Mon Mar 11th, 2013 at 09:11:05 AM EST
Since the publication of the Leveson report there has been a large amount of manoeuvring both in the public eye and behind the scenes. Some skilled, some inept and some so poor you would wonder how our leaders ever managed to reach their current positions in their respective parties and places of employment.
Lord Justice Leveson provided a reasonably balanced report, with a few minor problems, but nothing that should have been dealt with with the outrageous wailing and gnashing of teeth that the newspapers responded. It was as if the end of the world or the Black death had suddenly unexpectedly ridden into their midst. If the Leveson proposals were enacted, it would mean the imminent death of all investigative journalism. This was quite obviously completely untrue. Hillsborough is quoted as something where investigation would now be impossible. After the report of the Independent Panel where one paper was shown to be rampantly dishonest in its reporting, you would think that this would be an example that would have been avoided.
Today you have reporters claiming that newspapers wouldn't bother to investigate the Huhne case as leveson would make it impossible. This is at best misleading. There appears to be nothing in the Leveson report that would bring about such a situation, however actions outside the report have been presented in such a way as to seem that there is an attack on press freedom, Whether there is, or if it is in fact a sweeping out of the Augean stables of UK policing and public life, is hard to tell, because it is not in the interest of newspapers to report on the occurrences openly and honestly.
What is the purpose of a free press? Why are Journalists given a special status? It is to hold the powerful to account, not so they can harass and abuse people who are popular because it will make a bit of cash through name recognition, prurience, and whipped up moral outrage. If an individual goes out and makes music or a film, the rest of their private life does not become open for the exploitation of newspapers. Strangely this argument seems to completely elude the tabloid press. The idea that these people are role models is suggested as a reason that intrusion is justified. In all this seems a circular argument. "We have publicised these people to sell our papers off the back of their recording/film which justifies our further intrusion to sell more papers" this isn't remotely morally justifiable.
A second suggestion is that this intrusion is justified, as it has to be done to fund more worthy work by the same papers. Now if you haven't injured yourself laughing at the preposterousness of the Daily Star or Express being a bastion of deep political thinking kept afloat by a sadly necessary quota of semi-naked flesh, and the sex lives of Z list celebrities then you need your sense of humour looking at.
Why is someones private life justifiably publishable? I'd argue only in the case of politicians and actual Moral leaders who are saying that we should live in a certain way. So only in those cases where they are being morally censorious. So John Major with his back to basics would be justifiably criticised, A bishop or priest who was saying we all had to live moral lives, would equally be a justifiable target, but the average politician or minister who just happened to be having an affair, it's none of our business, unless they have used their position to pressure the person into sex. If both people are fine and happy about the situation, what business is it of anyone else?
Further complaints by the press are that the Leveson Inquiry was purely about celebrity revenge. This is a mendacious misrepresentation. Although the vast majority of Newspaper coverage has concentrated on the more celebrity end of the witness group. If you examine the lists of witnesses that gave evidence before the Inquiry, the number of normal people from the street exceeded the number of celebrities, if you wish to count the representatives of groups then the number of victim witnesses is twice the number of celebrities that were called.
Now a variety of newspaper reporters have attacked the Inquiry for its concentration on celebrity, but even if this was true, would it not only represent the papers unhealthy focus on celebrity? Is this not a self fulfilling piece of analysis? Because the papers everyday coverage of stories has a celebrity focus, would it not be reasonable for the Inquiry to have a surplus of celebrity witnesses? And is it not to the credit of the inquiry that it avoided this problem? Even if it has been misrepresented by the press that it didn't?
It has also been suggested by journalists that if the police had done their job properly, the Leveson inquiry would have been unnecessary. I think this is going a bit far. If the police had done their job, it would still have been necessary for an independent overview of the state of newspaper journalism to have occurred. It is hard to divorce the alleged rampant lawbreaking at the two papers from the ethical failings of the broad sweep of the UK press. Is it not time that the activities of the press that lead to the Motorman files are thoroughly aired? Is it not time that the inept science and medical reporting of our mid-market tabloids was examined? Shouldn't we independently examine the dishonest reporting on Europe? Or the reckless and dishonest attacks on the disabled or benefit recipients? Or the blatantly wrong reporting that covers immigration? All of these subjects were covered in evidence before the Leveson Inquiry (although the disability reporting was only covered in written evidence rather than spoken witnesses, something that may come to be considered one of the biggest evidential failings)
Does freedom of the press mean that we shouldn't be able to systematically examine areas of reporting that are demonstrably poor or dishonest? Does freedom of the press mean that the press should have a right to chose who gets to complain about their activities? Surely it cannot be right that the press gets to attack groups of individuals dishonestly with them having no right of reply.
The media standards trust has produced a report on Whether the Hunt Black proposals, which appear to be the Industries plan for regulation, and which David Cameron is edging towards, despite his earlier declarations that such a plan would be unacceptable, as it didn't fit the needs of the victims. In the appendixes to this there is an email from Associated Newspapers to Oliver Letwin, in there it is said that the Leveson recommendations "addressing the code committee and Group complaints, are not acceptable to anyone in the industry" and these are described as their "Red lines" which have been presented to the Government. Apparently the government has given way on both of these, neither of which is a positive move. The code committee providing the editors with power over what is considered a breach of the journalistic code drives a severe hole through any reforms, and the idea that the papers can refuse to take complaints from groups, but only from individuals effectively combines makes the Black/Hunt proposal as useless and ineffective as the old PCC with entirely the same problems.
That the discussions appear to be happening in cosy back rooms between the government and the newspapers is something that can only lead those of us outside the discussion to fear that there are deals being done that are only to the advantage of politicians and journalists. Protests that they are maintaining freedom of speech ring hollow when those deals may have been conducted either under preasure of threats of future attacks, or bribery of biased coverage to aid current policies. If these methods are not being used, then why aren't the discussions been carried out in the open under the glare of public attention? What have they got to hide?
David Camerons Royal charter has another problem, any future changes will nned a 2/3 majority in parliament, and the agreement of all three main party leaders. Effectively handing a permanent veto to a small group in parliament or a single party leader in the pocket of the press barons while freezing the current discredited system as the effective rules. Behind closed doors the press barons must be rubbing their hands in glee.