Liberty, Licence and Leveson

Victoria Gardner looks back at earlier attitudes to Britain’s press freedom and how the withdrawal of the Licensing Act of 1662 spawned a nation of news addicts.

'The Art and Mystery of Printing Emblematically Displayed', a satire of three newspaper printing house activities performed by craftsmen with animal heads, 'Grub Street Journal', London 1732When he praised what he called the withdrawal of the Licensing Act in 1695, Thomas Babington Macaulay was somewhat mystified to discover that this momentous event that had ‘done more for civilisation than the Great Charter or Bill of Rights’ passed contemporaries by almost unnoticed. Most curious for Macaulay was that diarists including John Evelyn and Narcissus Luttrell had not marked the appearance of newspapers in their diaries. In the wake of the Leveson inquiry and criticisms of press intrusion into the lives of celebrities and others, journalists have reminded us of the significance of 1695 – the last time Britain had statutory regulation of the press.

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