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Marcus Middleton Headshot

Protect Freedom of the Press

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There were a lot of upset and angry people in England over the weekend.

There are still a lot of upset and angry people and I understand why. But believe it or not, the most upset and angry people among us are not the public, the politicians, or the victims of these crimes. They are the journalists.

Trust me, as a journalist (a phrase I can never use again) we are furious. We are furious because the immoral and reprehensible behaviour of a limited few has tarnished our profession in the eyes of every decent person in the world. The immoral and reprehensible acts of that few; they have left a stain of shame upon us that can never be removed.

I cannot begin to imagine how the McCann family felt when they had their lives torn apart for the sake of a story. Nor the false hope that was given to the parents of Milly Dowler. We cannot forgive nor can we forget how the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers was repaid when unscrupulous journalists invaded their family's grief. We cannot forgive, because this behaviour can never be excused.

But despite the anger, tempers must remain idle. We must ensure that we stop, we think, and that cooler heads prevail. We must punish the 'people' responsible for these practices, rather than attack the principal of free speech.

This is what I think Prime Minister David Cameron was trying to say when he said;

"It would be a dereliction of our duty in this House of Commons, which has stood up for free press for centuries, to cross the Rubicon by legislating without thinking carefully."

I applaud the Prime Minister today. Because he stood up in the face of intense pressure from public opinion and he didn't say what was popular, he didn't say what would make life easier, and he didn't say what would win him some votes.

He stood up and he said what he knew in his heart was right, no matter how unpopular it was.

Those are not the actions of a politician... Those are the actions of a leader.

He knows, (like I am sure we all do deep down), that it was the people at fault, not the principle. The people were wrong and hey, look where the News of the World is now? Doesn't that prove we don't need to legislate against free press? We have a free people that will hold the press accountable for their actions.

At the end of the day, that's what it all comes down to... Accountability.

It comes down to us doing what is right.

There shouldn't need to be a code of practice, there shouldn't need to be laws, rules and regulations. All there should be is a journalist sitting there saying "No. What we're doing or what I am about to do... I cannot do it because it is wrong."

Why is there no one in this world that is willing to stand up these days and say "Sorry, I was wrong"?

We all did it when we were children, why don't we do it anymore? I am ashamed to say that there is a new breed of journalists out there with no morals, no values, and no conscious. These are the few who simply have to have "the story at any cost".

I've already seen a swag of them come and go in my short career. They walk into the newsroom, always larger than life. They file the big stories, get the big scoops, have their name up in the headlines and become the darlings of the news directors.

However sooner rather than later, they're caught out doing something they shouldn't have done or they burn and backstab one contact too many, and they're gone. They're discarded, tossed aside never to be seen again... They're cast out to live the rest of their lives working as real estate agents or used car salesman. That is all they're good for.

I've been lucky enough in the first decade of my career to be apprenticed to some of the finest and talented journalists in the world. The first lesson they all taught me before anything else was; "never do anything that will give you trouble sleeping at night."

We shouldn't need legislation. I put it back on all journalists; "before you take action, think about what you are doing. If you feel that it's wrong, or if you feel guilty for doing it, than chances are... You shouldn't be."

We do not need regulators, we can regulate ourselves. I put it back on all audiences, whether it be a new 'palace scandal', 'celebrity love rat' or 'insiders view on tragedy'. Please don't buy a paper, don't read a website, don't listen to a radio or watch a television where you think that the journalists are engaging in practices that are anything less than honest.

After what has transpired so far this century in the press, I think all journalists need to remember the responsibility and trust we are given by the public and need to be accountable for our actions. We don't just owe to the victims and the wider audience, but we owe it to the great people who did this job before us.

We owe it to the greats who didn't need legislation to tell them what was right or wrong because they had a moral compass show them the way. We owe it to those journalists who didn't bow to political pressure, that weren't intimidated by their network sales departments, and that weren't bought off by a free TV, holiday, or I-Pad. It is up to us now to remember their example and to bring a bit of 'personal accountability' back into our profession.

Our careers are spent dealing with people who are trying to hide the truth. However there is 'searching for the truth' and there are the unspeakable acts that have come to light during this whole affair. It is up to us to tell the difference, to do what is right. Through free press we have the power to change and shape the world. Whether we change it for better or worse is solely up to us.

No story is that big or that important that it's worth selling your soul for. And if there really is a story that big and that important, there will always be another, legitimate way to get it. You just have to try harder, otherwise you're just being plain lazy.

Freedom of the press is a fundamental human right that cannot be tampered with. It must be preserved and protected; there should be riots in the streets and blood on our hands if any Government ever threatens to take it away from us. Because once it is gone, it will never come back.

Every society that has ever forfeited its press freedom has gone backward. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China. Even if we give up just a little ground, then all is lost.

You can't legislate, even just 'a little bit'. Because once the voice of the people is silenced, who will be left? Who will be there to stand up, speak out with strength and defend the defenceless?

Lord Leveson is right in his report. All of his concerns are valid ones. He asks all the right questions, and all of his objections should be made. We should all be aware so we can question the material that we read. But in the market place of ideas, truth is the most powerful currency. In the marketplace of ideas, a good argument will always beat a bad, in the marketplace of ideas, fact will always overpower fiction.

We hold our public figures to a higher standard because of the responsibilities they are entrusted with. Maybe it is time we started doing the same with the people that write about them too.