Thursday 29 November 2012

The Leveson Report

Million pound fines. Full transparency of behind-the-scenes meetings between the press and politicians. A "conscience clause" for journalists. Lowering the cap on media ownership. Tough, new independent regulation of the press. Lord Justice Leveson has produced a report (summary here, in full here) whose key findings and recommendations few would disagree on. In fact, in his statement earlier in the Commons, Dave was at pains to express his agreement with everything Leveson had to say. All, that is, except for the means of implementing it.

While it is bad form to second guess the motives of politicians, it is funny that things have a habit of becoming a point of principle if it means seriously challenging the interests one is, or was, close to. Like many Tory frontbenchers and government outriders for the 'no statute' position in the days leading up to publication, Dave is refusing to back up regulation of the press by legislation. Apparently, it would be "too complex", it would be a lever by which future unscrupulous politicians could force censorship on the press and, of course, a regulatory body backed by statute would end 300 years of free speech and turn Britain overnight into a Stalinist hellhole, like the brutal dictatorships of Ireland and Denmark.

And so Dave will be immediately meeting with the other party leaders to look at ways of getting the press to sign up to his preferred "independent, self-regulating authority" (a non-sequitor if there ever was one). Sadly for Dave, his attempt to kick this embarrassing and uncomfortable episode into the long grass is unlikely to succeed. EdM's reply in the House (statement) makes it clear that Labour is for the full implementation of Leveson's recommendations. Interestingly, Cleggy has retrieved his spine from down the back of the Coalition sofa and backs an independent regulatory body underpinned by statute. With Labour and the LibDems, sundry Tories, and the small parties arrayed against Dave, if EdM forces a vote he could well be hit with a double whammy of a split party and Coalition, and a humiliating defeat at the hands of his increasingly prime ministerial-looking opponent.

As a whole, Leveson did not go far enough. While welcome, the disgusting behaviour of the press is not an outcome of poisonous newsrooms nor an amoral culture that afflicts journalism. They are symptoms of a deeper morbidity - the concentration of media ownership. As the press have become increasingly beholden to the profit-taking proclivities of their respective barons, business models have emphasised downsizing and churnalism. It's easier, and cheaper, to print made up scare stories about that week's folk devil, or regurgitate celebrity gossip pulled from the internet. The press, except on very rare occasions, will not invest time in long-term investigations of the rich and the powerful because, according to their model, easy cash can me made from littering your paper with that Friday's wardrobe malfunctions. It is also no coincidence that press standards have been on the slide since the effective breaking of union power in the newsroom.

Leveson does very little to tackle this root cause, merely proposing a lowering of the cap on how many titles a press baron or corporate entity can own. Media plurality and the freedom of the press, that very thing many a right-wing scribbler has bleated about, can only truly be served if ownership blocs are broken up. Structures of ownership have to be changed too - employee-owned trusts and cooperative employee/reader models should also be introduced. It is not enough to leave it to the market.

But still, there is consolation for Dave and his chumrades. While Leveson makes general criticisms of the closeness that politicians have allowed develop between themselves and the press over the last 30 years, he exonerates the PM and his clueless sidekick, Jeremy Hunt from any wrongdoing. They feel it's a vindication from accusations of impropriety. I suspect it's good politics on Leveson's part, ensuring his recommendations are the big story of the day, not finger-pointing.


Alex Dawson said...

Leveson was always going to be about the "victims" and never the real root cause of the malaise in our media - the owners and their wish to project the vile, repulsive politics of hate and cynicism on our nation.

I have to say I have felt that a lot of people across the left have been giving far too much sway to this whole enquiry and today has exposed this quite starkly. Leveson was NEVER going to seriously look at things like the collapse of trade unionism in the industry and he was never going to suddenly order a new and raised role for the workers leaders.

Why? Because Leveson is an establishment enquiry. Anybody who was expecting radical changes and roles for trade unions by asking the establishment nicely and moderately reasoning with them ought to read a few books about how past victories have been won.

There is also a very real danger that Labour have put too many eggs in this basket too. Do ordinary people really care about the press and how it runs? More so than on the economy, jobs, education and services? I doubt it very much. By coming out so strongly in favour of, errr, a fairly anodyne system of press regulation means that If Ed achieves it, and not much really changes, then it's not going to really mean a great deal come the election.

The fact is that even if every single recommendation by Leveson is acted upon the press in this country will remain rancidly and repulsively right wing and owned by scumbags that bully and poison people into thinking that the world is a terrible place populated almost entirely by scumbags out to get them.

The serious issue about how unions are portrayed how working class people are portrayed, how the destruction of the NHS has gone almost entirely under the radar,,,,etc,,,etc,,, will not be addressed by some new assortment of the great of the good, however they are chosen.

Labour need to be very careful about spending too much time on this. The printed press in this country will never be tamed through regulation and my own view is that its influence is already collapsing.

Cameron and the Tories had the full support of the printed press (bar a few titles) at the last election yet STILL managed NOT to win. The printed press can no longer win or lose an election in the UK any more. My own view is that the left should simply ignore the Daily Mail and The Sun as their political influence is waning by the day. They should accept that sections of the people that buy these rags will never vote for them and instead concentrate on inspiring the many non-voters with radical and bold new policies to create real jobs and lower energy bills.

Leveson is a side-show, It's provided a platform for lots of people who like feeling important and it's come back with a fairly weak set of proposals that will alter nothing significantly. The left should move on.

Gary Elsby said...

During the whole process of the NoW scandal, I asked my own three children (women aged 23+) why they read the NoW every Sunday without fail and why they considered the free magazine 'the best'.

The reply was quite interesting:
'Because we know every word is true'.
I am of course talking of a celeb gossip and exclusive revelations into their private lives.

Watching Charlotte doing her nut on QT, she was most put out that her parents were paraded through the Sundays during a maritial 'mishap'.
Was it true though?

They way they (some law breaking hacks) gathered their stories was unlawful.
Crimes are punished within the laws we already have and one newspaper was closed by an innocent proprietor.
Yeah, I know!

This is very dodgy ground but I particularly liked the response by some young QT guest that other Mugabe Countries would champion press clampdowns in free press Great Britain.

Too simple to regulate press freedoms by legislation when current laws already exist to punish criminals.

Blair was good at kneejerking.

Chris said...

Elsby maybe makes a point, that laws already exist to punish criminals. The problem comes when some have lots of money and some don't. The law is set up to favour those with the means. It is also problematical to pursue people who may have dirt to dish or who have paid you off. So the tabloids can use blackmail.

Also, why should the press, or the banks or anyone else be able to self regulate? What is all that about? Can I self regulate? Can I fuck!

This brings me to another Elsby comment and that is about the NOTW free magazine. Wasn't the whole thing a magazine, rather than a newspaper? Can't we redefine what a newspaper is and what journalists are. The writers at the Daily Star are not journalists and are not writing for the press. They are contributing to a comic.

So let us have freedom of the press, but lets stop calling the Sun, the Mirror, the Star etc the press.

Phil said...

Loz, I think the adoption of Leveson could be an 'in' into the root and branch reform of media ownership. It is barely touched on beyond a recommendation of lowering the cap. But as a policy position, I don't think it matters much in the grand scheme of things - it'll probably sure up the support of recent middle class returnees from the LibDems. But like the EU it will be one of those secondary issues that exercise a lot of media comment, but will count little at the next general election.

Phil said...

As you say Chris, the point is laws were not enforced and the "rules" of our supposedly self-regulating press were so much hot air.

But as Loz emphasises, it's a question of ownership. Unless that is properly sorted out, the crap will come back again and again.

Gary Elsby said...

I'm not so sure that our press are as bad as you make out.
You seem just to dislike certain owners, certain stories and certain so-called-editorial decisionmaking.
Baby and bath water.

Stories run by our free press contain:
Abu Qatada being an MI6 agent(Times)

Megrahi being an innocent,accused Libyan bomber(Mirror).

You want our free press nailed because Hugh Grant was 'hacked'.

The laws exist to satisfy Grant and anyone else so unjustly outraged.

Everyone knows that hacking phones is a crime and those who've admitted it to date have walked.

Innocent proprietors, have shut a newspaper.
If we stick to facts, then justice will see through.

Phil said...

You're right, Gary. I don't like our press. As a collective they do not operate in the public interest and some of them are just propaganda organs with celeb stories bolted on. Just because they occasionally break a story the powerful find embarrassing or uncomfortable doesn't mean they're free. Again, you might want to look at Loz's contribution above. As someone who used to represent journos for a living, he knows what he's talking about better than most.

And as I'm sure you would be aware if you acquainted yourself with Hacked Off's position and the recommendations made by Leveson, an independent regulator mandated by statute and state regulation are not the same thing.

FlipC said...

As an aside amusing to watch the contortions being gone through to prevent the "regulation of free speech" for newspapers while those doing so see no dissonance with the broadcast media's own statute created regulatory watchdog.

Phil said...

Indeed, that is a huge blindspot. Of course, the press are the first to screech for intervention when the BBC does something they dislike.