Why A Free Press Is More Important Than Ever

Baroness Buscombe(Daily Mail) – NEWSPAPER COVERAGE of MPs’ expenses and the Iraq War has helped fill the ‘ democratic deficit in Britain’, the chairman of the independent Press Complaints Commission declared last night.

In a forthright defence of the media, Baroness Buscombe said Britain’s ‘dysfunctional democracy’ and supine House of Commons meant the need for a free Press was greater than ever.

Delivering the Society of Editors annual lecture in Stansted last night, Lady Buscombe said the Press could ‘feel proud’ of the way it had exposed the truth about MPs’ expenses and the Government’s ‘misleading spinning of intelligence’ in the Iraq War.

She added: ‘A lack of trust in our institutions seems to be contagious. Yet however sceptical the public may be about Parliament, the judiciary — even the media itself — think how much lower it would be without a free Press.

‘For it must be true that the freer journalists are to criticise, scrutinise and analyse, the more trustworthy institutions become. That is because without freedom of the Press there is no real accountability to the public.’

Lady Buscombe said many MPs and peers were feeling ‘bruised’ by coverage of the expenses scandal. But she said the main lesson was that more transparency and scrutiny was needed, not less.

She added: ‘The absence of scrutiny in the first place allowed a culture of abuse to flourish.’

Lady Buscombe slapped down calls from some MPs, including the former deputy prime minister John Prescott, for the Press to be subject to direct Government regulation. She said the regulation provided by the PCC was both effective and genuinely independent.

Lady Buscombe said the Internet was leading to ‘an historical and permanent shift in favour of free expression over the forces of censorship and restraint’.

But she hit out at the development of so-called ‘super injunctions’ which allow the rich to ban the media from even reporting that they have been gagged.

The injunctions, which have become increasingly common, have developed from judges’ interpretations of the Human Rights Act.

Lady Buscombe said it was a ‘constitutional outrage’ that super injunctions had never been debated by Parliament and called for action to tackle them.

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