“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
This week’s news was dominated by one issue: the publication of the Leveson Report. The report, which is 1988 pages long – I must admit that I have only made my way through the executive summary so far – is the seventh report in less than 70 years commissioned to deal with concerns about the press. The quote above is taken from the Leveson Report, Lord Leveson outlined his proposals in a thoughtful and articulated way however he is a Lord Justice. The report recommended an independent self-regulatory body for the industry, backed up by legislation. The proposal for creating a new, independent watchdog was widely accepted, but the debate over any legislation underpinning it has divided opinion.
More interesting than the conclusions and proposals of Lord Leveson was the fall out within the Coalition in Westminster. We witnessed Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minster, give a separate statement to the Prime Minister, this displayed the first sign that there was a split in the thinking within the Coalition on the report.
“I cannot, and will not, recommend another last chance saloon for the press,” says Leveson in his four-volume report.
The freedom of the press is a central pillar of our democracy and rightly holds a special place in our society as Leveson highlighted in his report. The legislation proposed in the report would Place a duty on government to protect the freedom of press. However, what does the report mean for the press and media? One criticism of the report, from the traditional media, was lack of reference to the new social media. The ball is now in Westminster’s court, the PM playing the old Yes, Minster trick of calling an inquiry in the hope of kicking an issue to the long grass. However, this will not work this time. Too many victims from the actions of the newspapers were ordinary people, affected by terrible circumstances, which were then made worse by the unethical actions of reporters. Along with very vocal celebrities, such as Hugh Grant, the campaign to ensure that the press would be changed did not simply go away.
I am currently reading Nick Robinson’s book Live from Downing Street, one thing that strikes me was how much time politicians spend thinking about the press in particular Prime Ministers! One piece of advice that Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s Spin Doctor offers is that, ‘You cannot afford to get yourself into the position of apparently advocating censorship… worry with them, not at them.’