Compare and contrast the following two positions. First, from Rupert Murdoch’s editors at the Times and Sunday Times, giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry:
The editors of the News International-owned Times and Sunday Times have told the Leveson inquiry they were implacably opposed to any form of statutory regulation of newspapers because of the “chilling effect” it may have on the press.
The editor of the Sunday Times even goes so far as to say:
[...] he would have “very serious doubts about some sort of statutory body that’s been set up by parliament” because he thinks further down the line “politicians would be tempted to intervene”.
So statutory regulation, for Mr Murdoch’s editors – and presumably Mr Murdoch himself – is quite out of order.
I agree too.
However, Mr Murdoch – himself – doesn’t seem to entirely agree with himself. At least, not in a slightly different context. Witness this story from last year on the subject of his very personal support in favour of far-reaching legislation – SOPA and PIPA – to control what is published, where and how on the worldwide web:
News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch threw his weight behind Congress’ attempt to restrict the Internet, personally lobbying leaders on Capitol Hill Wednesday for two measures that purport to combat piracy.
The implications of SOPA and PIPA – if you’re not entirely aware – are summarised at EFF’s site here:
In addition to going after websites allegedly directly involved in copyright infringement, a proposal in SOPA will allow the government to target sites that simply provide information that could help users get around the bills’ censorship mechanisms. Such a provision would not only amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint against protected speech, but would severely damage online innovation. And contrary to claims by SOPA’s supporters, this provision—at least what’s been proposed so far—applies to all websites, even those in the U.S.
As First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for anti-circumvention so they are not subject to court actions ‘enjoining’ them from continuing to provide ‘such product or service.’” That means social media sites like Facebook or YouTube—basically any site with user generated content—would have to police their own sites, forcing huge liability costs onto countless Internet companies. This is exactly why venture capitalists have said en masse they won’t invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass. Websites would be forced to block anything from a user post about browser add-ons like DeSopa, to a simple list of IP addresses of already-blocked sites.
Perhaps worse, EFF has detailed how this provision would also decimate the open source software community. Anyone who writes or distributes Virtual Private Network, proxy, privacy or anonymization software would be negatively affected. This includes organizations that are funded by the State Department to create circumvention software to help democratic activists get around authoritarian regimes’ online censorship mechanisms. Ironically, SOPA would not only institute the same practices as these regimes, but would essentially outlaw the tools used by activists to circumvent censorship in countries like Iran and China as well.
So. On the one hand, in Britain, in the context of the printed press, Mr Murdoch is right about state regulation. Such regulation would inevitably lead, at some time in the future, to governments and individual politicians spreading out from such legislative “beachheads” – as they took lazy intellectual and strategic advantage of the opportunities thus presented.
On the other hand, however, as his adventures in MySpace and other online ventures have indicated, his knowledge and intuitive understanding of the ways of the worldwide web leave much to be desired:
Many questions and jokes about My Space.simple answer – we screwed up in every way possible, learned lots of valuable expensive lessons.
And, unfortunately, the primary lesson he seems to have learned is that whilst the package that is politicians, governments and state regulation is indisputably bad – phone-hacking, Leveson and bizarre print media behaviours notwithstanding – it would seem that he thinks the package that is private businesspeople, content corporations, the Internet and the once again aforementioned thorny state regulation – in the form of massively invasive new laws which give a potentially total control to put the shutters down on freedom of speech everywhere – is actually really rather a jolly good idea.
That is to say, whilst it’s bad to pass laws politicians and governments might be tempted to use for their own benefit in an industry which is dying, it’s fine to pass laws businesspeople and corporations are aiming to use for their own benefit in an industry which is on the point of flourishing like no other.
Talk about pork-barrel politics. These businesspeople appear to have absolutely no shame whatsoever.