Stephen Glover: The threats to our free press seem less acute after this eloquent defence

Media Studies: How impressive his reflections seemed in light of politicians’ manoeuvrings

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, made a magnificent speech last week about press freedom. It can be found very easily online, and I urge you to read it. These were no inconsequential musings from the most senior member of our judiciary. Delivered in clear, beautiful English, what he said amounted to the most powerful and moving defence of a free press that I have heard from a living person, and it is wondrous that such words should have fallen from the lips of a judge. I believe that its effect will be to reduce the likelihood of statutory regulation of newspapers almost to zero.

He quoted the radical journalist John Wilkes, who wrote in 1762: "The liberty of the press is the birthright of every Briton, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country." This meant, Lord Judge said, that a free press belongs not to journalists or the media (or, he might have added, to proprietors) but to "every citizen" and "the community as a whole". He declared that "the independence of the press is not only a constitutional necessity, it is constitutional principle."

In other words, a free press is almost indescribably precious. Lord Judge compared it in importance to the freedom of the judiciary from the Executive. "The independence of the judiciary and the independence of the media are both fundamental to the continued exercise, and indeed the survival of, the liberties which we sometimes take for granted." When did you last hear a judge say such things? Or anyone else, come to that?

Though he deplored "the scandal of telephone hacking which took the form of cruelty to one family and ultimately led to the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry", the Lord Chief Justice recognised the importance of newspapers being able to survive in the marketplace (as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, had done the previous week) and he defended the equal rights of tabloids: "It is part of the exercise of our constitutional freedoms that we should be able to choose for ourselves the newspapers we buy and read. We are not cut from identical cloth."

Well said! This led him to the thought that "whatever means are designed to reduce the occasions of unacceptable behaviour by the elements of the press, they must not simultaneously, even if accidentally, diminish or dilute the ability and power of the press to reveal and highlight true public sandals or misconduct." Without offering specific proposals, he argued that the powers of the self-regulating Press Complaints Commission should be increased, but that statutory regulation must be avoided.

These are the reflections of a refined and enlightened mind. How impressive they seem in light of the self-interested manoeuvrings of politicians! I believe they were intended to frame the debate within the confines of continued self-regulation. Lord Judge said that Lord Justice Leveson would arrive at his own conclusions, but added that he had recommended him to head the inquiry, leaving the inference that he would not have pushed forward a man who did not broadly share his views on press freedom.

The inquiry is expected to last until next summer. I don't doubt that a small number of believers in statutory (ie, government) regulation, most of them not very distinguished academics, are still circling Lord Leveson and his six-person panel in the hope of influencing them. But the debate is now really about how to make self-regulation work better. The biggest challenge is to compel participation. What can be done if Richard Desmond's newspapers remain outside the PCC?

However problematic that may be, Lord Judge's splendid intervention marks a sea change. A day after his speech, a media QC who believes in statutory regulation complained to me that the Lord Chief Justice does not understand the media. Perhaps he doesn't follow the rough-and-tumble, but it seems to me that he grasps the great issues of press freedom as well as any man alive.

 

 

How much time has James Murdoch got left?

 

As was predictable, a revolt last Friday by some News Corp shareholders at their Los Angeles AGM to get rid of Rupert Murdoch and his son James from the media conglomerate did not get very far. The Murdoch family controls 40 per cent of the voting shares, and could rely on further support.

But the fact that there was an open rebellion at all, despite strong profits, is surely highly significant. This probably marks the first step in News Corp's evolution from a family-controlled company to a conventional – and unsentimental – media giant. That would not be good news for many employees on loss-making Murdoch titles such as The Times.

As he is 81, and looking and sounding his age, Rupert may appear more likely to go first, but my money would be on James – and possibly quite soon. He is due to return to the Commons Media, Culture and Sport Committee, where he will be expected to clear up some apparent inconsistencies between his previous evidence and that of former senior News of the World executives. One well-placed company source suggests that News Corp might sack him before he appears lest these inconsistencies redound to the company's detriment.

s.glover@independent.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before