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

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style