It’s rare nowadays to get a single newspaper leader column endorsing a Government policy, never mind severalof them. The default mode is now criticism, in increasingly dire terms, as the Prime Minister’s reputation continues in its death spin.
But Jeremy Wright, the Culture Secretary, has pulled off an unusual feat. His proposed regulations on online content are ‘a good step forward’ according to The Sun, and have ‘pleased’ the Daily Telegraph, along with approving noises elsewhere. Even today’s Financial Times leader about the unintended consequences of heavy-handed digital regulation somehow skips past the UK entirely, even at the moment at which our country is plunging into those very waters.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the exploitation of new technologies by extremists and criminals. It’s understandable to worry about digital communications exposing children to material otherwise restricted to adults. It’s obviously within the bounds of normal policy to consider great regulatory leaps like that proposed today – it undoubtedly contains potential threats to freedom expression, but plenty of other policies demonstrate that that in itself is not felt to be an obstacle, wisely or unwisely.
However, we should be a little wary of exactly why such proposals are hailed enthusiastically, rather than scrutinised and challenged, by the press. The normal role of watchdog – which they do enthusiastically and effectively in most cases – is fuddled by the fact that these regulations are an attack on their rivals. Put simply, Google, Facebook and others have been cannibalising traditional media companies’ revenues, and increasingly threaten to (mis)use their dominance to decide the success or failure of one article or another, and thereby one media outlet or another.
Small wonder that Fleet Street, normally a justified sceptic of the man from the ministry controlling what anyone publishes, has become an ardent cheerleader for the idea of press regulation…just so long as the press in question is Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual outlet, and not anything that appears in paper and ink. Wright’s proposals must be considered and debated as they deserve, on their merits and their flaws, and in full.