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Time to reflect and consider is a fast-vanishing necessity

In the fast and frenetic world in which we live, we now expect instant responses to any new developments.

John Stevenson  photo
John Stevenson

This is a direct consequence of the way we now communicate; through computers, iphones, 24-hour news channels, and iPads – all of which create the expectation of immediate answers and responses to the issues before us. This means that the opportunity for reflection or consideration is greatly diminished, and I often wonder if this is a good thing for society.

Last month there were two significant political events. Matters of importance and national significance that could have long term consequences for our country.

First we had the Autumn Statement, which set out the Government’s plans in terms of expenditure and taxation over the short and medium term. There was, as always, a media frenzy with analysis over what the Government intended to do and how their policies would actually impact upon us. The simple reality is, however, that nothing immediately changed. It is now quite apparent that the state of the economy will take many years to fully repair given the major damage that was sustained during the crash of 2008. Short term solutions can not be the answer.

The second major development was the report by Lord Leveson on the media. Again, as the report came out there was an immediate call by many people for immediate government action. What was really required was a sober reflection on the contents of Levesson’s report and his suggestions for improving our media.

The Autumn Statement is part of the annual ritual of British politics and will have some impact on our economy over the long term. The strength and success of our economy is vital to our individual prosperity and, to a certain extent, the cohesion of our society.

As for the Leveson report into media regulation; it is an extremely serious issue that could have major long term consequences for our democracy.

There was some appalling behaviour by a number of journalists and media outlets. It is entirely understandable that people would want to see a very strict regime put in place and the unacceptable media activities curtailed.

But I believe there is a great danger of over-reacting. The overwhelming majority of those working in the media, such as our local newspaper and radio stations, have acted properly and as good journalists should.

Yes, there will always be a danger that some members of the media overstep the mark, and when they do they should be held to account. But our democracy is dependent and indeed strengthened by a free, strong and investigative media. That is why it is so important that we have a period of reflection to decide what is in the best interests of our democracy not just for the next few years, but for the very long term.

I am firmly of the view that a legislative approach has inherent dangers. Once statute is brought in to regulate the press, in whatever form, it is open to amendment and expansion. At some point in the future a less benign and democratic government could try to nibble away at the freedom of the press which could have huge long term consequences.

It is therefore vital that a new and effective solution is found to oversee the press and ensure that the opportunity for inappropriate behaviour is greatly reduced, whilst at the same time maintaining the democratic benefits of a strong and powerful media.

These were two specific events from December, but one of the major highlights of 2012 was the Olympic Games. All the things that made the Games so special did not happen overnight. The building of the stadium and facilities, the organisation and timings of events, the opening and closing ceremonies – these all took years of planning from the moment we were awarded the Games. And the athletes, who were the stars of the event, will have been preparing for even longer.

So, in a 24-hour world which demands instant gratification, I believe the highlight of the year was an event which took slow and careful organisation and preparation. Perhaps this is something we politicians should take note of.

By John Stevenson
Published: January 7, 2013


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