Leading article: Equal measures of negligence and disgrace

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Piece by piece the full picture of journalistic malpractice continues to emerge, and what we see isn't getting any prettier. Today
The Independent publishes a tranche of evidence that points to the astonishing laxness with which the authorities dealt with potential wrongdoing.

A retired former police officer has revealed to this newspaper how – as part of Operation Motorman – the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) uncovered industrial-scale data protection abuses as long as eight years ago. These findings, according to the former officer, were not followed through, and the lead investigator's efforts to pursue inquiries were actively discouraged.

In activities by no means confined to News International titles, media organisations employed a network of private detectives to obtain private and personal information – typically, addresses and phone numbrs – on thousands of individuals, including the families and friends of murder victims. To the families of Milly Dowler and Holly Wells, we can now add that of Stuart Lubbock, the man found drowned in Michael Barrymore's swimming pool. Pam Warren, one of the survivors of the Paddington rail crash, was also targeted.

That the ICO did not go far enough seems clear. Worse still are the practical ramifications. If the media had been fully investigated at the time of Operation Motorman, the scandal now engulfing it might have been contained by being exposed much earlier on. A public inquiry might have been avoided altogether, or at at least been conducted on a smaller scale.

Now the Leveson Inquiry has an impossibly broad remit, with unwanted implications for press freedom and responsible journalism. It is a concern that the seven-strong panel does not include anyone with experience of investigative journalism and the good it can do. Journalism has always walked a fine line and it is clear that the balance has tipped too far. The distinction between journalism in the public interest and journalism that interests the public has become impossibly blurred. The worry now is that the former becomes a casualty of the pursuit of the latter.

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