Over at Dizzy Thinks, there is a rather fine article asking if it’s time to apply the Stalin test once more. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, but it poses this very simple question, which I’ve paraphrased as “What would Stalin do?” being more eloquent he sums it up as:
“The purpose of the question is to ask ourselves what the potential future enabling power of our actions might be.
In fact, we don’t have to use Stalin. We could as easily use someone closer to home, our own authoritarian and totalitarian dictator, Oliver Cromwell and his puritanical zeal. Would he like the idea of statutory regulation of the press?”
This is the question I find myself asking every time a new bit of legislation comes out to protect this, save that or control the other. What is the worst possible way this legislation could be applied, if someone in power had it in for me how could they use this legislation against me, or any other group of people. At the moment we’re assured that everyone in Government, the judiciary and civil service are terribly nice chaps and wouldn’t possibly ever stretch a law to target a group that the law wasn’t actually aimed at. Now even ignoring that for the patent nonsense it is, lets suspend disbelief for a moment and assume it’s true, can we always assume that it will be true in future? Or should we be asking our legislature to perhaps not pass laws that some future unpleasant sort might decide to use in less terribly nice and maternal ways?
If a contract had a clause in it which said that the other party could at some point rip out your spleen for using a proscribed word, you wouldn’t sign it – would you? Even if you were assured that the current management who you get on with terribly well only have it in place due to some terribly terribly horrid things some rough sort once said, and that obviously it would never apply to you. So why do we accept the same sort of self amending catch all laws from our Government and more to the point why do they keep passing them? Today it may be press regulation, but how that’s regulated and what counts as the press is all terribly nebulous and easy to change. As has been observed all the terribly phone hacking and such was already illegal and people are getting charged for it, why do we need yet more legislation and more bureaucrats (at more cost) to gild it? So would Stalin like to have a statutory body to regulate the press, I suspect he might. Even if it’s not made of politicians who’s going to appoint the body? Will the people on the body perhaps want to keep the person who appointed them sweet to stay appointed and remunerated? Of course I’m not saying a regulated press in the UK will become Pravda, but it would be putting into place the frame work to make it a lot easier and more likely that it future it might do.
I’ll leave the last word to Dizzy:
“Right now we live in a democratic country. We vote, and we can, at least every few years, remove the Government and put in a new one. As you mull over whether you agree with the statutory regulation of the press remember this, it might not always be that way, and if it isn’t do you think such regulation will be a friend or enemy of any future tyrant? “