Censorship and the Media

The British media is being subjected to an unprecedented amount of scrutiny at the moment, in the shape of the Leveson Inquiry. The brief summary of the affair, is that Lord Justice Leveson has been looking into the behaviour of the media, including the phone hacking scandal, and the manner in which the Press Complaints Commission failed to regulate the industry in an appropriate manner. The PCC is a media body itself, thus self regulating. I’m not a fan of self regulation – there is an obvious conflict of interest.

I wouldn’t be a fan of a governmental regulatory body either, for the same reason. I am a fan of a free and responsible media. We have the former at the moment, but have been lacking the latter for a long time. News reporting and opinion should be kept separate. The former should be factual and balanced. The latter can be what it likes. I’d like to see an independent regulator, with the tools to do its job and the clout to fix things when media companies cross the line. Companies wishing to trade as news organisations should be licensed, with clear guidelines as to where the line between fact and fiction lies.

I don’t like censorship. I wouldn’t want to start drawing too many lines over what can or can’t be said, although there are some things which are simply unacceptable. But censorship can start crossing some blurry lines sometimes. I’ve read for a few years, and previously written about, the blog ‘Prisoner Ben’. The author was convicted of murder at the age of 14  and spent more than 30 years in prison. He was proclaimed to be the only prisoner with a blog in the UK, detailing life inside, the struggles he endured and the hopelessness of the prison system. The system tried, unsuccessfully, to shut him down. He persevered through the legal system and won, and continued publishing posts . But back then, when he was banged up, he had little to lose.

He’s no longer in prison, having been released a few months ago. He’s an intelligent guy, who writes reasoned and articulate posts. You might not agree with everything he says. But debate is constructive and hearing arguments from all sides and angles is vital if one is to form a genuine understanding of an issue. His voice is an important one. I will go so far as to say his voice is one of the most important voices in the prison reform debate, given that there are so few from his side of the argument contributing. Whilst I wouldn’t wish to demean or diminish the views of any victim, we don’t have a shortage of victim opinions.

From one of his most recent posts, it would appear that some faceless bureaucrats holding the reins of power are trying once again to silence him. Having been given a life sentence, Mr Gunn was released on license, and will remain on license till he dies. Unless he is returned to prison, of course. And that’s the threat that will hang over him for every day of his life. It’s a perfectly reasonable threat, in my opinion. But only when used to deter re-offending. It’s a threat that is being waved at Mr Gunn at present. For what crime? Has he dug up a stash of stolen loot and booked airline tickets to a sunny far away shore? No, nothing so glamorous. His crime was speaking about the prison system and his life in prison.

Essentially, the argument that is being made is that he must do no work that is not approved by his probation officer/other authorities. Paid or unpaid. Since his release, he has written an article for the Guardian newspaper and appeared on Channel 4 news to speak about prison reform. Unpaid, I understand. He is a prison reform campaigner. He has been allowed to gain employment with the Howard League, a prison reform group. But his interactions with the media, and his continued blogging, seem to be upsetting the authorities. There’s no suggestion, or even a possible argument, regarding him profiting from his crime. Which leaves only one conclusion as far as I can see. They don’t like what he is saying, and so would like to prevent it being said.

It’s sad when a judicial or political body lacks the maturity or dignity to allow a voice to be heard. Dangerous, even. It’s just as sad when we, society, say nothing about it. I’m adding my little voice to the protest here. It’s good to have your own views and preconceptions challenged. I’ve learned plenty from Mr Gunn’s blog. And there can surely be no doubt whatsoever that the British prison system needs more than just a little tinkering with. Recidivism rates are horrifying. There’s clearly a problem, and trying to gag those highlighting the problems doesn’t help solve them – if anything, it exacerbates them by letting those responsible off the hook. The status quo isn’t good enough.

That we release prisoners back into society is a fact, and it will continue. It’s in our interests to return them with the tools and opportunities to become productive members of society. It’s not in our interests to return them with little hope of any future beyond the next offence. Prison needs to be more than simply a punishment for the past, but also (at least, when appropriate) an investment in their future. Like it or not, we have to live with these guys and gals. And once they are back with us, it is churlish and vindictive to unreasonably apply limitations to what they can do and can’t. Everyday things that we take for granted. Most importantly, everyday things which are NOT criminal.

4 Comments

  • I have to agree with Norm. It’s frightening how easy it is to commit a “crime” in the USA these days. The Wall Street Journal even did a story about it within the last 18 months or so. Their conclusion? There are now too many laws to inadvertently run afoul of for anyone to be really safe. That’s a recipe for a fascist system.

    As for free speech, I think the British target of the press is wrong. Hacking into someone’s voicemail should be a crime. Publishing private secrets thereby obtained should be a crime. But in a free society, no one should attempt to regulate the press, however irresponsible it might be. Doing so is the first step toward an authoritarian system, which the British and Americans should rightly abhor.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’d like to see the press calling out politicians’ lies a bit more frequently and loudly.

    • All those things are crimes. And there was a body, one set up and run by the media themselves, that was supposed to investigate complaints of that nature. All media is already regulated in one form or another and has legislation governing it. Be it libel laws or even the First Amendment.

      British newspapers are awful, and full of bull. Our television news programming on the other hand is excellent, despite there being legislation in place that requires TV to be neutral and free of bias. I personally suspect that the two are linked….

  • Here in the USA the law and order crowd eat up or are part of a good bit of GNP. There is a whole lot of money in the part and parcel of putting people in cages. It is an industry bigger than steel making in an industrial land. It has real power over policy and elected officials. There are just not enough murderers and bank robbers to fill the cages so we make things that 20-30% of the people do as a matter of course a crime. I mean if you know about some skulduggery and do not run into the police station and spill the beans and the police find out you kept mum-it is a steel cage for you. We make silly things felonies, we make mandatory steel cage time, we make laws that if you get caught three times-it is throw the key away time; we here in the USA are nuts.
    Good luck with the free speech fight, it is as Nobel of a cause as there is.

    • I assume a lot of prisons are privatised in the US? Here they are almost entirely (although not completely) state run. Which is why some politicians are trying to empty them of as many people as possible to save costs. They’re having trouble convincing the hardliners that this is the way to go.

      Neither of them seem to have grasped that criminals cost money whether they are on the inside or the outside. It’s more productive and cost efficient to turn them into normal working civilians. But that requires initial investment….

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