds to pay for outrageous expenses, such as the clearing of a moat (yes a moat), packets of dog food, and the removal of a wisteria plant from David Cameron’s home.

Laws relating to the freedom of the press in the UK, and in particular under the Freedom of Information legislation, meant Parliament failed several times in its attempts to prevent disclosure of the expenses misuse. It led to MPs resigning, others being sacked and some being jailed.

As a result, there was political reform that went far beyond the issue of expenses.

Whistleblowing on sub-standard healthcare, wrong-doing of politicians, unsafe public services and hypocrisy of people in power are all routinely reported in the British press – and rightly so.

It enables us to make informed choices and ensures that our leaders and decision-makers are held to account.

There is much wrong in some areas of our press, but there is so much more that is right.

I believe we have the correct balance in Britain. Journalists are constrained when it matters, such as how they treat people accused of crimes before trial, but they are free to criticise Government, the Royal Family and others in power.

We would much rather have our model, than North Korea’s.

This weekend, as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, it is important to appreciate the difficult times the press are having.

Many newspapers, both local and national, are closing down and making redundancies due to the ever-increasing way we digest our news from TV, social media and blogs. Society, however, will be much poorer for their demise. We hope investigative journalism can find a way to continue. We need it.