Having read at least the 50 odd pages of the executive summary of the Leveson report (the whole shebang is 2,000 pages long), I have to say that I’m disappointed. I had hoped that Brian Leveson would pleasantly surprise us, but the result is worse than I previously feared.
What Leveson recommends for the UK goes further in its statutoryness than the so-called “Irish model” beloved of the NUJ leadership. He even goes as far as to call for a legal threat against dissenting publishers in the form of an extension of Ofcom‘s responsibilities. Ofcom serves a useful purpose when it comes to broadcast media, but the tight regulation of public service broadcasters restricts the ability of these media to initiate journalistic investigations into sensitive matters. The BBC and other broadcasters are very good when it comes to reporting the news for a mass audience, but rarely do they engage in cutting edge journalism of the kind we see in the quality press. When they try, regulatory obstructions are often laid in their path.
Leveson’s proposal for low-cost libel deals as a way of enticing print media to join his proposed pseudo-independent press council would likely screw investigative journalism, and I am keen to hear what Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has to say about the Leveson report. The proposed limitation on libel and defamation liability follows the Irish press council example.
The focus of Leveson is the British press, and in practice that means print media. But time and again, both in the Leveson Inquiry and wider debate around the inquiry, we have heard much about online media, including those operated by mainstream outlets, the blogosphere, and corporate-controlled social media such as Twitter. That is the reality of 21st century journalism and meta-journalism, but Leveson the 20th century legal eagle lives in a fantasy land in which the interwebs is insignificant. The relevance of the internet gets a single page out of 2,000 in Leveson’s report, and on seeing this I could no longer take the man seriously.
Since the Leveson report was published earlier this afternoon we have had prime minister David Cameron speak in the House of Commons, along with his ‘Liberal’ deputy Nick Clegg and a whole number of living, breathing hot air receptacles. Cameron received his copy of the report yesterday, and clearly made good use of the time since in studying its content and planning his response. In challenging Leveson’s call for regulation underpinned by legislation Cameron is Man of the Day. Praise for a Tory. From me. It’s a funny old world.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband was once a half decent environment secretary, but is now worse than useless. That said, in his Commons speech today Miliband Minor at least recognised that Leveson is tacitly calling for an Ofcom role in press regulation, despite declaring explicitly that he was making no such recommendation. Sometimes it takes a simple mind to elucidate the truth of a situation. The Labour benches were otherwise full of squirming, bleating ovine beasties. Well, other than John McDonnell, the NUJ-sponsored MP who secured Cameron’s support for a conscience clause in journalists’ employment contracts.
The deputy PM delivered a dissenting minority report in which he seemed to voice unqualified support for Leveson’s recommendations: a PFI analogue in which a senior politician outsources his judgement to a third party who does the donkey work. I listened as best I could to Clegg, but his words failed to assemble themselves into a coherent whole.
The likely result of Leveson is a less free press, and less press generally.