The Leveson Inquiry comes to Frontline – what have we learned?

By Thomas Lowe
Passionate exchanges, heckling from the audience and caustic wit – that’s what you get when a panel of journalists sit down to discuss what Peter Wilby described as the media’s ‘truth and reconciliation commission’.
Anne Diamond, who now hosts the Anne Diamond show on Berkshire radio believes she was ‘targeted’ by Rupert Murdoch for confronting him about the conduct of his newspapers. She got quickly to the crux of why the Leveson inquiry is important:
“[the invasion of privacy] came to a head when my little boy died of cot death… My husband and I wrote to every Fleet Street editor we could think of to ask them and beg them personally not to send a reporter to the funeral. The Sun chose to put a photographer there and made it their front page the next day…”
So who’s to blame for this and other invasions of privacy?
Diamond says reporters can be ‘terrified’ of returning to the newsroom empty-handed and are forced to push boundaries. Peter Wilby, columnist and former editor at the New Statesman, says that readers who buy and sustain the papers ‘should accept part of the responsibility.’
The panel agreed on the need for the Leveson inquiry, but is it working?
‘We haven’t heard enough from working reporters’ says Ben Fenton of the Financial Times ‘because… well most of them are frightened actually.’
Fenton made the point that the inquiry may be unearthing too much, in that its remit has become considerable – an opinion taken up by Tom Latchem, former TV editor of the defunct News of The World: “I think that it’s too broad, too messy. I don’t think Leveson knows what he’s looking for.”
Professor George Brock, head of journalism at City University argued that Leveson is achieving something.
“The first thing the Leveson inquiry has done is to absolutely make it ok to say what you think… Function number 2 is before an inquiry ever reports people concentrate a lot on things they didn’t think about before. The third function… it might say ‘we should do this’… I would say it’s already worked on levels 1 and 2 – I’d say that was a gain.”
The question lingers whether there would have been an inquiry at all if the false accusation that NoTW journalists had deleted Millie Dowler’s voicemail messages had not been made. Dan Sabbagh head of media and technology at The Guardian, which made the allegation originally, was in the audience.
“We had reliable sources that didn’t turn out to be quite right… We acknowledge we’ve made a mistake… we acknowledged it 34 times.”
In his final comments, Latchem spoke in defence of tabloid newspapers and the journalists who worked on them.
“Tony Parsons for example… he’s got a broadsheet mind and a tabloid tongue and he speaks to people in the country who don’t understand complicated issues in language that they understand – and that is the great thing that tabloids can do.”
Watch the whole event here: