|Independent Press does not exist|
|Wednesday, 12 September 2012 08:47am|
©Malay Mail (Used by permission)
by Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani and Meena Lakshana
THERE is no such thing as an independent press.
This is the opinion of Lord David Pannick, QC, a leading barrister in the United Kingdom.
He told The Malay Mail on Sunday there was a distinct difference between a free press and an independent press.
“I think it’s very important for people to accept that freedom of the press does not mean newspapers are scrupulously objective and independent,” he said.
“There is no such thing. Everybody has a particularly subjective view on political, economic and social issues.
“So a free press means there is a whole range of different viewpoints, different influences and it’s not regulated in that sense.”
Pannick said in England, although there is freedom of the press, it was not independent of political affiliations, and though a free press is a vital element of a free society, it could serve as a double-edged sword.
“That depends on the press being responsible. It’s a matter of self-control, not to abuse the freedom that it has and there are real dangers in empowering somebody to decide which person should be allowed to run a newspaper and not leave it to the free market,” he said.
However, Pannick said statutory regulation of the press was "a bad idea" because free speech should not be restricted to "more than absolutely necessary" and all restrictions placed on the media must be justified.
He said though free speech was the hallmark of a free society, it did not entail the notion that free speech will prevail and sometimes, injunctions against the press were necessary, provided it was justified.
“There are restrictions; we all recognise there are laws of obscenity, libel, contempt and official secrecy that restrict the rights of journalists and others to say what they want," he said.
“I think you need to look carefully at each case to see if the restriction is necessary, which means not just convenience for the government, not just to prevent something embarrassing from being published; there must a real interest that is being protected.”
He also said the challenge remains for a free society to reconcile civil liberties with the pressures that a modern society faces, particularly with the advent of terrorism.
“There was a famous statement from an American Supreme Court Justice in the 1940s, Mr Justice Jackson, who said that a bill of rights or a written constitution is not a suicide pact," he said.
“I mean there are limits and you can’t allow for someone to express a view that is desirable for other people to blow up the House of Parliament.”
Pannick said the UK is facing such a problem, after enacting a host of anti-terrorism laws that critics say impinge on freedom of speech.
He said there are stipulations for secret hearings, whereby evidence against a litigant is not communicated to them. “They don’t know the case against them. These are troubling developments,” he said.
Pannick is a cross-bencher in the House of Lords and practices in the ambits of public law and human rights.
He appeared in The Sunday Times for the Spy-catcher case in the 1980s.
He was in Malaysia to deliver a lecture on the relevance of contempt of court legislation at the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture delivered in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday, postulating that the offence of scandalising the judiciary should be abolished.
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