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Friday 30 November 2012

Leveson – What He Said

Not everyone at the Leveson Report presentation yesterday was taking notes. And not everyone sounding off about it was even there. So it should surprise no-one that one or two details failed to make the newspaper coverage today, not least that the industry was so desperate to head off the potential acceptance of the recommendations by politicians that it was lobbying Leveson beyond all deadlines.

This revelation may not have been in the Executive Summary to which all media organisations have had access. But it was in Leveson’s statement: Lords Hunt and Black had presented to him a yet further revision of their “PCC 2” idea after the report had gone to the printers. There could be no other reason but to try and steal the thunder of what would be in the Report.

In any case, Leveson was clear that the Hunt and Black proposals – all of them – fell well short of what he considered acceptable. This was because what was being proposed did not give the proposed regulator independence from the press, nor the freedom from interference by proprietors and editors. Hunt and Black were still proposing that editors be allowed onto the main board of such a body.

Leveson was adamant that editors should not be allowed to influence any new regulator. This he told with no little feeling. The reason is not hard to find: when Richard Desmond pulled his titles from the PCC, it wasn’t just to save money. Indeed, being outside could make future legal actions more costly for him. There was also the presence of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre to consider.

Dacre had been equally adamant in his evidence before the Leveson Inquiry that any regulator needed editors to be part of it. Leveson showed by both the tone and content of his presentation that this had not persuaded him. Perhaps Hunt and Black will also reveal – as they seem to like giving out information – what input Dacre and his pals are providing for the so-called Free Speech Network.

What Leveson also said – and what is to no surprise also not being reported today – was that a free press was in the public interest, and that he was at all times considering the public interest. That was the first reason why he asserted that there must be legislation: the legal duty of Government to ensure press freedom, that is, free from political interference of any kind.

In doing so, Leveson was offering the press the equivalent of what in the USA is contained within the First Amendment of the Constitution. It would be a form of statute, but then, so is the US Constitution, and the latter is lauded by those across the political spectrum, especially on the right. Instead, the press is smearing and baying, its reporting selective and dismissive.

For some, that is preferable to listening and taking notes. No change there, then.

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