With Leveson now published, and much debate on the subject being reported, I think it is worth pointing out that the Internet is not the only elephant in the room in these discussions.
So long as newspapers are owned by super-rich oligarchs, ex-pornographers and the like, and mirror or reflect in any way the views and prejudices and over-weening habits of such individuals, those newspapers are not free and what they say is not free. They act in effect as fiefdoms for their owners and the words they publish are words enslaved. If we are to look in the editorials of the Sun for what Murdoch thinks, then we are reading there the words of a Murdoch creature, a dot orc from Murdor, not a free individual speaking his own truth based on what he finds or sees.
The origins of the word “free” are interesting. Read the Franklin’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Franklin concludes with the question, who was the most “fre” of the three protagonists ? By “fre,” the Franklin meant something very different from our understanding of “free.” He meant noble, large-souled, liberal, generous of spirit, self-sacrificing in the cause of some higher principle. Our present “free” has been reduced to meaning merely unrestricted and egocentric and this in turn is seen as a pure good. But unrestricted and egocentric is not a pure good. To leave people “free” to let their dogs shit in the park is not a pure good and most of us recognise that, which is why the fairly recent law which results in dog owners following their pets around with little plastic bags in their hands, is a good law and is generally respected.
Following that principle, I am all for very tight regulation of whatever of the press can be regulated, thereby restricting them from shitting in the park of the body politic, so that true free speech can thrive and be trusted, in its redoubts, and the oligarchs be held in check.
And following the dog-shit image, I often find myself using it to assess other contemporary behaviours, associated with “freedom.” For instance, is the accumulation of extreme individual wealth, so that you have far more money than you need, a worthy aim, a worthy expression of freedom, or merely a nasty habit, an anti-social act ? Is the rich individual a human “success” or merely someone who allows his dog to shit in the park, at the expense of his or her community ?
Emily Bell has salutory things to say in the Guardian today. See : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/28/leveson-irrelevant-21st-century-journalism