The publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s findings, following his Inquiry into the workings and behaviour of the Fourth Estate, will not appear this side of November, which means it is over a month away. And what he decides and recommends is unlikely to be swayed by the protestations of the likes of Tony Gallagher of the Maily Telegraph. Yet the paper keeps on bleating about the matter.
“The threat to our free press is grave and foolish” proclaims today’s leader column, and continues with aloof and slightly sniffy proclamations such as “In a country governed by the rule of law, the independence of the press is a constitutional necessity”, before letting the cat out of the bag: “This might sound like the opening of a self-interested piece of special pleading on behalf of the newspaper industry”.
There’s understatement for you. And, as the man said, there’s more: “There is a real danger that, because some newspapers allegedly behaved in a criminal manner, efforts will be made to reduce the whole press to an emasculated cipher of high-minded opinion”. Allegedly? Christ on a bike, there’s no “allegedly” about it. And Phonehackgate wasn’t the only such example.
Perhaps Gallagher never heard of Operation Motorman, which concluded that Steve Whittamore and his network of blaggers and bent insiders spent many years illegally obtaining information for a number of newspapers, with 305 different journalists requesting 13,343 items, most of them illegal. A total of 11,345 items were “certainly or very probably” in breach of the Data Protection Act.
More recently, there have been damages awarded to the McCann family and Robert Murat, and both damages awarded and contempt proceedings as a result of the Christopher Jefferies case. The impression of casual criminality is inescapable, and is not just confined to the Murdoch press. In the face of this, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has been signally useless.
The replacement of the PCC with a body that works within a statutory framework – note that this does not make such a body a public or Government one – is all but inevitable. The argument of the Tel – that the new body would be a statutory one and therefore a burgeoning bureaucracy – wilfully makes the logic leap from statutory framework to statutory body to in order to argue against it.
There are frighteners talking of a press “beholden to the state”, but all that it would be “beholden to” would be the law – and ceasing the practice of scaring complaints away by threatening them with more expensive lawyers, while defining the PCC codes so that many legitimate claims can be batted away as falling outside their terms. What the Telegraph is arguing against is accountability.
And accountability is what the public both need and want. Get over it.