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LEVESON: Recommended reading before the Day of Reckoning

LEVESON: Recommended reading before the Day of Reckoning

At long last, the Gotterdammerung is nearly upon us. After months of celebrity evidence, rancorous debate, interminable editorializing and party-political positioning, the great dénouement to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the practise, culture and ethics of the press will culminate on Thursday, when his report (which the BBC learns will be a whopper, ‘Proustian in length if not in literary ambition’) is finally published. Having written at some length on Leveson no less than three times in the last few weeks (for those interested, here, here and here), it is perhaps more useful at this stage simply to collate the more thoughtful pieces from the web in one place, to be followed upon the publication of the judge’s report by a more detailed examination of his recommendations. In the meantime: David Cameron, if it’s a slow day in the office, you’ve completed all the levels on Angry Birds and you’re looking for some opinions, this is the blogpost for you.  

The prospect of the report’s imminent publication smoked out the views of two more ex-editors: Will Hutton in the Guardian and Charles Moore in the Telegraph. Hutton strongly favours radical (for which read ‘statutory’) reform, stating powerfully that, vis a vis press malpractice, ‘Leveson is a once in a generation to put that right. The chance must not be missed’. Charles Moore, though somewhat more circumspect, is nevertheless similarly forthright about the need for the industry to take the report seriously: he accuses newspapers of radiating the same arrogant and blinkered self-interest exhibited by the trade unions in the 1980s. 

Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has collected most of the opinion from the Sunday papers, the most significant being the Mail on Sunday’s splash – ‘Cameron set to defy Leveson over new press laws’, which conflicts with other reports such as that carried in the Independent on Sunday that the Prime Minister will, on the contrary, ‘keep an open mind’. But whilst the PM has largely been keeping his own counsel, other politicians have been far less reticent. Ed Miliband has laid his cards on the table in a piece for today’s Guardian, coming down on the side of an ‘independent regulation of the press, made possible by statute’, while the former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett comes to a quite different conclusion talking to the BBC, urging ‘a more cautious response’. On the other side of the political divide, there was a marked lack of either deference or discretion in evidence at the Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards at the Savoy on Wednesday: the combination of Michael Gove’s gentle mockery and Boris Johnson’s thundering injunctions served as a timely reminder to Sir Brian, if he needed one, that state interference into the British press is antithetical to the Conservative principles of many in the upper echelons of the government.

It has been a perhaps inevitable characteristic of the debates surrounding the inquiry that there are very few genuinely disinterested voices being advanced. In an argument largely mediated by those who are themselves in the dock, with the case for the prosecution advanced by the victims themselves (who are sometimes also the legislators), clarity is often lost in the oppressive fog of vested interests. Nonetheless, the media consensus is firmly against statutory regulation in any form; and as individual opining crescendos into a collective sabre-rattling, Lord Leveson, whatever he recommends on Thursday, will surely find himself firing the starting-gun as opposed to waving the chequered flag on what seems an insolubly divisive issue.


Frederick Alliott


2012-11-26 18:59

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