Brian Leveson
Lord Justice Leveson's report into the media has sparked a debate and led to a Royal Charter, which will establish a press regulator (Reuters)

Free expression is a natural right. From free expression, publishers are born. Among these publishers is the press. Among the press are journalists: the growling watchdogs, polemical commentators, wordsmith agitators, exposing investigators, and meticulous scrutinisers.

Any move to regulate the activities of the press is therefore an assault on its founding freedom, a pillar in any worthwhile democracy, and one enjoyed by everyone else in society. It is not just an assault on professional journalists, but on every single citizen. This is intensified by the internet, where anyone with broadband access and the will can publish at leisure on blogs or social media.

The press is no longer a handful of mainstream publications, it is an unending fountain of content on the web flowing from all our keyboards. The royal charter will cover all "news-related material", an impressively broad and sinister umbrella definition under which will be seemingly everyone in Britain.

It is here that we must make an important distinction when we discuss the press. It is a distinction not made by politicians about to put their clammy palms within reaching distance of the throats of journalists and all news-related material purveyors.

The looming spectre of parliament hangs in the background, clutching a well-thumbed copy of the Leveson report. It has been passed around like a porno magazine (presumably covered by the new charter) at an all-boys school, arousing so much titillation that some of the pages are stuck together.

This is the moment many have desired. This is the moment their fantasies of sticking one up Murdoch and his ilk could come true. This is the moment for revenge they have lusted after for years.

Rupert Murdoch, Leviathan

To them and their supporters, which scandalously and traitorously includes the National Union of Journalists, the word "press" is synonymous not with the ferocious watchdogs who work in the industry but the oligarchs who own a significant and decaying part of it.

As such, they see this as a battle against the likes of Rupert Murdoch, media's evil and all-powerful Leviathan, fought by such sainted martyrs of immorality as Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan. They despise the Murdoch empire in particular, and its pernicious influence on British politics as slathering, servile politicians queued up to kiss the Dark Lord's ring in exchange for favours.

So distracted are they with a visceral hatred for Murdoch, the royal charter's supporters - many of whom are journalists - cannot see they are standing on the same set of tracks and are about to be flattened by the freight train carrying a press law.

If press ownership in Britain is your concern, Leveson can do nothing for you. Call the Competition Commission and demand an inquiry into the oligopolistic nature of the UK's national media market instead because your misguided fight is leading you to punch innocents in the face.

If you are angered by phone hacking, Leveson can do nothing for you. It is already illegal. Call up the Metropolitan Police and ask them why they did not do their job properly in the first place when presented with evidence of widespread hacking.

Ask them why no senior officers have properly been held to account for their see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach.

The foul stench of corruption stings the nostrils but the police will not disinfect the mess on their own doorstep. Neither are they being asked - or told - by politicians to do so.

If damaging allegations and invasion of privacy are your concern, Leveson can do nothing for you. Both libel and privacy laws already exist, and both are routinely taken advantage of. When the Daily Star published vile falsehoods about the McCann family and their missing daughter Maddy, the courts offered a remedy through defamation law.

Stringent curtailments

When Max Mosley was secretly filmed with prostitutes, he picked up the whiplash and took the press to court for invading his privacy, he argued, without the justification of public interest. The judge agreed and another remedy was found.

These are already stringent curtailments of our natural right to free expression, and in themselves need reform to favour the public interest over that of the powerful, as well as make it easier for those without vast sums of money, but who have been wronged, to access a legal remedy.

If your biggest concern with the press is that you do not agree with what some parts of it say, or you find some sections offensive, then welcome to freedom of expression. You will not agree with everyone. What you find offensive, others may not. Get over it or, when the balance of power shifts against you, expect to be criminalised by those who find you offensive, if this is the standard you are going to set.

Laws already curb free expression too much. Laws already protect the privacy of citizens. Laws allow the national media market to be divided up by a small group of self-interested billionaires, like the press baron days never ended.

Focus on incentivising good journalism - which requires some risk in the face of legislation - by writing robust public interest defences into laws such as the Official Secrets Act. Empower individual journalists in the workplace with conscience clauses to support them in standing up against unethical behaviour, something that Leveson did suggest but which has fallen off the radar.

The royal charter, likely to be underpinned by statute and bear some of Leveson's foulest fruit, does nothing to help the journalist and everything to help the vested interests of the powerful.

It drops the drawbridge over the moat between politicians and the media. It is a direct link between the ruling legislature and the journalists - mainstream, local, radical, online, offline, leftwing, rightwing, citizen - who are trying to hold its almighty power to account. This is not good in any democracy.

What's more, the system of exemplary damages for those who do not sign up to the new regulator makes this press licensing in all but name.

Index on Censorship

As George Mason, dubbed the "Father of the US Bill of Rights", said, the freedom of journalists "is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments".

Index on Censorship, the campaigners for free expression who stand up against tyranny in much less free parts of the world than Britain and are far removed from the vested commercial interests of press owners, are also dismayed.

"Index is against the introduction of a royal charter that determines the details of establishing a press regulator in the UK - the involvement of politicians undermines the fundamental principle that the press holds politicians to account," said Kirsty Hughes, chief executive.

"Politicians have now stepped in as ringmaster and our democracy is tarnished as a result.

"Requiring a two-third majority from both Houses for future changes in the royal charter introduces political involvement for all time into press regulation in the UK. It is a bleak moment for the UK's international reputation as a country where press freedom is cherished as a fundamental principle and right.

"The fact that this requirement is now being applied to all royal charters is a rushed and fudged attempt to pretend this is not just a press law; it resembles precisely the kind of political manoeuvring we see in Hungary today - where the government is amending its own constitution through a parliamentary vote undermining key principles of their democracy."

There has been much hyperbole in the tabloids over Leveson. They have inflated their own attitudes to freedom and are posturing to, largely, protect their own commercial interests. It is tempting - apparently too tempting for many - to say "you had your chance and you screwed up. You are quick to sell out our freedoms when its suits your own agendas. You reap what you sow."

As the clichés go, two wrongs do not make a right. Do not cut off your nose to spite your face.

Pity the fool who would sacrifice their own values on free expression just to settle an old score with an enemy. What are freedoms worth if you would give yours up just to deny them to those you hate?
Shane Croucher is a business reporter for IBTimes UK.