Leveson's report on the UK press: reactions

Reactions so far include: the Black Triangle Campaign, Gavin Macfadyen, David Marquand, Lis Howell, Henry Porter, Steve Barnett, Simon Barrow, Barbara Gunnell, Sylvia Harvey, Dan Hind... and many more!

ourKingdom editors
30 November 2012

Below are immediate responses to the Leveson report. Follow the links and jump directly to responses from:  Lis Howell, Steve Barnett, Peter Facey, Des Freedman, Henry Porter, Simon Barrow, Ryan Gallagher, Tony Curzon-Price, Slyvia Harvey, Dan Hind, Rupert Read, David Wearing, Barbara Gunnell , Justin Baidoo-Hackman, David Marquand, Stuart Weir.

Latest from the Black Triangle Campaign, Gavin Macfadyen, Deborah Grayson.

We are publishing responses as they come in. To submit yours, email:[email protected] and [email protected].

What is David Cameron's problem!?

Lis Howell, Deputy Head of the Journalism department at City University and Director of the TV and Broadcasting Courses. Former Head of News at Border Television

Lord Justice Leveson has achieved the near impossible and produced an elegant report which should satisfy everyone. There is no doubt that that the press have failed totally to act decently or legally in their pursuit of profit. Free speech yes. Free for all monstering of the innocent for entertainment, no. To quote David Cameron back at himself, bonkers this most certainly is not. So who has nobbled him? I am so tired of sanctimonious waffle about press freedom. Here is a solution which sets up a body in law but doesn’t give it legal powers and allows a press editor to be one of those choosing its constituents. And the papers get a smoother, cheaper, quicker form of arbitration.

So what is the PM’s problem? It couldn’t be better. My only doubt about it all is the role or not of Ofcom. Even Steve Hewlett and Harriet Harman seemed to be confused about that. And one final but vital point. I understand that out of 2,000 pages there were only 13 pages of submissions from women. Given that most victims in society are female that is a disgrace and says more about the woeful state of the press than the other 1,987.

The Leveson Report, already gathering dust...

Steve Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster and author of 'The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism'

When I gave my first oral evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, the Judge could not have been clearer about his ambition: he had no intention of allowing his report to gather dust on the shelves of journalism academics. He was well aware of the fate of the second Calcutt Report 20 years ago following equally outrageous journalistic excesses in the 1980s: it concluded that the new PCC was “ineffective” and recommended a statutory tribunal. That report is still sitting on my top shelf.

And so, it seems, will the 2000 page 4 volume result of Sir Brian’s 15 month’s labours. He could not have done more to make it palatable as well as workable and proportionate. Despite the BSkyB fiasco, the government escapes with barely a word of criticism. The notion of “statutory recognition” is the very minimal amount of underpinning required to make his comprehensive scheme of independent voluntary self-regulation actually work. And without the carrot of access to cheap arbitration and the stick of stronger regulatory oversight if the big players don’t play ball, very little will change. He doesn’t even attempt to tackle the seriously difficult area of media concentration and ownership.

We will now hear a lot of harrumphing from the industry as they purport to bring forward a “brand new model”. But without the real prospect of statutory oversight, very little will change. And then we’ll hear a very loud thump as Leveson’s 4 volumes land on my top shelf alongside Calcutt. What a waste.

Leveson is a good first step, but Britain needs lobbying transparency

Peter Facey, Director of Unlock Democracy

 The Leveson Inquiry painted a picture of scandals upon scandals,
 shedding light not just on the failings of the current system of media 
self-regulation, but on the extent to which major media corporations 
invest their time and money secretly lobbying politicians. Without the 
inquiry, the extent of the relationship between Jeremy Hunt, David
 Cameron and NewsCorp would have never come to light.

But it shouldn’t take special inquiries to open up secret lobbying to 
public scrutiny.  We desperately need a statutory lobbying register to
 ensure we have a better idea of what is going on at the time it is
 happening rather than years after the event.

...and now we need to democratise our media!

Des Freedman, Reader in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths and member of the Media Reform Coalition

I’m delighted that Lord Justice Leveson insisted that ‘there must be change’ and that the proprietors’ plans for continuing self regulation were rejected. Leveson is right to call for tougher, independent regulation but we have to tie this to broader issues around media concentration and the compliant relationships we see all too often between lobbyists and senior politicians. This isn’t just about a new regulatory system, this is about democratising the relationships between media, politicians and the public. 

We need far more than the Leveson Report is ever likely to give us: ownership caps to break up giant concentrations of media power, a call for unionisation to protect the rights of journalists, and more democratic forms of governance to take control away from all-conquering proprietors. However, simply to dismiss the Leveson Report because it doesn’t come up with all the answers (let alone ask the right questions) is to miss the huge opportunities that have been thrown up by its expose of how powerful interests operate in this country.

We should welcome the report cautiously, and remain vigilant defenders of liberty and a free press

Henry Porter, novelist, columnist for the Observer and London Editor of Vanity Fair

I am not as worried as I thought I would be. I mistrust statutory controls that are designed to impede the operation of a free press, and would fight them, but I don’t think this is what is being suggested. Many fear that a Rubicon is being crossed with a regulatory body that is underpinned by law – David Cameron, Lord Hunt, the Chair of the PCC John Whittingdale, the Chair of Culture Media Sport Select Committee, all took refuge in the phrase, yet I found myself listening to Lord Leveson yesterday with the thought that all this must seem fair and reasonable to the British public, as well as to the many victims of the tabloid press. I was unhappy at the way Lord Hunt and Lord (Guy) Black lobbied for another chance at self-regulation, because of the arm-twisting that has gone on behind the scenes over the last few weeks, to say little of the failure to recognise the change in public opinion. They did not in the end succeed in making a very good case. I  accept their argument that many of the practices exposed by the inquiry were against the law, and that there are laws to deal with phone hacking and the corruption of public officials, but the truth is that the law was being broken with impunity by scores of journalists, with the blessing and encouragement of senior executives. The PCC did absolutely nothing to alert the authorities about this, or express dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the tabloids. 

The report seems to have covered most of  the issues thrown up in the inquiry pretty well. An exception was the depressing ease with which the police were bought by Rupert Murdoch’s executives.  Having sat in court for many sessions, I should say that the process itself, which allowed people to tell their stories and expose the dishonesty, unpleasantness and bullying that had become the norm in the tabloids, was as valuable a part of the inquiry as the report itself. Not only was some level of justice achieved, but the slow drip of damning evidence made the British public understand the extent of the venality in the press. At the same time, I am glad that Lord Leveson gave full credit to the Guardian for its excellent work in pursuing the story against a background of police obstruction and denial and threats that came from News International. It’s important to remember that a paper with a relatively small readership and few financial resources overcame the might of Murdoch’s operation at Wapping. One dogged reporter and a brave editor have changed British newspaper journalism forever.  

There is a long way to go on this, and we should be exceptionally wary of any legislation that is proposed. Politicians say they want a free press but rarely mean it, which brings me to the last point. Leveson also pulled his punches on the relationship between Murdoch’s newspapers and successive governments, which believed their fortunes depended on Murdoch’s favour. Both Labour and the Tories were far too close to his executives and editors. Murdoch’s people thought they had the BSkyB merger in the bag because of this: it is hard not to believe that the Tories were happy to wave it through because of these relationships.

On the regulation of the press, I’ll wait to see what happens. Given successive governments’ attack on liberty, we should be cautious and vigilant, but this is not to say the Leveson process and report should be simply discarded. The public need to know that Britain’s newspapers will be permanently improved, and that freedom of the press does not mean the oppression of ordinary people’s rights and privacy. 

A sensible report... but where is ownership?

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia (www.ekklesia). He has been a practicing professional journalist and NUJ member since 1982

For days now, media barons, a band of paranoid newspaper pundits and politicians who serve the rich and powerful have been working hard to pre-trash Leveson, portray anything other than toothless self-regulation as tyrannical, and equate a free press with the continued dominance of corporate self-interest.

By contrast, the Leveson Report itself 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. 

The other key measures needed are a conscience clause in contracts of employment for journalists, which Leveson rightly recommends, and action to address the shocking imbalance and lack of plurality in UK media ownership – emblemised by News International’s 35.15% share of the newspaper market. 

The lack of any recommendations on ownership is the largest weakness of the report, since concentration of corporate power and wealth is the biggest single threat to a diverse, healthy, accountable and democratic media industry. Setting up independent newspaper trusts, along with tough restrictions on monopolies, would be an important way forward in this area.

As a young journalist, not enough focus has been placed on training

Ryan Gallagher, freelance journalist

It is looking right now like the crux of the Leveson report is going to be ignored. I can't see a situation where, if a draft bill is introduced into the House of Commons, statutory underpinning of a new regulator will gain majority support (though it could be a close call). Personally I am quite relieved the government is showing reluctance to bring in new legislation, as I am anxious about any direct government involvement in regulating the profession, even if that involvement would be at a distance. I share the concern expressed by legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who told Channel 4 News during an interview last night that he thought any drastic new measures would "come back and bite British democracy in the ass."

Throughout the phone hacking scandal and the many moving witness testimonies during the Leveson inquiry, what struck me repeatedly was how in so many cases the actions of (mostly tabloid) reporters constituted violations of criminal or civil laws already in place. It is not clear to me how bringing in new legislation would address that problem, which was ultimately fuelled by a toxic, morally bankrupt web of corruption involving not only journalists but the police. Definitely there needs to be much stronger regulation and accountability of the press, but that regulation must be fully independent just as existing law needs to be vigorously enforced to prosecute those who cross the line. 

I would also say that I don't think there has been enough focus or discussion on the importance of journalism training in all of this. I studied journalism, and the first proper writing course I ever went on was at the age of 18 (about nine years ago). I will never forget one of my tutors, a tabloid freelancer based on Scotland's east coast. He was a vile man, who would spend his classes spluttering drivel about how we should always carry a camera in order to capture secretive snapshots of celebrities in vulnerable situations and such like. His blasé attitude and complete failure to grasp the concept of dignity had a profound impact on me at that impressionable age: it put me off pursuing journalism as a career for a couple of years. 

It took me a while to learn for myself that the tutor in question was a bad egg, and that there is a place, a much needed place, for decency and conscience in journalism. That is why I think if the Leveson report can achieve anything it will be to make tabloid practices like those espoused by my former tutor so taboo and shameful that young journalists coming into the profession today will be taught to shun them as a matter of basic instinct. We do need a culture shift in journalism, the slate needs to be wiped clean, and education is a good place to start. I don't expect that any great sea change will happen organically like magic; action will be needed. My hope is that universities, schools, colleges and organisations like the National Council for the Training of Journalists will be ready to take up the challenge.

Time to tackle our own tastes for tabloid rubbish

Tony Curzon-Price, Associate Editor at openDemocracy and Online Editor at Intelligence Squared

"Self-regulation" - it sounds like a medical euphemism, no? Something the body should be doing all on its own. And in the sick body, it breaks down. So you get an external regulator. Something with tubes and beeps that regulates the vital function for you. But you don't trust the doctors in charge; you don't want them setting up the machine. Instead, you get the doctors to regulate the body that is in charge of the machines. And if you come not to trust them? Well, why not add another body, and another and another? Where does the magic happen? Where exactly, in the process of sandwiching regulatory bodies between an untrusted press and an untrusted government, does the magic of good behaviour creep in? In that committee room, appointed by some odd and opaque procedure. Sound likely? Leveson ignores the question of who regulates the regulator's regulator and so shoots the messenger.

Of course, it's not that there's anything easy about solutions. But that's no excuse for pretending that just because it looks easy it's a solution. But to play down two huge factors seems odd. First, how do we tackle the demand for the kind of journalism that has been on trial here, the journalism that is parasitic on the public interest? That would be real self-regulation for us - not having a taste for this intrusive rubbish. And second, in case we maintain some residual taste, how to make sure that the police are on the right side of the law?

"Clever, thoughtful and finely balanced"

Sylvia Harvey, Visiting Professor, Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds

 Lord Leveson seems to have come up with a clever, thoughtful and finely balanced set of proposals. In insisting on the importance of an independent regulatory body for the press – to be set up by the industry itself but with a majority of members independent of both press and Government – he avoids any form of direct statutory involvement.  He proposes that this new body offers swift and cost-effective arbitration for those unjustly treated by the press; this proposal also serves as an incentive to newspapers in avoiding costly court cases. 

Nonetheless, heavy fines of up to £1m can be imposed by the regulatory body for serious violations of the standards code developed by the regulator. The creation of the independent regulator is to be underpinned  by backstop legislation. As the Report says: ‘it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes.’

It’s early days yet for those of us who have not yet had the chance to read the full Report. In the interim I’d recommend the Liberty press release ‘Liberty responds to Leveson Report’ and the Carnegie UK Trust ‘Response to Leveson Inquiry Report’.

Leveson falls at the first hurdle, assuming all is (reasonably) well

Dan Hind, author of the The Return of the Public: Democracy, Power and the Case for Media Reform. His latest book is Maximum Republic.

I won't pretend to have read all of Leveson's report but I have read the executive summary and seen some of the response in the media and Parliament. Leveson's summary has some very interesting things to say about the relationship between the press and the politicians and the press and the police. But reading Leveson's remarks here against the record is troubling. For example, Leveson focuses on whether the closeness of the relationship between politicians and the press 'may have, or may appear to have, impacted on the willingness or ability of politicians to decide matters of public policy about the media'. This seems unduly narrow, given the leverage over the political class that parts of the press were seeking. Furthermore, I am not sure that his assessment of the police's initial investigation and subsequent actions will pass unchallenged.

So far, there has been very little coverage or critical comment on these aspects of the inquiry by the print media or by the broadcasters. I haven't seen much about Leveson's interesting remarks on plurality, either. Instead coverage has concentrated on the high drama of splits in the Coalition over the nature of press regulation. Indeed, my sense is that the broadcasters have followed the lead of the newspapers in setting the frame of discussion around regulation. That's only an impression. Perhaps the emphasis will change once we've had more time to look at the report. But at the moment the word "bonkers" looms large in discussions of Leveson that reach a large audience.

The report starts from the assumption that the press does reasonably well in supporting democracy. This assumption means that Leveson's proposed remedies, though welcome in themselves, don't address matters of deep and abiding importance in the relationship between the systems of communication and the achievement of substantive democracy. These matters cannot be left to judges, who are, after all, the lions under the throne.

Cameron's credibility will be "completely blown" if he doesn't implement the full report in full

Rupert Read, Green Party politicians and chair of the Green House think-tank

Leveson’s report covers very modest territory. It doesn’t do the kinds of things that really need doing: for example, challenging the ‘one [incredibly rich] man, one newspaper’ rule of our so-called free press. The kinds of changes in ownership of the press that would be necessary for us to really become a democracy. A place where the people, and not a tiny rich elite, govern.

Nevertheless, Leveson was very, very smart. He put forward a proposal that could actually be implemented, under a Tory-led Government, and that would constitute one small piece of real progress if it were to be implemented. His ‘3rd way’ – neither statutory regulation nor self-regulation, but genuinely independent regulation, set up by the press itself, and with the state in the background merely ‘underpinning’ all this – is impossible for the Tories credibly to reject. Nevertheless, remarkably, Cameron is seeking to reject it, apparently still believing, even after the financial crisis, that markets (e.g. the market for newspapers) must be allowed to self-regulate. A crazy market-fanaticism.

Cameron promised to implement Leveson unless it was "bonkers". It clearly is not bonkers. The PM's credibility will be completely blown if he doesn't implement in full.

If Cameron were a statesman, then he'd understand in any case that this is a time to go beyond the normal Tory worship of the capitalist press. This is what the public overwhelmingly demand, and, finally, it can be done: some kind of reining in of our notoriously scurrilous tabloid press. The thing about Cameron is that of course there isn't the faintest whiff of statesmanship about him. He is nothing more than a spinning politician, and his reaction to Leveson shows this more clearly than ever.

The press must be given a deadline to come up with an acceptable independent regulatory body that Parliament can 'underpin'. They mustn’t be allowed to play out the clock until 2015. We should remember: this isn't a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity. We've waited HUNDREDS of years to have some extremely-minimal kind of influence over how newspapers investigate and what newspapers print, as Leveson proposes, to stop the extremes of unethical behaviour on the part of the print media. Labour, the LibDems, Greens, the other smaller parties, and maybe the decent Conservatives who actually support Leveson: all should now get together and force Levesonian legislation through, against Cameron’s opposition. We, the people, should pressure them to do it. Cameron doesn’t actually have the votes to stop it.

And we should bear very clearly in mind, this whole time: that by not implementing Leveson in full, Cameron would be betraying every single victim of phone-hacking - including the Dowlers and McCanns.

Dear Leveson, the press is not "free" as long as it is captured by financial and corporate interests

David Wearing, PhD candidate at SOAS and co-editor of New Left Project

David Cameron spoke yesterday of the threat to a “free press” posed by Leveson’s mild proposals for independent regulation underwritten by statute. Let’s instead consider the newspaper industry as it actually exists today.  A press owned by and serving the interests of big business and the feral rich is no more “free” than a press run by the government. There are many exceptions, but most journalists and columnists, far from being fearless seekers after truth and thorns in the side of power, are effectively partisans for the class interests of their employers. The press has “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”, in Leveson’s words. Yet it failed to so much as inquire into the sharp practices of the banking industry and positively cheered on the corporate-supremacist economic model that caused the worst global economic crisis for eighty years. The corporate media is structurally biased and compromised by power, not “free”.

Creating a genuinely democratic, perhaps co-operatively owned press, is a major task requiring creative thinking (see Dan Hind’s book Return of the Public for a start) to which Leveson, sadly, failed to contribute. For now, Fleet Street cannot simply remain an open sewer.  Anyone who still believes that markets self-regulate in the public interest, after the hacking scandal and the banking crisis, has placed themselves in the category of religious fanaticism.

Us journalists are only part of the problem

Barbara Gunnell, writer, editor, and former President of the National Union of Journalists. She is Editor of the dialogue Centrestage on openDemocracy 50:50. 

Here are a few things we have learnt or re-learnt over the past few weeks. Police briefed journalists that Liverpool fans at Hillsborough were drunk, aggressive and disrespectful of the dead and dying. The chief executive of the biggest newspaper group in the UK sent, among many, a text to the Prime Minister saying she was 'looking forward to “working together" ' - much has been made of the meaning of those quotation marks. Another of her texts confessed that she cried twice during his conference speech in 2009 – and clearly became such a fan that she threw the significant weight of the News International group behind his election campaign.

We are also reminded, following new charges against Andy Coulson and Brooks over alleged payments to police and public officials, that 52 journalists have now been arrested under Operation Elvedon (the Metropolitan Police investigation into corrupt payments to the police) and that further investigations into press phone hacking and computer privacy breaches are also under way.

This is a small sample of nasty or unethical, in some cases illegal, behaviour - by journalists, certainly, but also by public officials, police, newspaper bosses, and politicians.

But the Leveson inquiry was called to look at the culture, ethics and practices of the press not the culture, ethics and practices of police, prime ministers and press secretaries. That is a flaw. Leveson acknowledges that there are issues of ownership and the huge influence and power a group such as News International can have over politicians but considered it outside his remit.  

His thinking mirrors that of key campaigners and of the victims of abuses. When the phone-hacking scandal was first unraveling and Andy Coulson resigned from his position as No 10 press secretary, Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University, who has become the driving force behind the Hacked Off campaign, wrote in the Guardian in January 2011 of the silence of the press in the face of what was clearly being exposed as a widespread illegal practice:

 “Editors who routinely invoke the public interest when it suits them have in this case systematically abused the public interest. One leading player [Coulson] in the story has been in Downing Street for nine months; another dominates our media landscape [Murdoch]; a third is our most powerful police force. If their conduct is not a matter of public interest, what is?”  

It is impossible to disagree. You cannot hear stories of media victims such as Charlotte Church, hounded and blackmailed, or the grieving McCann and Dowler families, harassed and hacked, without wanting to regulate something.

But regulation would not answer a key question raised then by Cathcart: the concentration of media ownership and the undemocratic power thus wielded by media corporations over governments, even ministers. Even Prime Ministers.

Most of the wretched practices unearthed in the past two years are already illegal: phone-hacking; false unfounded accusations, bribery and corruption of officials.

But Leveson’s concrete proposals focus on journalists: for example, he recommends that off-the-record briefings between police and press should be outlawed. Off-the-record horse-riding and exchanges between media moguls and senior ministers are exonerated.

Leveson leaves the crucial question of media ownership for government to sort out. Nor does he look closely at how the relationship between one particular media giant and recent governments might have contributed to some of the worst excesses of today’s media.

Yes, the regulation proposed is light as a feather. But the press cannot be "almost" free. Can you be free to expose corruption but not free to investigate someone’s friendships and associations? When does diligent exposure of corruption become scurrilous dirt-digging? How far should a journalist go to reveal, for example, a minister’s misdemeanours? Where might an investigation of police corruption take you? And what of investigating the veracity of an MPs expenses claim? These are all hard decisions that journalists and editors must make as they present themselves. There are already penalties for getting it wrong. There should be greater enforcement of these penalties.

And maybe we should also be wary of the “brave investigative journalist”/ "seedy hack” dichotomy particularly when celebrities play fast and loose with their own “privacy”, one day staging “spontaneous” photo opps, the next crying foul when a journalist or paparazzo catches them in an unflattering situation. It is not always ignoble to expose the pretensions of the famous. 

As a victim of the press, I think Leveson has got it wrong

Justin Baidoo-Hackman, software developer and Community Activist from South London

I unfortunately have first-hand experience of the misuse of power by the press. I have also challenged it. In 2006, the Sun newspaper wrote a short but mostly fictional article which trivialised an incident involving the death of my best friend. I was on holiday with him in Greece at the time. A day after the incident, several sections of the press harassed his grieving family for details, and I with another friend took up the Sun's article with the Press Complaints Commission. We won an apology but it was small and placed in a corner of a salacious double-spread kiss and tell story. We had previously considered legal action but it was unaffordable for a working class family. My friend’s name now is permanently linked to Darwin award type jokes on the Internet due to the Sun’s original fabrication. I wouldn't say that that it is on a par with the McCanns or Dowlers but I can empathise more than most.

Though I am inclined to wholeheartedly support Leveson's report purely on account of him slapping down Michael Gove's pomposity, I cannot endorse all of his recommendations. 

Leveson was right on a lot of things, on sexismon transphobia, the representation of ethnic and religious minorities, the need for cheap arbitration and an effective regulator. But on the proposal of a statutory backstop regulator such as OfCom, I believe (like most of the press including the Daily Mirror) that this would be a step too far. I don’t support Cameron in saying no changes in law are needed, for the new press-organised regulator to work, present and future victims need a truly independent body with legal powers, the “teeth” that has been missing in every incarnation of press standards bodies since 1945. Changes in the law are needed in order to deliver the cheap arbitration process, the power to impose fines, and to penalise non-compliant organisations to pay for legal costs of libel cases even if they win. Anything less than this can be rightly labelled a complete failure and betrayal by this government.

So Cameron is wrong to oppose legal changes. But backing Leveson's recommendations would not be enough. We need a press freedom law that removes obstructions to journalists exposing corruption and wrongdoing by the powerful. The right to press freedom that the Prime Minister claims to care so much about is currently severely hindered by the Official Secrets Act, which restricts journalists from reporting current crimes by the state. And what about the super-injunctions the courts are able to deploy on behalf of the rich to gag the press on crimes by corporations, as the Trafigura case illustrates?

This press freedom law could recognise an independent body which matches the principles of Leveson, but if government ministers are given oversight to appoint regulators, as with OfCom, then governments would have a new tool with which to attack newspapers. The BBC after the Hutton Inquiry is a case in point. Would any OfCom-regulated television broadcasters have broken the story on the Westminster expenses scandal, which involved paying for illegally obtained information? I doubt it. 

Even as a victim of abuse by the press, I stand with the New York Times and the civil rights organisation Liberty. We cannot endanger the freedom of the press to speak truth to power, even if the aim is to prevent future abuses. Ed Miliband is wrong to support OfCom as a compulsory backstop regulator of the press. We must check the power of the press with laws that protect the vulnerable, but this must not subdue it to the benefit of present and future governments. 

Asking crocodiles to turn into trout

David Marquand, former principal of Mansfield College, Oxford and author of (among many others) The Unprincipled Society (1988) and The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe, (2011). 

Vested interests, particularly when they are in decline, fight like tigers to hang on to their remaining privileges. That is the inner meaning of the press reaction to Leveson. The notion that the British press is a bastion of freedom and democracy is preposterous. With a few honourable exceptions, it is the instrument of over-mighty proprietors who seek, in Stanley Baldwin’s wonderful phrase, "power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot through the ages".

To suggest that it can be trusted to reform itself is about as far-fetched as suggesting that crocodiles can be trusted to transform themselves into trout.

Cameron and the cops were let off the hook... but for good reason 

Stuart Weir, founder of Democratic Audit at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, and co-founder of Charter 88.

Like Dan Hind, I have not read the Leveson report in full. But it seems to me that the central recommendations of the report must be implemented – namely, that a powerful press commission, independent both of the industry and government, should be established by the industry to give people effective redress when newspapers wrong them and to punish newspapers that invade individual people’s privacy or systematically harass or defame members of the public. Statutory underpinning of the new body is essential, but the statute should also provide constitutional recognition of the freedom of the press.

However, I have concern that there is a flaw in his scheme that the press has seized on. I am not convinced that the regulator Ofcom is an appropriate body to provide general oversight of the new independent commission and the regulatory system. Ofcom is ultimately a creature of the government and reports directly to government. Yet what alternative is there? In a democracy the proper body to exercise oversight would be Parliament and its committees, but Parliament in the UK is fundamentally a creature of the executive; and only a Parliament elected in both Houses by proportional representation could possibly assume a more significant role.

Almost inevitably, Lord Justice Leveson has been constrained from venturing too far from a narrow concept of his brief, and so for example did not deal with issues of press and media plurality beyond a general comment; and has for two reasons been too mild in his comments on the role of the police, the Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt in the hacking scandal. First, he had to rely on actual evidence of wrong doing or undue influence. Secondly, in the case of the police, he addressed himself to a definition of corruption that involved financial or material benefit. Thus he found “no evidence” of corruption among senior ranks at Scotland Yard. But a more insidious corruption can exist in the close dealings, friendships and understandings between the senior officers and the News of the World which may very well explain the “blunders”, “poor decisions” and “errors of judgment” that took place.

Leveson has been characterised as being naive. My feeling is however that he couldn’t go further than he did on the basis of suspicion and may very well have feared damaging the public perception of the police. He did however express concern about the closeness of senior officers with NOTW executives and questioned John Yates’s decision not to hand over the 2009 review of the scale of hacking to another officer in view of his friendship with Neil Wallis. He also clearly felt it necessary to make firm proposals to limit and make transparent the notoriously close relations between the police and press (at all levels, by the way, from weeklies up the scale to the Met), even to the point of recommending that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary should take over investigation of whistleblowers’ allegations against senior officers.

Leveson faced similar constraints in his judgment of the conduct of the Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt, who took temporary charge of the decision over the Murdoch take-over bid for BSkyB. Here again he criticised too close relations between senior politicians and the press and proposed more transparency extending to “personal” meetings and communications. Thus while he recognised that Cameron had gone to “great lengths” to woo Murdoch – like Blair and others before him – he believed that there was no deal to receive support from the Murdoch press in return for a favourable attitude towards the BSkyB bid; and merely rapped Hunt over the knuckles for his lack of supervision of the adviser who became improperly close to the James Murdoch’s fixer. There is no firm evidence of any kind of deal. But then, in the nature of things, there could have been no evidence.

Police failures were not confronted - what use more laws if we can't guarantee proper enforcement? 

Gavin Macfayden, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, Visiting Professor at City.

In a curiously dull report, Leveson's treatment of the police is sadly indicative of his attitude to the public and its legitimate rights. For a police whose independence is already perceived as deeply compromised, who took money, who covered up key evidence for months, who did not inform the hacking victims for months if not years, who sought to obfuscate critical evidence, and not one of whose members have been charged with anything, this is how Leveson described their evidence.
Despite all of the above and more, at his most critical, he says,"the approach of the police was insufficiently thought through, and wrong and unduly defensive."  But then as though he had heard no evidence, he goes on to say, "In reality I am satisfied that I have seen no basis for challenging at any stage the integrity of the police, or that of the senior police officers concerned."
Even though the police admittedly took money from News International executives, he writes,"there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was influenced either directly or indirectly in the conduct of the investigation by any fear or wish for favour from News International".
This is of course an important critique because there are a vast panoply of laws already in place to prosecute phone tapping, invasion of privacy as assault, bribery, prejudicial conduct, activities that create the appearance of corruption, etc. The problem is that almost none of these laws were enforced.  it was the job of the police to enforce these laws. Their failure to act for years was, he describes, a "theoretical" question, implying they were somehow unable to act.
Even though the police enforced very little, Leveson goes on to compliment them with words like, "thoroughness, good sense, appropriate (behavior), judicious and positive response."
With this attitude to legal obligation, the failures of the police are ignored and forgotten.Without enforcement, the question of additional laws, new committees, sanctimonious commissions and legislation are doomed to failure.

Public anger will force change, if not now then soon

Deborah Grayson, Campaigns Coordinator for the Media Reform Coalition.

Like others in the Media Reform Coalition, I welcome Leveson's recommendations for an independent regulator backed by statute, while being somewhat disappointed by his weak stance on plurality. With regards to the regulator, I am cautiously hopeful that this will not simply 'gather dust', even if Cameron succeeds in blocking the proposals in the near future. Much has been made of this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, pointing to the seven previous reports in the last 70 years, each of which has led to promises from the press to reform themselves, a period of chastisement, followed by slipping standards once the political moment has passed.

There are some crucial differences this time, however. Every previous Commission was held behind closed doors, and the only way most people could know what was going on was through the filter of the mainstream media. The Leveson Inquiry, on the other hand, was held in public, received submissions from dozens of civil society organisations, and was broadcast to and discussed by many thousands of ordinary people via the internet. What's more, everything that was said this time has been recorded as text and video, easily accessible to anyone online.

Yes, it's possible that the revelations of the Inquiry and the public anger they invoked will have been forgotten in 15 years, just as the scandals that led to Calcutt have been forgotten. But it won't be 15 years before the next crisis. The trials of Coulson and Brooks etc. may well reveal behaviour just a shocking as the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone - or it may be something new, as standards backslide under self (interested) regulation. At this point the promises made, the holier-than-thou moralising on free speech, and the hypocrisy and 'forgetfulness' of the editors and owners will be at our fingertips - and the Conservatives probably won't be in power to stop it. Labour seem to be running with this, but even if they are tempted to back out, the next crisis will force their hand. This may not be an immediate win but we've come too far to avoid real reform.


Tabloids have their hands drenched in the blood of sick and/or disabled people. The Leveson proposals would help save lives.

John James McArdle, the Black Triangle Campaign

Lord Justice Leveson wrote in his report:

2.61 Insight into issues of this sort was provided by Richard Desmond’s (Daily Express Editor – Ed.) candid evidence to the Inquiry, betraying a reluctance on his part to engage with what might be thought to be a basic question that all those in journalism should be prepared to focus on. He said:

“Ethical – I don’t know what the word means, perhaps you would explain what the word means,” before adding, as noted above: “We do not talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody is different”. 

Thank God most people in our society don’t share in Desmond et al.’s particular brand of ‘ethical relativism’ and amorality!

Lord Leveson has come out in favour of providing disabled people with a forum for legal redress against the barrage of lies, libel and defamation which we as a community have been suffering at the hands of our media élites these past few years; as Loony Right ideologues seek to cut us loose as a people from life and light.

Many people have in the past contacted our campaign to ask why we don’t all join forces together to mount a ‘class-action’ lawsuit against our enemies in the media for discrimination and libel.

It has always been painful to have to explain to incredulous supporters that British law does not, at present, provide a mechanism for groups such as ours to bring such a case in the Tort of Defamation or a case for Discrimination because we lack locus or ‘standing’ – that is that only a named, identifiable individual is competent to bring these cases as our legal system currently stands.

Lord Leveson explains this lacuna in the law as it applies to the Press Complaints Commission Code in some detail in his report and goes on to recommend that any future statutory independent regulatory body must address this and be able “to impose whatever sanctions or redress they would normally impose in respect of a breach of standards”.

So far, so good.

It’s good to pause for a moment to dream of a day when the so-called ‘free press’ of our country will no longer be able to fabricate stories vilifying and scapegoating disabled people and benefits claimants with impunity!

If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true, after all, as Captain Sensible once said!

But Hey!

Reality Check!

As seasoned campaigners, we know that Cameron & Co. will use every trick in the book and every sleight of hand they know to ensure that the Leveson Report’s recommendations disappear or that any new standards body is as toothless as a paper tiger.

We will fight against this, because we believe the new standards body must be placed on a statutory footing.  It must be independent of the press and government and tough where required.

For many, this report has come too late and its recommendations, if implemented, will still not come early enough for many of us now fighting for our lives while drowning in a sea of vile anti-claimant, anti-welfare state, disablist propaganda.


Fiona Pilkington (left), 38, killed herself and her disabled daughter Francesca Hardwick, 18, after being constantly harassed by local youths.


Karen Sherlock died of a suspected heart attack on 9th June. We believe her death was at least in part the result of a DWP/AtoS ruling, which ruled her fit for work despite her multiple illnesses. This was Karen's last post on her blog. We urge you to read it: 


Brian McArdle had suffered a blood clot on his brain that left him paralysed down his left side, unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress. Yet he was still summoned to an Atos “Work Capability Assessment” . His bereaved son Kieran, 13, says his Dad had another stroke just days before his appointment because of the stress he was placed under. The day after his benefits subsequently stopped, Brian collapsed and died in the street near his home in Larkhall, Lanarkshire. He had suffered a heart attack. He joins with 10,600 others who have perished within six weeks of their claim for ESA being terminated, according to a freedom of information request obtained by a supporter of our campaign.

Here was Iain Duncan Smith's callous response to Owen Jones's challenge to him over Brian's death on BBC Question Time.

These deaths did not take place in a vacuum. In each case, the tabloid press and wider media played a crucial role in creating a toxic social and moral milieu, making it acceptable and even seen as desirable to attack, abuse and denigrate sick and/or disabled people, both informally in public places and also more formally through the operation of DWP/AtoS. 

‘Careless’ reporting costs lives. We owe it to those who are no longer with us as a result to ensure that the Leveson Report is implemented in full.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.


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