Over at the New Statesman, I recently did a post suggesting the correct meaning of “freedom of the press”.
That post was prompted by the realisation that the phrase (c 1662) pre-dated the popular newspaper industry (1800s), which we associate in this country with “Fleet Street”.
(The post was also culled from part of a supplementary witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry.)
Instead of “the Press”, I urged that we thought more in terms of the access to a press.
In the days before broadcasting and electronic communications, and before newspapers, the main way one could express an idea beyond your immediate circle of neighbours and correspondents was by means of mass production of printed material. (The only real alternative was as a touring orator or teacher.)
Therefore freedom of the press meant that, in essence, anyone could seek to make a public impact.
And as such, freedom of the press cannot really be regulated, as anyone can purchase or hire a press.
In that exposition I was seeking to compare the old pamphleteers with modern bloggers and tweeters.
So, if freedom of the press is taken in this wider sense, with the diminishing number of full time professional journalists working on established titles as a subset, what – if any – are the implications?
(Other than the perhaps trivial point that Fleet Street cannot exclusively invoke the phrase to protect their own practices.)
Does it make any real difference?
Any further thoughts?