The “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in England established parliamentary sovereignty over the Crown and, above all, the right of revolution. A major contributor to Western liberal theory was John Locke. Locke argued in Two Treatises of Government that “the individual placed some of his rights present in the state of nature in trusteeship with the sovereign (government) in return for protection of certain natural individual rights.” A social contract was entered into by the people. That should strike a chord in the US of A!
Until 1694, England had an elaborate system of licensing. No publication was allowed without the accompaniment of a government-granted license. Fifty years earlier, at a time of civil war, John Milton argued forcefully against this form of government censorship and parodied the idea, writing “when as debtors and delinquents may walk abroad without a keeper, but inoffensive books must not stir forth without a visible jailer in their title.” Although at the time it did little to halt the practice of licensing, it would be viewed later a significant milestone as one of the most eloquent defences of press freedom. One form of speech that was widely restricted in England was seditious libel, and laws were in place that made criticizing the government a crime. The King was above public criticism and statements critical of the government were forbidden, according to the English Court of the Star Chamber. Truth was not a defence to seditious libel because the goal was to prevent and punish all condemnation of the government.
Stage and book censorship remained in the province of governmental control from 1737 when it was introduced and only began to be relaxed/abolished in the 1960’s!! Recently, with new technologies, we have seen many national newspapers reach new lows in reporting, earning the epithet ‘Gutter Press’ It would appear that Leveson “demonstrates not a sole failure of regulation but rather of law enforcement”
Let us not turn the clocks back 300 years to allow insidious state interference in the publishing of the written word particularly as this country is the first to condemn those nations and politicians whose apparent survival hinges solely on the total control of the media.