Ian Burrell: As Lord Leveson prepares to give his verdict, it's gone strangely quiet

Media Studies: Evan Harris, of the press reform group Hacked Off, smells a conspiracy not to cover Leveson

A source close to News International spoke to me last week with no little enthusiasm about the recent press treatment of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards. Or rather, it is the lack of coverage that gives cause for comfort at Rupert Murdoch's Wapping HQ.

We have had an inquisition into every nook and cranny of newspaper culture, an audit greater than any press inquiry in the past and one that has genuinely opened the eyes of the public to the murkier machinations of the Fourth Estate. And yet, just as the judge prepares to present his hotly anticipated findings, things have gone strangely quiet.

Even the recent court appearance of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who denied phone-hacking charges, attracted less attention in the written media than their former colleagues at NI had been anticipating.

What is going on here? Evan Harris, of the press reform group Hacked Off, smells a conspiracy. "There's clearly an approach being taken by much of the press not to cover anything on Leveson other than stories which undermine the inquiry," he says.

Harris might have some sympathy on this from JK Rowling, one of the victims of phone hacking. When the author recently conducted some publicity interviews for her novel The Casual Vacancy, she found herself accused of "hypocrisy" in a vitriolic attack by the Daily Mail, which was clearly also irked by the aggressive and restrictive marketing tactics of Rowling's publisher Little, Brown.

"Miss Rowling was one of the 'star witnesses' at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, complaining bitterly about the press repeatedly invading her privacy," observed the Mail, before noting how she had talked at length to The Guardian about many aspects of her personal life. The writer, claimed the Mail, left herself "open to criticisms that she has compromised her own privacy to promote her book for financial gain".

Celebrity hacking victims have not all run for cover in the face of such hostility. Steve Coogan was at the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton, lobbying Nick Clegg to accept the most far-reaching proposals that Leveson might come up with. Christopher Jefferies, the Bristol schoolteacher monstered by the red-tops in the wake of the Jo Yeates murder, sought similar commitments from Labour's Ed Miliband. This week in Birmingham, Charlotte Church will be making representations to David Cameron, asking the Prime Minister not to bury the inquiry's recommendations.

But, for all this, News International – and other sections of the press – will have drawn comfort from the notable absence of debate about Leveson during a party conference season that takes place just as this supposedly momentous report is due to appear. The fact that the issue has been largely confined to a few fringe discussions shows it is viewed with considerable nervousness by politicians, despite the promises given by Clegg and Miliband to the hacking victims.

After half a dozen previous press inquiries and commissions since 1947, Leveson surely cannot simply replenish the industry's whisky glass and extend the opening hours of the Last Chance Saloon. His 100-page "Rule 13" notice, issued to newspaper companies in August, indicated he was convinced of the need for sweeping reforms. But that document has provoked a response from the publishers which has left Leveson bogged down in legal wranglings. The result is that a report which was expected to be published by now has been severely delayed.

One consequence of this is that the annual Society of Editors conference on 11 November, which was expected to be an occasion when the leading figures of the press responded to the written criticisms of the judge, is now likely to become a last-minute opportunity for the industry to claim it has already put its house in order. The keynote speaker for this Belfast gathering is Lord Hunt who, it seems extraordinary to note, will be marking a full year in post as the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, a body that some people wrongly assume disappeared around the time the Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal brought down the News of the World and demonstrated the inadequacies of the 21-year-old regulatory body.

Since then, many senior press industry figures believe the culture in Fleet Street newsrooms has changed. Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, believes the furore over publication by overseas outlets of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge has improved the reputation of the British press in the eyes of the public.

Furthermore, the industry is willing to impose much tougher standards – including the introduction of investigatory powers and the threat of publishers being fined up to £1m – in return for maintaining a system of self-regulation.

For the more vociferous hacking victims, this is not enough. They regard such a solution as merely the "son" of Lord Hunt's discredited PCC and will not be happy unless Leveson introduces a statutory backstop that reinforces the powers of any future regulator.

Hacked Off is worried that even liberal newspaper groups will be "browbeaten" into toeing an industry line on reform – although it seems nonsensical to suggest that this paper or The Guardian, which reignited the hacking scandal, have in any way lost interest in the story.

Reformers are looking to the broadcast media for support but recent events at the BBC have not been helpful. The growing scandal of the organisation's failure to act on allegations of decades of child abuse by Jimmy Savile – under the noses of Britain's biggest newsroom – weakens the BBC's credibility when reporting critically on standards of corporate governance at News Corp.

But this is not Lord Justice Leveson's primary concern. Time pressures, however, will be on his mind. Latest expectations are that his report will not emerge before the end of November. Let us hope it is not further delayed. If the findings require changes to the law but are not published by the time Parliament rises on 20 December then they will not make it into the legislative timetable. And then there will be little need for politicians to kick Leveson into the long grass.

Dame's departure is sad day for women

News of Dame Marjorie Scardino's departure from Pearson after 16 years at the helm of the publisher of the Financial Times is another sad day for women in the British press.

Although Scardino has won great kudos by driving company profits to a record high, she is handing over to a male CEO, John Fallon.

Less than three years ago, more than half the titles in Fleet Street were produced by companies with female chief executives.

But first Carolyn McCall left her job as chief executive of Guardian Media Group to join easyJet and was replaced by Andrew Miller.

Then Rebekah Brooks stood down as CEO at News International – a role that was given to Tom Mockridge. The Trinity Mirror CEO Sly Bailey has recently been replaced by Simon Fox, the former boss of HMV.

All the national newspaper groups are now, once again, being run by men.

It’s easier for Ed to keep quiet

Whatever form it takes, the new press regulator will want to avoid the fate of its broadcast equivalent, Ofcom, which is being tormented by media lawyers.

The framework of Ofcom means its rulings are easily and habitually subjected to legal appeal. As a result, its decisions have generated more than 45 challenges in the Competition Appeals Tribunal at a cost of millions to the public purse – but generating vast wealth for m’learned friends.

So litigious is the territory that it’s surely no coincidence that Ed Richards, despite being the broadcasting regulator, has so far declined to register an account with Twitter.


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'