Let’s be honest, Leveson was never going to be able to carry everyone with him. There are too many vested interests, as well as a nation’s worth of opinions, but the general consensus seems to be that he’s done a good job … by and large.
I quite enjoyed both the tweet and the slight sense of ‘irk’ (if it’s not a noun, it should be) / professional pique of someone who sees their turf being hijacked – PR consultant, journalist and author Stephen Waddington (@wadds) who tweeted on Thursday, prior to the publication of the Leveson report: “Wow. Twitter. You’re noisy today. And everyone’s become an expert on press freedom overnight.”
Paul Lewis – financial journalist, broadcaster and public speaker (@paullewismoney) whose Twitter profile defines him as an “unequivocal believer in free speech and a free press”, got some flak for his robust stand against any press regulation, but I thought his response to a query from another Paul Lewis (@ Paul_LewisIFA) disingenuous at best:
From @Paul_LewisIFA to ‘paullewismoney : “Why is having a ‘regulated’ media to safeguard the public much different to having a regulated financial services industry ?”
From @paullewismoney to @Paul_LewisIFA: “Because, oddly, freedom to flog stuff to us is not such a key freedom as freedom of speech!”
A better response might have been that the financial services model is hardly the proof we need to justify independent regulation but to say that millions of people’s financial security is a lesser aspiration than press freedom seems to be deliberately missing the point.
It’s true that every potential solution requires some degree of compromise. It’s also undeniable that history is littered with deeply unfortunate examples of unintended consequences …. although it’s hard to argue that state-controlled press is the big bogeyman of old now that social media is already challenging this even in the strictest dictatorships. However, when considering next steps, the starting point seems to me to be the unavoidable fact that our self-regulated press has allowed horrifying abuse of innocent victims (even disregarding the less clear cut cases of the ‘celebrity victims’).
Despite the government and the newspapers appearing like-minded in saying that response to the report in terms of reformation should be swift, there is what Hugo Rifkind in his article in The Times on Friday 30th November referred to as not just “…the elephant in the room…” but “… a whole herd of elephants, knocking the room down.” The article’s subtitle said it all: “The press Leveson wants to regulate soon won’t exist on paper. By ignoring the web, his proposals are out of date.” Guardian journalists Paul Owen and Jemima Kiss make the same point in their online summary of the Report and the various reactions to it in the section of entitled “Leveson’s blind spot – the internet”. Leveson himself seemed aware of this challenge as he opened the one-page section(!!?) on the relevance of the internet to press regulation with the acknowledgement that: “Many editors and commentators have argued that the burgeoning of the internet is likely to render irrelevant much of the work of the inquiry even assuming that it has not already done so.” In his feature on this subject, The Guardian’s James Ball says Leveson’s is a strange and complex conclusion, that the internet is untrusted, still distinct from the press, and has no ethical standards, so shouldn’t be paid attention to – so we’ll only focus on the press. But he also says that some online-only operations – and Leveson’s definition certainly hints at the kind of publications he might mean – should be covered by the regulator anyway.
Despite this apparently massive hole in Leveson’s report, I think his findings are pragmatic and a reasonable outcome in the timeframe. The real test will be to see what happens next?