Leveson’s legacy

July 20, 2012

As the Leveson Inquiry winds into its final stage, a fractious panel of media commentators came to the Frontline Club to debate the likely and desirable outcomes. The audience were treated to a diversity of opinions on what Lord Justice Leveson’s investigation ought to achieve, but the panel almost reached a consensus on what Leveson was likely to achieve – an independent PCC style body with “teeth”.

In the chair was the ever cheery Jonathan Dimbleby, who mapped out the key areas for debate. The panelists began with a feisty exchange over newspaper funding. The Times columnist David Aaronovitch argued that tabloids form a crucial part of a sustainable economic model.<

“The only parts of British journalism that make any money and aren’t subsidised are the tabloid papers, which created the sorts of abuses that we’re talking about…The only one (online) that looks likely to make some money is the Mail online. The model of the Mail Online has nothing to do with quality journalism. It’s essentially sex, tits and murder.”

Academic Angela Phillips replied that public interest journalism was actually subsidised in other parts of Europe, suggesting that this model could actually benefit journalism in the UK.

New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis stated that Leveson should take the global reach of internet publications into account.

“I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Martin Clark, editor of the Mail online. We can regulate the British press all that we want but the American press could still publish very intrusive pictures, they will still follow Pippa Middleton around because there’s a market for that there. I’d like to see an acknowledgement that we’re competing in a global market place.”

Dimbleby moved on to the question of how to protect so-called victims of shoddy journalism. Academic and founder of Hacked Off Brian Catchcart expressed his frustration that when bad journalism has sold newspapers, it’s gone unpunished.<

“The journalists who wrote the stuff about Christopher Jefferies are all still in employment. At the lowest levels you need journalists to feel that there will be consequences when things go wrong… There should be statutory underpinned self-regulation. Self-regulation, but you would have certain criteria that the press would have to meet which would be subject to audit by an external body like Ofcom. Editors and proprietors shouldn’t be left to run the show themselves.”

Aaronovitch offered support for this view but struck a gloomy note in his assessment of Leveson’s impact.

“It feels to me that we’re locking the stable door after the horse has died… This is not where the great abuses are going to come from. These are the kind of epiphenomena of the last twenty years coming back to us in a form of belated accountability, just as the system changes irrevocably.”

In summing up, the panel reached a consensus that the Leveson report will hold very little weight and is almost irrelevant. It will remain up to Whitehall whether they choose to implement the Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.