#Leveson: A mixed response to the British Press’s mass indulgence in criminal activity…

Worth waiting for Charlie Beckett to shoot down the idea that reforms in line with the current Irish system would suffice

– Guido has a scathing an op ed in the Sun today (sister paper of the now dead NOTW), noting the paucity of work in the Leveson Report on New Media. And pride of place on his blog this morning is this short paeon to his ‘triumph’:

It seems Mr. Staines color was enough to persuade Lord Justice Brian Leveson that the internet was just too hard to deal with. The whole tone of his report with regard to the internet is one of almost resignation.

While it acknowledges the influence of the internet and the blogosphere, it has little to say about it. Should a newspaper blog (such as this one) be treated any different to Mr. Staines’ blog? Should a tweet be viewed differently in law to a website? There are no recommendations. That will have to wait.

In line with that, here’s some cribbed thoughts from Mickey Kaus back in 2008

But it is worth pointing out to Paul and others who note the smallness of the Internet in Justice Leveson’s report, that the Internet played little or no role in the events that lead up to his inquiry being instigated.

It was, rather [detractors of internet journalism, please note!] a case of dealing with the sins of rich men and their editorial playthings

– Huff Po reports with some glee the kicking one Piers Morgan gets in the report (one up for Guido)…

– David Allen Green’s preview is worth reading, not least for the practical angle:

…the key question for the Leveson Inquiry is not so much the form of any regulation, but whether it can make any positive difference to the culture and practices of the press.

– Also in the New Statesman, Rafael Behr looks at the politics of the Westminster thing:

If Cameron can hold his current line – and a parliamentary vote would be close given that the Lib Dems look ready to side with Labour – the next election will be fought with the Tories as the party that saved the press from an Ofcom-style regulator.

It doesn’t take a great leap to imagine how tricky that campaign could get for Miliband, and how hard newspaper endorsements will be to secure, if he has a manifesto promising to do to editors the horrible things that Cameron wouldn’t.

JK Rowling is not happy though. And neither are some of the victims of the phone phreaking

– The Telegraph, with its utterly sensible head on, has some important observations to make:

Sir Brian insists that the press should not be able to “mark its own homework” by controlling the new body. He is right: the new regulator should largely conform to the format outlined in the report, in terms of its structure, its independence from Fleet Street, and its powers to impose discipline. We also support the idea of members being subject to a simplified, low-cost arbitration process: this will not only stop the rich from using writs to stifle free expression, but ensure that members of the public currently deterred by the swingeing costs of libel suits will be able to get redress when wronged.

Simon Barrow of the religous think tank Ekklesia:

…the Leveson Report is thorough, sensible and cautious. A civic regulatory body and code of conduct that is independent of both government and owners, underpinned by statute and framed within a First Amendment-style law to protect the freedom of the press, is the right way forward.

And there’s a great round up in Press Gazette which works out that after mostly praising Lord Leveson’s report for its great moderation and sense, the British Press mostly parts company with the noble lord over statutory regulation

Max Hastings, an endlessly deep barrel of common sense does not like the medicine either. But he points out that what kicked off this mess was a mass indulgence by the British press in criminal activity:

…journalism, though a generally socially beneficial activity as even Lord Justice Leveson acknowledges, has always also been an ill-disciplined and even disreputable one. Most modern American journalism is impeccably sober and politically correct – but at the price of also becoming monumentally dull. Parliament in its present mood may prove foolish and nasty enough to impose statutorily backed press regulation. But given the relentless industry trend, such action will resemble banning smoking in a terminal cancer ward.[emphasis added]

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Mc Slaggart

    That is a good Google hangout conversation.

  • Brian Walker

    Try as I might I find it hard to get worked up about Leveson. To be honest, I’m mildly in two minds. There’s a flavour about it of regulating hackney carriages in the age of the motor car. At the same time there’s plenty of life left in newspapers as indispensable aggregators, high cost news providers and opinion formers for the tower of Babel that is the digital age.

    So they’ve noticed that Leveson trod lightly on social media, have they? What about the gentle treatment for the cops and the proprietors? I can live with that, after all those sackings, arrests, fines and public humiliation before the cameras. As with quite a few reports Leveson’s significance may lie as much in the process and the hearings as in the report itself, however voluminous.

    I reluctantly admit that faced with the realities of newspaper economics we may have to rely on egomaniac proprietors more than ever from the Barclay Brothers to Lebedev, particularly if they keep an innovative edge. And here goes, I have soft spot for Murdoch until he let his London empire spin out of control, the problem of dynasts throughout the ages.

    I’m no fan of statute but at the same time I can see little wrong with the model of the General Medical Council which has statutory duties under the Medical Act 1858 to set standards of medical practice and enforce them independently ( I looked this up).

    I share Paul Connolly’s reluctance to have anything to do with Ofcom whose writ runs wider and deeper than was envisaged for it as a light touch regulator (hah!) and whose existence was founded on a scarcity of spectrum. Would a retired judge as a backstop be an improvement? Is a backstop necessary? Probably to provide an answer to the next question: what happens when some paper defies the independent regulator? The best answer probably is that the offender is sued to death or to within an inch of its life, as judges hand out exemplary damages. So why bother with the statutory backstop?

    In the end, I’m a First Amendment man, not that we can have one in the UK with its uncodified constitution. In the US the big papers are (all too?) responsible: why, I’m not sure, although there’s always the National Enquirer to counterbalance them.

    Just to be really radical, I see no fundamentally good reason any more to regulate for other than competition what is still called commercial television in a multi-channel environment and in the age of converging platforms. I know this leaves the BBC a bit isolated but that can’t be helped. Anyway it allows the Beeb still to set standards for as long as the licence fee survives – which it might do much longer that competitors think.
    So I’ve said it. I’m elitist but I defend your right to prefer different elitism or biased crap. If you’re a vulgar hack l support your right to intrude into the lives of celebs. But God help you if you intrude into mine. I might tell the independent Press Council and just think what hell you’d have to pay then.

  • Ruarai

    A First Amendment style law is much more lacking (in every country on earth bar its home) and desirable than any sort of new govt bureaucracy providing “oversight”.

    Regarding Levenson’s old school despair for social media – whatever. Far from representing a “they think it’s all over – and, thanks to the rise of the net and blogosphere…it is now” moment for press accountability (and accountability generally), the blogosphere is the best chance we have ever had to change the game for the better.

    And I think we can already see that happening.

    • Important stories and scandals are no longer so easy to distract attention from and bury
    • People with actual expertize increasingly have a platform to inform public debate, as do all citizens
    • Much of the wretched cushiness and coziness (known as “respectability”) that incentivizes and breeds an idiosyncratic culture of self-censorship on the important questions and yet, on the other hand, a tasteless pack-like ‘gotcha’ mentality towards individual public figures on the ropes, is thankfully more an MSM than blogosphere MO.
    o Note to journalists, if you have lots of people in power you consider mates, you’re being played.

    Personally, I’ve little time for the occasional “something must be done!” debates one sees TV or in the printed press with regards to new media. New media is the best check we have against the rotten sewer that so much of the MSM swims in and feeds off.

  • aquifer

    Do we just need a commissioner to bear down on criminal snooping?

  • Seamuscamp

    Remind me: were Leveson’s terms of reference related to the conduct and culture of the Press? Or were they about the internet, Twitter and Facebook?