The positive power of the press must be recognised

As a wholesale demolition of our trade, Lord Leveson's letter takes some beating
  • @c_blackhurst

On my desk is a letter from the Leveson Inquiry. It sets out the likely criticisms Lord Justice Leveson will make of the newspaper industry when he presents his report. It's 116 pages long.

Every newspaper editor has received this document. It's not directed at them individually or their title – the comments are aimed at the entire press.

As a wholesale demolition of our trade, it takes some beating. I can't go into detail because the broadside is accompanied by heavy legal warnings: to divulge the contents would see me put in a cell and the key thrown away.

And, it must be said, it's only a draft. He's seeking comments and presumably he will take those on board and may amend and soften his stance. Still, as one person said who has also seen it, as an indicator of where the process may be heading, it's compelling.

I went public with my reaction on Radio 4 last week. I wasn't the first recipient to do so – on its website, The Guardian had earlier carried a piece quoting someone as saying that Leveson had thrown "the kitchen sink" at the industry. On The Media Show, I said the letter is "a damning indictment". While "some of the criticisms are certainly justified" others "raise eyebrows" and do not bear any relation to practices at this paper. Leveson, I said, was "loading a gun".

This provoked a statement from Leveson, saying he was "disappointed" that the contents of his letter were being discussed. In fact, I'd stayed clear of specifics. Others said I was naïve, that of course the letter was bound to be critical. I know that. I've covered enough official inquiries in my time as a reporter to know the score: they send out the proposed criticisms to those they're criticising and invite their comments. What took me aback was the sheer scale and breadth of the negativity. And, crucially, many of his points were not things this newspaper recognises.

Unless I'm mistaken, Lord Justice Leveson is not going to exclude The Independent from his findings. We didn't hack anyone's phone, but we're going to be treated just the same. I know press regulation needs strengthening and that the public has lost faith in the system. But I'm also aware that only a few journalists have been accused of accessing other people's voicemails, which prompted his inquiry, and that all newspapers and journalists are now in danger of being traduced.

We have to fight our corner, to make it plain that we've done nothing bad – and that, in common with much of the press, a lot of what we do is on the side of good. Without newspapers, all manner of scandals – from thalidomide to MPs' expenses, neither of which prompted public inquiries – would not have been exposed.

It's possible that Lord Justice Leveson may say so, but there's also the likelihood that anything positive he says will be lost in the clamour to condemn. That's why I said what I did, to put down a marker and get our voice heard.