Review: Patricia Hodgson on Press Freedom

Chaired by Rosie Boycott, the larger part of this event was a narrative on the emergence of the press and the major shifts in press freedom culminating in the present media crisis and the Leveson inquiry.  At the start we were warned that as deputy chair of Ofcom Patricia Hodgson was restricted in what she could say about matters currently under investigation.

What we were treated to was a clear history of the relationship between press and state.  We began with the visions of the founding father of the USA Thomas Jefferson.   Hodgson moved on to cite the importance of the work of John Wilkes who produced he radical pamphlet, The North Briton, was a rebel MP who was actually Wilkes was arrested and charged with seditious libel over attacks on George III.  Wilkes was later elected Lord Mayor of London “a good position from which to challenge the prime minister of the day”.  Though as promised Hodgson avoided analysis of the detail of the current furore she did tackle the subject of press regulation directly. “the problem of over mighty barons has been with us since Henry II fell out with Thomas o’Becket”.    Her strong contention is that whatever regulatory system we settle on we must retain a crusading and fearless press.

There was in my opinion insufficient attention to the growing importance of citizen journalism, blogs and social networks as a member of the audience said “We are all journalists now if we have the means to be heard”.


Anna Reid – Leningrad

Anna Reid is a journalist and author and former Ukraine correspondent at the Economist. She began with a quote from a thirty year woman trapped in Leningrad during the siege “there’s a corpse for every family..altogether the library has lost at least 100 people…what saves you is bestial indifference to human suffering”.

Three quarters of a million civilians died of starvation or a related illness, or over a quarter of the population.

Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941 taking the Red Army completely by surprise. Their advance was swift. By September 8 they reached Leningrad. No food stocks had been made nor evacuation plans laid. The city fathers were in disarray.

The siege began. A month’s worth of food was all the city had. Health problems set in as a result of poor diet, gum disease, scurvy and oedema. By November people were collapsing in the street.

Fuel also ran low. Normal life collapsed. There was no sewerage. Public transport ceased and the snow arrived. As the winter progressed the death toll rose from 11,000 in November to 100,000 in January. Corpses were left where the died. Doorways and abandoned trams were filled with the dead.

Temperatures dropped to minus 40. People queued from 3am until lunchtime for 125 grams of bread. Forced abandonment became commonplace, people who secured permits to leave did so leaving family members to face certain death.

Rations weren’t equally allocated and your ration card was a likely indicator of your likelihood of survival,