CATS- Lesson 5

Media Law

The ‘free press’ was established towards the end of the 19th century.

In England, the press overcame the opposition from monarchs, opposition from parliament, and opposition from the courts, and cases brought to court.

The invention of the printing press was viewed by the authority as this was a creation of a device that would be used to uphold the authoritative position.

The press was then expected to be used to print neutral material that would not question the establishment. It was the King’s prerogative to decide who would operate and own a printing press.

Censorship and press licensing was set up after the arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, which existed from mid-1500’s. This was so that the increasing number of books, broadsides and pamphlets could be controlled.

Controls were: the licensing of books and papers, the restrictions on presses and printers, submission of papers to censor prior to publication, freedom to speak limited to the King’s circle- limited right in parliament, harsh penalties for illegal or offending publications- which included seizure and smashing of presses, revoking license; financial penalty, jail for seditious or criminal libel, and physical attacks on the editors.

The 17th century level of authorisation was undermined by liberal ideas- English author John Milton had an argument for the end of licensing, which was called the Aeropagitica pamphlet  It was an illegal tract against censorship and was for the freedom of the press, in 1644.

In 1689 the English Bill of Rights was more a restrained monarchy after the overthrowing of King James II, when parliament asserted its rights over the monarchy.

1694 saw the end of the press licensing law in England.

By early 1700’s there was a much freer public sphere in England, which was serviced by the new unlicensed press. The press claimed to represent the public. Reporting about the parliament was granted in 1771, this then stimulated the growth of reporting and public scrutiny. The government repressed he radical press in the late 1700’s.

Libel laws began to be questioned and reformed.

The modern free press emerged in the 19th century across Europe, North America and elsewhere as part of the growth of liberalism and democratic reform. The idea of a liberal press was spread across the English empire as more and more press laws gradually weakened or were eliminated. Liberal papers pressed for a free economy and marketplace of ideas.

Taxes on papers to control the spread of “mass” or popular papers was removed by the mid 1800’s.

In the 20th century, free speech and free press rights were included in international treaties and international law.

The press is bound by statutes that have a bearing on media-related issues- everything from the Contempt of Court Act (1981), Human Rights Act (1998), and the Freedom of Information Act (2000), to laws that cover defamation, copyright, and the rehabilitation of offenders.

From the Media Law presentation, we covered the path of restriction on the free press in Great Britain, and how laws on what can be written in journalism can stop the business from publishing items that can create an uproar from a certain political, religious, age group. These restrictions aren’t always abided by, and the proposed Leveson regulatory body to the British press about monitoring the content and censoring the media more.

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