Press freedom and the Leveson Enquiry

29 Nov

The report from the Leveson Enquiry is due to be released today, all two thousand pages of it. The enquiry itself seemed to be endless. It looked like it was getting hijacked by numerous celebrities who wanted to say something about intrusion into their private lives. I don’t have much sympathy for those people. Those that live by the sword, etc. Most important was the revelation that in one instance in particular the mobile telephone of murder victim Milly Dowler was hacked by a private detective working for News Corps. This raised false hope in her parents and may well have delayed or diverted the Police investigations. And this was done for a cheap headline. There was a complete lack of basic morality here, beyond the breaking of the law.
The Sun newspaper claimed on a famous splash headline when Margaret Thatcher won a further term, ‘It was the Sun wot Won It!’. Political wisdom suggests that the political stance adopted by this, the most popular of populist newspapers, did indeed win it for that damned harpie! Politicians have been more than willing to lick the arses of the executives of the organisations which run these newspapers. It worked, for The Sun campaigned for Tony Blair in later elections. Politicians are far from being innocent victims here; they were part of the problem. Some members of Her Majesty’s Constabulary were getting paid for leaking information to the press. These few bad eggs are greedy and corrupt. Such behaviour needs to be treated with the greatest severity, not cushy pensions.
It is a moot point whether celebrity culture is invented by or followed by the popular press. Personally, I find the term celebrity culture to be an oxymoron. You can have one or the other but not both. When celebrity PR guru Max Clifford writes the headlines we are all deep in the do-dos. The apparently insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip may be driven by the press or merely be feeding from it. Most likely it is a self-perpetuating symbiotic relationship. Whatever it is, it has grown too big. In many publications purporting to be newspapers there is no news anymore.
What happened in the Milly Dowler case was criminal, and no new regulations were needed. If we discuss press freedom because of what happened here we are missing the point. The Press Complaints Commission, (PCC), was largely ignored by the worst offenders among the press. It will not be missed. There is no guarantee that any other self-regulating mechanism will work. It must be replaced by something which is truly independent of the politicians and beyond the fiefdom of the Prime Minister. In a free society a free press is essential for the maintenance of a healthy democracy. This only works when the newspapers are actually reporting news.
It is interesting to note that in the last years of the PCC the most complained about publication was the Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday, which received over 47% of all complaints about all publications. How much of the Leveson Enquiry was taken up with celebs and how much with interviewing the editorial staff of the Mail? Most of the complaints about The Mail were by people unable to obtain apology or redress for inaccurate reporting, otherwise known as lies. These people could not afford to take legal action against The Mail. This is precisely the area which should have been concentrated on, yet I’m not sure it was even addressed.
Lastly, the quality press in particular has been suffering in the current financial climate, meaning advertising revenue has fallen, and because of other news sources, such as rolling TV news and resources on the Internet. This means the financially successful areas of the press are the very worst examples of the political and moral corruption that made this enquiry necessary. Any regulatory system needs to reward good reporting and penalise the sloppy, inaccurate or irrelevant muck that pollutes the popular press. This will be bad news for celebrity culture – with any luck.

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