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British newsrooms have become dismal places. The press is shrinking from the centre of national life, as the Net takes away paying readers and advertisers. At the recent Convention on Modern Liberty, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, warned that local papers would soon start disappearing, and "for the first time since the Enlightenment, major cities will not have a newspaper to report on local politics". He did not say what might eventually happen to the national press, but then again he did not need to.

I spoke after him and told the audience that it should be just as concerned by hostile judges, who were making the cost of investigative journalism prohibitively high for what we used to call the broadsheets by allowing every kind of scoundrel to use Britain's litigant-friendly libel laws. I should have added that the judiciary had also conjured a privacy law out of thin air and was using it to stop what we used to call the tabloids exposing the private lives of the rich and famous.

Commercial television, meanwhile, is in as bad a state as the commercial press. ITV, once the greatest British television network, is now a sad and shrunken thing. Channel 4 does not have a workable business model and Five is so poor it is hard to see it surviving.

Across the private sector, journalists look with envy and a little fear at the growing power of the state-funded BBC. It has always been important, but the fall in its rivals' income is leaving it like America after the fall of the Berlin Wall - the sole superpower in an emptying field. The BBC uses public money to weaken newspapers with its websites and rival broadcasters by enticing their stars away. BBC journalism seems secure to outsiders, less so to those on the inside.

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