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Just as We Need a Media That Is Properly Regulated, We Need to Encourage Responsible Reporting

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The Huffington Post's emergence onto the UK media scene could not have come at a better time. With newspapers under fire over phone hacking allegations, public confidence in our media establishment has been well and truly rocked. New news outlets, like this one, will undoubtedly provide a welcome breath of fresh air.

The hacking scandal throws up an array of insights. But one in particular stands out to liberals: information is power. It always has been. When elites deploy secretive and opaque practices, it is nearly always to protect their own position. And when you reveal those secrets, you rock the foundations of the powers that be. Just think back to Wikileaks for that.

Or think of the Arab Spring. It's well-understood that Twitter and other social networking sites are playing an unprecedented role in galvanising support for popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East. So, yes, he who holds the secret holds the key. But those who can spread the word can break the door down.

And it's how we treat information that divides societies across the world today. There are closed societies, where dictators and propagandists reign supreme; where citizens are discouraged from looking out at the world; and the rest of the world is prevented from looking in.

And there are open societies, where information is dispersed; where people are given the facts to make their own choices; and the state is properly transparent so that the people it serves can hold it to account.

The UK falls of the right side of that divide - an open and democratic society. But this week's headlines remind us we mustn't take that for granted. We must continuously work to ensure that those who wield power do so in plain view. And we must make it possible for the powerless to speak out against vested interests.

In the media, that means a full, judge-led public inquiry to get to the bottom of the hacking allegations, as well as a further inquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of the British press. And we need to replace our feeble Press Complaints Commission with a body that is truly independent, and willing and able to take on powerful media interests when needed.

Just as we need a media industry that is properly regulated, we also need to encourage responsible reporting that serves the public interest - impartial, investigative journalism, in print, on screen and online. That's why the Government is reforming English libel laws to better protect public-spirited journalists, bloggers and academics seeking to blow the whistle on big corporations and wealthy individuals.

We're shining a light across our politics too, not least so taxpayers can see where their money is going. It will now be easier than ever to find out how much was spent, on what, and paid to whom, with public spending figures regularly updated online.

And, as the Government set out yesterday in our blueprint for Open Public Services, we want the UK to set the bar in terms of the access to information people have about the schools, hospitals and other services they rely on. Unprecedented levels of data will now be made available - in plain English and in a way people can really use.

Parents, for example, will be able to see how successful local schools are in helping children of different abilities achieve better. People will be able to judge nearby health services by reading up on the experiences of other patients. You'll have access to a map that shows you how well crime is combated on your street. And, where information isn't already available on how well local services are performing, people will have a new, legal right to request it.

So, from the media, to politics, to public services, we need to be vigorous in breaking up opaque practices and in dispersing information. That's how we empower citizens. Its how we create institutions they can trust. That's an open society. And it's a liberal society too.