Monday, 28 June 2004

The media and democracy

The Today programme on Radio 4 discussed the EU's proposed constitution last week. What was interesting was who discussed it. Not two politicians or even two members of the public - but two newspaper journalists. When Michael Howard became leader of the Conservatives, the first thing he did was go to Mexico to plead with Murdoch. Blair routinely briefs the media before Parliament. When I was in Spain recently I watched a lot of CNN which must be Spanish for American Military Broadcasting. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was followed by "Operation Handover" which was part of "Iraqi Democracy". Politicians are terrified of the media and anyone who dares to speak-up about it is accused of trying to silence the "free press".

But we have to do something. No country can claim to be free and democratic if the media is in the hands of private individuals who have complete freedom to peddle their own political views. So how about this?

1. Restrict newspapers to reporting factual news except in designated sections.

2. Create special sections where personal comments are permitted (with appropriate warnings that these are personal comments - some background on the contributor would be a good idea).

3. If the proprieter insists on peddling his views, limit it to the Editorial section.

4. Corrections and retractions should be given the same prominence (and position) as the original (incorrect) story.

5. Newspaper owners should be personally liable for financial damages brought by anyone who successfully sues the paper (a similar law applies to Trade Union leaders).

6. Strengthened privacy laws for individuals.

7. Prohibit all political comments four weeks prior to an election.

8. Right to reply for everyone who features in a news story (except convicted criminals).

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