The idea of freedom of speech is in a dangerously enfeebled condition in Britain. Hardly anyone understands why no editor has agreed to comply with the state’s attempt to regulate the press — a measure which takes us back, if not to the court of Henry VIII, then at least to the Stuarts and Presbyterians John Milton fought. “But the BBC is regulated,” people lecture me in a voice of irritated incomprehension. “It is not in the government pocket, or a propagandistic state broadcaster. On the contrary, it is impartial and far less propagandistic than half the newspapers and websites you are perversely seeking to defend.”
I try to tell them that the BBC keeps its independence because a forest of free institutions surrounds it. Allow the state to fell the trees and a cold wind will blow through the corporation. No one should doubt that the state is now sharpening its axe and running its finger along the blade. The celebrities and media studies academics at Hacked Off have pushed the politicians into illiberalism — not, I should add, that our leaders required much of a shove.