The Bombshell

Ten years ago already? The invasion of Iraq had its pros and its cons. On the plus side, I was trying to get across the border from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso shortly after it kicked off. I asked a macho looking US border guard if I had to right paperwork. He paused, asked if I was a Brit, and lead to to the front of a very long queue. I remain convinced that the participation of my country in that invasion helped me out. Sort of. I still had to wait for all the other Mexican passengers on the bus I was on to get through before I could finish my journey.

The anniversary of the invasion did get me thinking about the recent military adventures of Great Britain. In my lifetime, I’ve sat back and watched us pummel the Argies in ’82. The Iraqis in 1991 and 2003, with a bit more bombing in ’98 thrown in for good measure. The Balkans throughout the ’90’s. Afghanistan. Sierra Leone. Libya. I dare say I may yet get to come home and flick on the box and watch us drop a few hundred kilos of high explosive on Syria. All watched from the comfort of my TV. I must have paid hundreds of pounds in taxes, maybe thousands, towards those wars. I did participate, absolutely. And I got through it all without a scratch! Is it any wonder that we in the West generally take a different view of war than those in the Middle East, or Latin America or Africa? They seem to get so emotional about it all. What’s up with them? Don’t they have flat screen HD televisions?

Do we all agree that the second invasion of Iraq was probably not terribly justified? I doubt anyone will shed a tear for Saddam. But still. Weapons of mass destruction? What happened with those in the end? Did that turn out to be a big porky pie? We had tyrants of our own, within our borders! Anyway, I have a question. Whose job was it to watch out for tyranny? Churchill once made a famous speech, voicing the importance of a free press to fight against tyranny. Which newspapers in the UK stood up for decency and opposed the invasion of Iraq? Just one of the main tabloids – the Mirror. And their circulation plummeted. The other tabloids who were jingoistically trumpeting Bush and Blair’s march to war took up that lost readership for themselves. So much for the free press standing up against tyranny. As large as those street protests were, the fact remains that a majority of the British public approved of the war. They sat down with me and watched it on TV too.

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A couple of days ago, the UK’s biggest selling tabloid, the Sun, ran a front page story quoting Churchill about the importance of freedom of the press. This was in response to a proposed new Royal Charter to regulate the press. They don’t approve. They didn’t give quite as much space to the story of the arrest of their deputy editor for corrupt and illegal payments to public officials. The most recent in a long line of arrests at that news group. They want self regulation to continue. So I ask another question. If a free press is important to prevent tyranny, what do we do when the press has become the tyrant?

The whole idea of ‘opposing’ regulation is something I find absurd. It’s always been regulated, in every country. The US included. Libel laws, for one. It is of vital importance that the press are given free reign to investigate and publish. Surely, it is also of vital importance that a degree of responsibility, accountability and oversight are also embedded in the industry? In what other industry would we tolerate a complete lack of those three factors? If the industry has proven itself incapable (and in the UK this is most definitely and undeniably the case) of self regulation, then where should the regulation come from if not from a freely elected government?

As an addendum to today’s rant, what does all this mean for bloggers, like me? The details of the Royal Charter are sketchy. But it is an angle that some are looking at. Usually with regards better known bloggers that I, it must be said. Although, as Lord MacApline recently demonstrated, even those with as few as 500 Twitter followers can be at risk of prosecution. However, I’m not going to lose any sleep over this.

3 Comments

  • The desk Sargent being on an editors payroll is as old as the Sargent’s job and the press. We have better ways of keeping track of phone calls now. The day we give the government a better club to beat the press in the head, is the day we give a bit more freedom away. We live in a corrupt world. It should come as no surprise that the press is corrupt as well, yet warts and all it is our only real protection against the all powerful government. The laws on the books work, it just takes a bit of time. Is that a bad thing?

    • I don’t think the freedom of the press is in question. The issue isn’t in preventing the press from investigating, but the independent investigation of the press when complaints are made, and sensible sanctions when they’ve crossed the line. And like I said, as much as we need protection from tyrannical government, what do we do when the press becomes the tyrant themselves?

      As an aside, a licensing requirement would not necessarily be a bad idea for national news agency owners. The Murdochs wouldn’t agree. It’s hard to see how they could be considered fit to hold any sort of license. The recent News Corp scandals have shown that they are either complicit in numerous criminal activities, or so negligent as to be unfit to fill their roles.

      As for the laws on the books – yes they do work, sort of. But if the wheels take so long to go around, then that is a bad thing. Wars, careers, reputations are all finished by the time the legal wheel arrives at the scene.

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