It was like being scheduled against the Christmas special of Downton Abbey. There I was, live and unplugged, appearing at a House of Lords select committee at the very same time Piers Morgan was up before the Leveson Inquiry via a satellite link with the States. No contest. Say what you like about Piers – and most people do – he's usually worth listening to, even if it is just to confirm your own prejudices. At this point, I should say that I've known Piers for years and have found him an engaging and provocative companion. Certainly, I could understand why he played to a packed house at the Royal Courts of Justice, while the press benches were notably empty for my inquisition at the Palace of Westminster. I was appearing before a select committee inquiry into investigative journalism, a term I have always thought of as something of a tautology.
Most good journalism is investigative, requiring a spirit of inquiry to get to the truth. Also, the very nature of journalism is changing so rapidly these days that we need new terms of reference. For instance, there is an argument to say that everyone who has a mobile phone is a journalist. Are not those whose tweets fuelled the uprisings in the Middle East this year to be considered journalists? A piece of journalism can be 1,000 words in The Times of London or 140 characters from a bedroom in Benghazi. And is not the YouTube clip of the man throwing a foul-mouthed fare-dodger off the train hidden-camera journalism in the best traditions of Panorama? Except, of course, that many more people will have seen this footage than watch Panorama.
And all over Britain, citizen journalists like the IT teacher who filmed the brouhaha on the train are providing a valuable public service, reporting on local issues, posting footage of significant events, helping to increase engagement in politics. No one knows where this movement will lead, which is why every media organisation in the world is locked in futurological discussion.
I was at the select committee as head of a new charitable organisation called The Journalism Foundation, whose aim is to support and encourage journalistic initiatives which act in the public good. Thanks to the far-sighted and generous patronage of the Lebedev family – the owners of this newspaper – the running costs of the foundation are taken care of, so every penny we raise goes directly to a worthwhile cause.
I know this may not be the best time to promote journalism as a force for good, but at home and abroad, there are many, many examples of projects that act as an antidote to Leveson. For example, we have pledged to support training courses for journalists in Tunisia, where dozens of new publications have sprung up since the revolution, but where there is no tradition of free and fair journalism.
A free press is as important to civic society as an independent judiciary, and we are doing our little bit to help promote a democratic settlement in Tunisia. You know what's coming next. Go to our website – thejournalismfoundation.com – and make a donation. Every little bit helps, and you'll be able to see exactly where your money is going.