This week, Lord Justice Leveson published his report on Press Standards, a much-anticipated report investigating the behaviour of the press in the wake of Phone hacking and seemingly inappropriate relationships with Politicians and police. Many see the “Free Press” as the cornerstone of Democracy, however Leveson has advised that the Press Complaints commission is not fit for purpose and should be replaced by an independent body backed by law. I think its a shame, but he is right!
Before I fully appreciated the whole facts, I was against any meddling with the press, but I also assumed we were talking about all journalism, IE Written, Spoken and Visual (Papers, TV and Radio), but, of course, once you realise the issues, we are just talking about the written press. Radio and TV has been covered by the proposed model for years with the OFCOM regulations. And it hasn’t stopped them doing proper investigative journalism. I can already hear the “what about Saville!” retort, but we have to remember that many Print organisations admit they knew of mutterings but didn’t do anything, it was actually ITV that broke the story.
While we look at the way the press and paparazzi act, hounding people, camping outside homes just looking for that sordid shot or story, I think we also have to look at ourselves as a society too. We have to take some responsibility for where we are. If we did not buy papers with the sleaze pics, invasive and cheap journalism then it would not be produced because it would not be profitable. It is the public appetite for this type of story that means that the press will do what they can to fill the gap because it means they make the profits that they do. This is backed up by the common knowledge that positive press stories are few and far between. From personal experience, I know that trying to get a positive message out there is a really hard and long process, but the ability to get a negative story out there is so quick and easy.
From a local perspective, Kingsway used to get reported regularly in the press and portrayed the place as a hell on earth which did not bear much resemblance to our actual day to day experiences. It took a lot of work, discussing with reporters and also getting the Editor of the Citizen, Ian Mean to come to Kingsway and attend our public meeting to see what the reality is. This work has resulted in over 2 years of no unwarranted negative press. But we still bear the scars of the initial reports as the negative stories are remembered. Will Kingsway really recover from this? It will, but it will take a long time yet.
I think, in an ideal world the press (of all types) would not need any regulation, they would have high moral standards, and we would appreciate the positiveness in society and then when something was discovered it was investigated in a professional and responsible way. However, this was seen not to be happening in the TV reporting world and so it was changed and now works in a much more ethical way. It’s not perfect, but it does work. We have to acknowledge that what Leveson has uncovered shows that the press has acted in a deplorable way and it needs to change. Can self-regulation work, yes it could, but it hasn’t, it failed badly and not for the first time. So we have to do it differently.
it is important to remember the victims here. Many argue that the Celebrities (Ann Diamond, Charlotte Church, Hugh Grant etc) and the Politicians sign up for this and should not be surprised, and there is probably some truth in that, though I don’t think its right, there is the argument that if you court the press, then you should be aware. However it is those people who do not deal with the press who need this protection. The activities round the McCanns, the Dowlers – families whose personal privacy was so rudely intruded upon at a time which was already a devastating time. The trial by media in Bristol of the innocent man. The thousands more examples that went in evidence to Leveson but under less fanfare. The old adage of “no smoke without fire” is applied to press reports and people’s lives are ruined for the sake of a fleeting headline.
Lets face the reality, the call is not for a communist approach like China, but for a safeguard, similar to what we already have in all other media. It is not stopping journalism, but more promoting responsible investigative reporting. The press has enormous power, but with power comes responsibility and its time it was exercised properly. The activities that many of the reporters engaged in were already illegal but that didn’t stop them. We need this change to instigate a culture change for the better. In reality most reporters, I would hope, won’t be affected by the proposed idea, but it will be a proper backstop for those who are.
A politician made the following comments through the enquiry (taken from here) :
‘We should, as I say again, bear in mind who we’re doing this for, why we’re here in the first place, and that’s the real test. If the families like the Dowlers feel this has really changed the way they would have been treated, we would have done our job properly.’ Evidence to Leveson, 14/06/12
‘It can’t be self-regulation, it has to be independent regulation.’ Evidence to Leveson, 14/06/12
‘If it’s not bonkers, we’ll implement it.’ – Interview in 2011
The irony here is that those comments were make by David Cameron, our Prime Minister, the very same who is now not wanting to implement the recommendations of the Leveson report. He really needs to not do another U Turn here and do what he said he would do!