Leading article: Leveson must strike a careful balance


Related Topics

The Leveson Inquiry has been a compelling show. After eight months of testimony – from the parents of murder victims, from over-exposed celebrities, from once all-powerful and elusive newspaper proprietors, even from the Prime Minister himself – the panel has trawled through much that was well-known about the operations of the press, and much that was not. With the hearings drawing to a close, the question now is what happens next.

This newspaper's concerns about the inquiry remain. Its remit is too broad, taking in everything from the specifics of phone hacking at News International through to the entire industry's culture, ethics and practices. Within that, whole areas remain, surprisingly and inexplicably, largely untouched, such as the methods and influence of public relations practitioners and the parliamentary lobby. More serious still, it has run in parallel with no fewer than three police investigations – into phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery of public officials – leaving too many questions either impossible to ask or impossible to answer, and prejudice to future trials a real danger.

For all that, there has been much of value. The "network of corrupt officials" described by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers would probably have come out anyway, as Operation Elveden progressed. But the Leveson Inquiry has shone a light into the murky world at the top of Britain's power structure that might otherwise have continued unnoticed and unchecked. The culture of chummy text messages and loaned horses, of private dinners and country suppers, revealed by top News International executives and senior politicians, has changed Britain's understanding of itself as a model of rectitude and fair play. And after so much dirty linen so publicly washed, politicians are likely to be more circumspect in future.

Amid the justifiable furore over relations between politicians and the press – not least as regards the Culture Secretary and Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid – it has been easy to forget the primary goal. With the evidence sessions over, Lord Justice Leveson now turns to writing his report recommending more effective regulatory arrangements.

The least contentious starting point must surely be that the Press Complaints Commission has failed so egregiously, and is so wholly discredited as a result, that there is no option but to wind it up. The question, then, is how best to replace it. For the PCC's successor to have any credence, all news organisations above a certain size must participate. Unless a way can be found to compel proprietors to take part, the only alternative must be by legal force. The law must be a last resort, given the dangers of statutory regulation, and the threat – real or implicit – to the freedom of the press, but it cannot be ruled out. With that, the state's role must be over: the rules to be observed, and those charged with policing them, must remain wholly independent.

To be successful, the new watchdog must also have disciplinary powers. With both its remit and its personnel clearly separate from the government, the proposal of licences or cards for journalists – which may be withdrawn if the rules are broken – makes sense. A strong code of conduct, a swift and robust complaints procedure and the capability to levy significant fines would also work well, without the risk of encroaching on the vigour and independence of the press.

Such issues are no small matter. Britain is rightly regarded as a beacon of free and effective journalism. Likewise it must be said that, for all the appalling misconduct of the phone-hacking scandal, the vast majority of journalists behave with integrity and rectitude. While there is a clear need for more potent oversight, Lord Justice Leveson must not allow the valuable contributions of the many to be sacrificed to the transgressions of the few.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific