Leading article: The dangers of ranging too widely

The Leveson inquiry really ought to be focusing on the regulatory future of the printed press

Share
Related Topics

The Leveson inquiry is already in danger of losing its focus. David Cameron announced to Parliament yesterday that the remit of Lord Justice Leveson's investigation of the press will be extended to include the BBC and social media. It is difficult to see what this expansion will accomplish, except to bog down the inquiry and to make its recommendations less focused than they would otherwise have been. It is also likely to delay the final report. As the Liberal Democrat media spokesman, Don Foster, has pointed out, it is hard to see how this now wide-ranging probe can be completed within its target date of one year.

There is also a flash of partisan axe-grinding in all this. Many Conservative MPs, who have long regarded the BBC as the mouthpiece of a vast left-wing conspiracy, were cheered by the Prime Minister's assertion yesterday that "we need to ensure that no one voice, not News Corporation, not the BBC, becomes too powerful".

This is an entirely inappropriate elision. Unlike News Corp, the BBC does not stand accused of presiding over industrial-scale illegality and the corruption of the police. Moreover, the BBC already has its own robust system of supervision in the form of an independent trust, established in the wake of the Hutton report. As for the question of whether social media such as Facebook and Twitter should, or even can, be regulated, that is surely such a large and complex topic – with immense practical and philosophical difficulties – that it would be better dealt with in an entirely different forum.

Leveson really ought to be focusing on the regulatory future of the printed press. And even here there are some worrying signs that it is heading down the wrong track. Leveson's six-person advisory panel, chosen by Downing Street, looks unbalanced. It includes two journalists, but neither has worked at the tabloid end of the market. This is a regrettable omission given that many of the issues Leveson's inquiry will explore will be related to the culture and practices of tabloid newsrooms.

As the Mirror journalist Ros Wynn-Jones writes in this newspaper today, tabloid journalism has a distinguished tradition of campaigning on behalf of working-class people, whether shining a light on the activities of loan sharks, or enlightening readers on the malfeasance of the banking industry. As well as the regular diet of lurid crime reporting and celebrity tittle-tattle, tabloid journalism, at its best, helps to bring foreign conflicts and famines to the attention of large audiences. Not all tabloid journalists are phone hackers or celebrity sheet sniffers. And that needs to be recognised in Leveson's report. Indeed, having a respected former tabloid journalist on the inquiry would have added to the credibility of its recommendations for reform.

The other danger, as we have noted before, is that the report will recommend a cumbersome new system of press regulation which could have the effect of cutting the hamstrings of investigative journalism.

None of this dooms Leveson to failure, or irrelevance, from the start. But it is vital that the judge and his panel stick to their central purpose and avoid the temptation to either range too widely, or to overreach.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; VMWare, Windows; Disley; £40k

£40000 per annum + benefits: Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; V...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party  

If people voted for policies, the Green Party would win the next election

Lee Williams
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?