300 Years Of Freedom Of The Press – Surely You Jest

Chris Huhne (Comment, 4 November) cites the Express’s claim that “freedom of the press is cast aside after 300 years” without questioning its historical veracity. This absurd claim implies that we had a free press in 1790 when criticism of the social system was a criminal offence, and guilt or innocence could be determined solely by a judge. It suggests that we had a free press in 1850 when the stamp, advertisement and paper duties were still fixed to price newspapers beyond the reach of ordinary people. And it suggests that this embedded press freedom, hallowed by time, will come to an end with the introduction of a cheap and open system of redress for press victims, with a state-underpinned audit every few years to ensure that press self-regulation (unlike its predecessors) works.

This version of history is manifestly self-serving. Yet, the “end of 300 hundred years of freedom” canard is being repeated by a number of papers, not just the Express. This distortion helps to explain why, according to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, the British public was the least disposed to trust its press, out of a total of 27 European countries.

Professor James Curran
Goldsmiths, University of London