As the publication of the Leveson Report looms, it’s natural to compare the British press with that of other countries. Many have claimed that, if we’re not careful, our country could slide towards the lamentable state which afflicts others, such as China, Russia or Syria. In this post, we review various claims about where Britain is going.
Note: we’ve chosen to treat mentions of a country’s leader or dictator as equivalent to mentions of the country itself. We find these are often used interchangeably and that the implication is the same.
A popular prediction is that Britain will go the way of Greece. Europe’s now-proverbial basket case is a popular comparison due to the case of Kostas Vaxevanis, a journalist who was arrested for publishing a list of potential tax evaders passed to his government by French finance minister Christine Lagarde.
In The Sun, former political editor Trevor Kavanagh warned that “regulating press would bring Greek tragedy to Britain”. In the Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn said of Vaxevanis’ case: “don’t kid yourself it couldn’t happen here”. And Dominic Sandbrook’s lengthy piece in the same paper brackets Leveson with other evidence of a ‘New Dark Age’. If we introduce “statutory regulation”, Sandbrook writes, Vaxevanis’ case “would become disturbingly familiar”.
Touring the Dictators
But other commentators look further afield. In the Telegraph, John Kampfner called laws that chill free speech “the preserve of places like China and Russia.” A news piece in The Sun about the NUJ offered as contextual information the fact that “China, Iran, Russia, and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe have state-controlled media.” Zimbabwe got another mention in the Telegraph.
In the Mirror, Alan Johnson urged the government not to respond to the Leveson report by “doing anything North Korean”. For Spectator Fraser Nelson, meanwhile, (who we responded to at the weekend) Bahrain was the touchstone of choice.
The Holy Trinity
Leading the pack, however, are three countries often mentioned together: Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran (perhaps we should call them the axis of regulation). In the Press Gazette, Tim Luckhurst warned how pleased the leaders of Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran would be if the UK passed new press laws. The same countries were cited in a Sun editorial on 6th November, now sadly no longer online, which warned of the consequences should Britain adopt “Stalinist-style state regulation”. “We would end up like Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran,” it wrote, “with State stooges and politicians deciding what can or can’t be printed in your Sun.”
All three nations appear in a comprehensive advert by the Free Speech Network, which printed portraits of their leaders with the caption: “These people believe in state control of the press. Do you?” The advert also included another hit for North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un and first-time appearances for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad.
Based on this review, we’re anticipating a strong shift for Great Britain in the direction of Russia, Zimbabwe, and Iran (official languages Russian, English and Farsi, respectively). However, we’ll be watching Lord Justice Leveson’s Thursday speech very closely in order to analyse just where the country could be going if his recommendations are adopted. We’ll keep you posted.