James Cusick: Can Leveson Inquiry remember what it's for?

Our writer gets a taste of the battles ahead as hacking inquiry cranks up


The advisory note from the Leveson Inquiry described the gathering in the QE2 conference centre yesterday as a "seminar". It wasn't. Resembling a very bad edition of Question Time, where normal people were banished and replaced by room-full of big egos, it became a forum trying to promote the myth that unethical or illegal activity never happened in Britain's squeaky-clean media. The opening remark from Sir David Bell, the former chairman of the Financial Times, sounded like an appeal to the Guinness book of records. "I doubt a gathering like this has ever happened before," he said. Sadly, there will be no new entry. Check the reservations at The Ivy or Soho House any night. They'll look similar.

Sir David said he wanted to start "a debate". The seminar was billed as an examination of "the competitive pressures on the press and the impact on journalism".

The media analyst Claire Enders offered comprehensive evidence that the UK's media landscape is a tough place to survive. Young people were using the printed media less than older people; despite the growth of everything from the iPad to smart phones, "analogue dollars still equalled digital pennies".

If the media great-and-good didn't already know this, they were in the wrong place.

It is the continuing fallout from News International's deployment of phone hacking and other dark arts that makes the Leveson Inquiry necessary.

But yesterday's gathering suggested many may have forgotten why they were there.

The former News of the World editor Phil Hall could have reminded them. Instead, he recalled his first chat with Rupert Murdoch, who told him circulation of the tabloid would fall by a million over the next few years. Rupert didn't mind at all, said Hall, because all he wanted was a "great competitive newspaper". It sounded like Hall had got "The News of the Screws" confused with The New York Times. Pressures in the NOTW newsroom? "Only our professional pride." The former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt resigned last year over what he saw as the paper's Islamophobia. His seminar input was clear: tabloid newsdesks are evil and twisted and it's no fun in the gutter. Newsdesks, said Peppiatt, worked like this: "Tell us what we want to hear and we won't ask how you got it." That should have been the seminar's cue to explore the ethics of illegal phone intercepts, the hiring of suspect private detectives, the bribing of police officers, the uncomfortably close relationships between the Metropolitan Police and senior NI executives. It didn't happen. Instead, the Q&A sessions that followed descended into hybrid bar chats, with each editor saying, in their own words, why my paper, my boys, my standards, are better than yours.

It took the intervention of Ian Hargreaves, professor of journalism at Cardiff University and a former editor of The Independent, to remind the inquiry that they were in danger of missing the ethical point – that phone hacking really couldn't be explained away by talk of the industry's new-found commercial pressures. Roy Greenslade, a former Mirror editor, cited the Profumo affair as the beginning of the trouble. The editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, said there was no trouble and repeated the Hall maxim: "Our pressure is our professional pride." The bosses from the Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday, the Mirror, and the people from The People, all agreed. Peppiatt's gutter was a land they didn't recognise. The seminar had just descended into back-patting.

If Lord Leveson allows months of this, his inquiry will fail before it has started. A talking shop with a delusionary rose-tinted view of Fleet Street isn't what was ordered.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing