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Monday 5 November 2012

Leveson Is Served (25)


While the Fourth Estate continues to wait for Lord Justice Leveson to complete his report and issue recommendations, advice keeps on pouring in as to what line he should take, what the best way to proceed might be, and how free speech will be automatically curtailed by his findings, despite nobody knowing what they will be. And now there appears to have been a wobble from the Guardian.

In an editorial last Friday, the paper that brought Phonehackgate kicking and screaming into the public eye and exposed the nastier side of papers like the late and unlamented Screws appeared to not only equivocate on the subject of regulatory reform, but also join the call for some kind of self-regulation to continue – despite it having been an abject failure in the past.

This apparent volte face has brought dismay in some quarters, notably at Hacked Off, where the response has been “The Guardian hangs up its gloves”. That response suggests that the paper has meekly joined the rest of the press pack in begging not to bring them into the same sphere of discipline as the broadcast media – which still managed to break the Savile and Winterbourne stories.

The dismay is echoed at Labour Uncut, and is put in yet more forthright terms: “The Guardian bottles Leveson” is the verdict, with the paper’s editor characterised as “Bottler Rusbridger”, in the same way as the Tories painted Pa Broon after the “Election that never was” in 2007. And they tell that “the editorial has gone down like a cup of cold sick at the paper”. So the troops aren’t happy, either.

It’s entirely possible that Alan Rusbridger has genuinely concluded that taking the proposals first made by Lord Black and building a “New PCC” on their foundation is the way to go. But there is another explanation for the move, and to get an idea of what that might be, you need to look at all those other papers that have been shouting the loudest about Leveson in recent weeks.

What have the Mail, Telegraph and Sun made of the Guardian editorial? Quite simply, they have not made anything of it: there has been silence from the Murdochs, Dacre Towers and Canary Wharf. That should tell you something, and that something is that this move is what will deflect any blame when Leveson reports. The Guardian has shown solidarity with the rest of the press.

This matters at a paper where finances need bolstering and cuts continue to be made. It matters that Rusbridger and his team can get on with business without having to endure yet another barrage of abuse when Leveson reports. Thus this editorial. But no-one should be downhearted: that report and its conclusions will have already been drawn up. The Guardian editorial will make no difference.

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