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Wednesday 16 November 2011

Leveson Is Served (2)

The Leveson enquiry this morning heard from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger. But the participant to watch was David Sherborne, representing 51 “core participants”, a sample of those who were targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, whose notes, he reminded the enquiry, are still being pored over by the Police over five years after being seized.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet talked of the fear of speaking out, of the pressure on journalists: “relentless, often to unpredictable and unreasonable timescales, and without the resources to do the job well”. She stressed it was important “to understand the reality of newsroom culture and the pressures ... to write stories that are inaccurate or misleading”.

She also told of the hostility of the Murdoch press to organised labour on the one hand, but its cynical attempt to legitimise the work of PI Derek Webb on the other, by telling him he had to “stop being a private investigator and become a journalist”, and that he had to join the NUJ and obtain an NUJ press card. Ms Stanistreet called this “cynical”. Her talent for understatement is masterful.

Rusbridger clearly wanted to maintain hope that self-regulation could be made to work: to believe otherwise is, for any newspaper editor, to admit failure. He found adversely on the PCC’s absence when Phonehackgate kicked off, and proposed a revised “Press Standards and Mediation Commission”, a “one stop shop disputes resolution service”. Other editors’ reaction will be crucial.

These, though interesting as they were, served only as warm-up acts for Sherborne, who showed that he understood the Fourth Estate by summarising its acts thus: “Illegally accessing people's voicemail ... blagging, blackmailing vulnerable or opportunistic individuals into breaking confidences of well known people ... the vilification of ordinary members of the public; the hounding of well known people, their family and friends”. Got it in one.

And he captured the modus operandi of too many titles thus: “what you can't get you buy, what you can't buy you procure through deception and lies; what you can't procure you steal or you make up because it sounds right and sells newspapers”. He also asserted that the Screws did not have a public interest defence for any of its many intrusions into others’ privacy.

Where Sherborne misses the target, if only slightly, is when he tells that it is “a scandal” that reporting of Phonehackgate was confined to only “broadsheets and broadcasters”. It is, of course, because of the unwritten rule governing those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet: “dog doesn’t eat dog”.

Many of those Sherborne represents will appear later. It’s warming up nicely.

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