So the Leveson Report was released (all 2,000 pages of it), and as I predicted the press has gone feral. Even more so. I’m not going to bother listing all the ways that it has been claimed that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals will result in the apocalypse, but you’ve all seen them.
The thing which strikes me is just how unrepentant the printed press, as an industry, are. We have just had a lengthy — and expensive — investigation into how newspapers broke the law and trampled over the privacy of celebrities and victims of tragedy alike, and then abused their considerable power over politicians and the police. All of this whilst an entirely voluntary system of self-regulation was in place and powerless to do anything.
A statute backing a new regulator does not amount to politicians controlling the press. What it does do is give the regulator power to investigate press wrongdoing, and to hand out punishments which the papers have no choice but to accept. It means that newspaper editors and owners cannot ignore judgements.
Now you see why those papers are feeling nervous. You can also see why their arguments against Leveson are nonsense.
A free press is undeniably essential to a free and fair society. Nobody is claiming otherwise. But that press cannot be allowed unfettered power with such potential to be abused.
Which isn’t to say that Leveson’s Report is perfect. Guido Fawkes is right (and that one is going to haunt me for a long time) that it focuses far too little on (ignores) social media and the internet. But as his proposals stand, they represent an absolute minimum of what has to happen to ensure that we aren’t facing another scandal and inquiry in ten to twenty years time, and to ensure that we retain a free, responsible and trusted press.
To that end, I’ve started an e-petition. I gather it’s the done thing in such circumstances. The petition I’ve laid out, on the government e-petition website, is as follows:
“We call upon the government to implement, in full, the recommendations of Leveson LJ following his inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.
“Over the last 70 years the printed press has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that it is incapable of adequately regulating itself. A free press is a just and essential requirement of a democratic society, but the power that the press wields cannot be allowed to be abused to serve the powerful and privileged.
“The broadcast media has long been governed by the statute-backed Ofcom, without its independence and effectiveness being compromised. We regret* the suggestion that such a regulator would weaken the printed press.“
*(Yes, that is a typo. I meant “reject” not “regret”.)
This isn’t a petition backed by any group, by Hacked Off or any political party. This is just me. Gobsmacked at the continued arrogance of some elements of the press. No other industry is trusted to police itself, and the press has proved that it cannot adequately do that. As Leveson correctly said, the press has been “marking its own homework”.
If you agree, please sign the petition. It’s unlikely to reach the 100,000 signature threshold any time soon, but it’s a show of feeling. And its a way of showing the government that the press must be held to account.