We were wrong to be sceptical about the Leveson inquiry


10:50 am - July 25th 2012

by Septicisle    


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And so it ends, not with a whimper but a bang.

In a perfect coincidence, the Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision to charge some of those arrested over alleged phone hacking on the same day as the Leveson inquiry’s last public hearings.

For those like me who were sceptical of the inquiry to begin with, wondering whether it would be turned into a circus by the celebrity witnesses, it’s more than safe to say that we were wrong to be.

We didn’t just have the Murdochs giving evidence under oath (and what evidence), but also Paul Dacre, Richard Desmond, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and many others from the Street of Shame asked to account for the rubbish they serve up day after day after day in their papers.

When it was the turn of the politicians to shed some light on their relationship with the press, it was a case of who knew least: was it the elected leaders of the nation, or our self-appointed representatives?


(from this BBC story)

Consider the nightmare scenario: that both Brooks and Coulson are found guilty of all they’ve been accused of; is there any possible way that Cameron could remain prime minister when his director of communications was not only involved in the hacking of the voicemail of a missing schoolgirl, but also lied under oath about having no knowledge of phone hacking whatsoever?

As Alan Rusbridger told Leveson, the fundamental reason why phone hacking happened is because News International was allowed to become too powerful. At the height of his hubris Kelvin MacKenzie honestly believed that he had the power to help a party to election victory, if only through the constant slurring and smearing of the opposition.

If it hadn’t been for Nick Davies and the support he received from the Graun, not to forget the court cases brought which exposed further evidence, then Rupert Murdoch would almost certainly still be a director of NI and cock of the walk.

In the end, the Leveson Inquiry was a much needed reminder that no matter how big, powerful and influential, all empires eventually begin to crumble.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Reader comments


1. Huw Spanner

How do we go about recommending Nick Davies for a knighthood? If anyone deserves an honour for fighting courageously for the public interest, surely it’s him?

In fact, the moment the Murdoch edifice started to crumble can be traced to an exchange on BBC Radio, as I’ve noted here:

http://zelo.tv/OkInUe

Nick Davies was promoting Flat Earth News, and was talking about “The Dark Arts” when Stuart Kuttner (charged yesterday) intervened a little too forcefully. Davies knew he was overreacting and began to investigate.

If only, the Murdochs and their editors must be thinking, he’d kept schtum.

3. Planeshift

Perhaps a bit premature – we need to wait and see what changes result from this – the industry is already getting its PR machine in gear to oppose what leveson recommends.

If the current judicially imposed arrangement on privacy were enacted into the statute law, but with the burden of proof in libel actions placed on the plaintiff, then who could object to that? And why? Making the privacy law statutory as the price of reversing the burden of proof in libel actions. That would be the deal. The corporate media cannot expect their own way all the time. Least of all now. As for freedom of information, repeal the Official Secrets Acts. Just do it.

The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four. The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.

One would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats. That model could certainly be applied to everything from the Press Complaints Commission to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and arguably even to the Supreme Court, although in that case with only one candidate per region elected and with a vacancy arising only when a sitting member retired or died.

We need to ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national daily newspaper, or more than one daily newspaper covering the same region or locality. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national weekly newspaper, or more than one weekly newspaper covering the same region or locality. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one television station. To re-regionalise ITV under a combination of municipal and mutual ownership. And to apply that same model to Channel Four, but with central government replacing local government, subject to the strictest possible parliamentary scrutiny.

The above model for the election of the BBC Trustees should be extended to the new Independent National Directors of Sky News, who should come into being entirely regardless of the ownership structure of BSkyB. Each Sky subscriber, or other adult who was registered to vote at an address with a Sky subscription and who chose to participate, would vote for one candidate. The requisite number would be elected at the end. Ideally, their Chairman, appointed by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Select Committee, would be Vince Cable. In any event, and not least in view of cross-subsidy, they might usefully double up as the hitherto most ineffective Independent National Directors of The Times and the Sunday Times. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, the subscribers to those newspapers would by the same means elect their Independent National Directors.

Those two loss-making newspapers exist because the rules were bent double so that Rupert Murdoch could buy them in order, to his credit, to fund them out of his profitable interests. So they ought to be required to maintain balance. The publications granted Parliamentary Lobby access should be required to be balanced among themselves, even if not necessarily within themselves. Broadcasters having such access should be required to give regular airtime to all newspapers enjoying the same access when covering newspapers, regular airtime to all magazines enjoying the same access when covering magazines, and regular airtime to all websites enjoying the same access when covering websites.

Subject to that condition, such access should be enjoyed by any newspaper, magazine, website, news agency or freelance journalist publicly certified for the purpose by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons, or possibly of either House, whose staffs would enjoy no less access to the Palace of Westminster than that enjoyed by members of the Lobby. After all, who is in charge? And the classification of the production costs of most national newspapers as Conservative Party election expenses is long, long, long overdue. If they do not want their production costs to be so classified, then they need to change their ways.

Ed Miliband, Jon Cruddas and Maurice Glasman, over to you.

5. Planeshift

“Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers.”

Agree with most of what you write, but there is a big risk with the above that it becomes a political post contested by political parties. I hope it isn’t necessary to spell out the dangers of this.

5. Planeshift, not if they were banned in the relevant statute. Anyone at all party political is simply banned outright from being on the Independent Remuneration Panel of a local authority, for example. It works perfectly well. So could this.

7. orangebooker

As Alan Rusbridger told Leveson, the fundamental reason why phone hacking happened is because News International was allowed to become too powerful.

Ah of course, its all NI’s fault, even the phone hacking by the Mirror, the Mail, and anyone else.

orangebooker: While I’m one of those who does think phone hacking was happening across the entire press, the body of evidence produced so far suggests that the News of the World was by far the worst offender.

Rupert Murdoch, patron of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Alex Salmond, has been accused under oath of having lied under oath.

He has been so accused, both by the tribal chief of the traditional Labour Right since the moment that John Smith was pronounced dead, and by the choice of the men in grey suits to take over from “That Woman” after she had delighted them for long enough.

Murdoch is toast. The British Establishment always wins in the end. Thatcher and Blair already know that. Salmond will soon know it. And so will Murdoch.

10. Charlieman

@3. Planeshift: “Perhaps a bit premature – we need to wait and see what changes result from this…”

I’ll guess what you mean, Planeshift. The argument in favour of press regulation always unravels because it is a fundamental restriction on free speech and requires an empowered body to enforce it. But without change, newspapers will revert to former practice, perhaps more discreetly. In both cases, powerful people or people backed by powerful organisations will abuse that power.

Inadvertently @4. David Lindsay, makes a point for me: “Making the privacy law statutory as the price of reversing the burden of proof in libel actions.”

The imbalance between libel parties is not about “burden of proof” but of access to wealth or influence. Libel injustice occurs when a rich person pursues a community newspaper which is unable to fund a defence. It occurs also when normal citizens are unable to raise a prosecution against a wealthy media company.

Any future law reforms about media intrusion and media rights have to address power imbalance, otherwise the Leveson report deserves a place on the second shelf of an academic’s bookshelf.

septicisle re comment 8:

The notion that the Leveson enquiry could get to the bottom of what had gone on completely disappeared when the braggart Piers Morgan was allowed to be interviewed via video (no less!) 24 hours prior to his underlings at the Mirror let the cat out of the bag about similar goings at the Mirror. Pathetic.

Too tricky to collar a celeb under contract to a major TV network ….. + Leveson was after the defunct NOTW only. No one else – even if they had boasted about it in their autobiography + on TV.

Sorry to be a party-pooper but Nick Davies only laid the trap (albeit a trap which was parked in the bin liners marked ‘Too hot to handle’ at Scotland Yard) it was Max Mosley who paid for the coordinated celebrity response which generated the attention and outrage. The BBC, who we conveniently forget are Murdoch’s greatest commercial rival, then gave it blanket coverage enabling our politicians to pluck up enough courage to forget the years they had spent courting Murdoch’s favour and jump ship like the captain of the Costa Concordia. Mmmmm …… think about it ……. the son of Owsald Mosley used his money and influence to piece together a coordinated response to the NOTW all because the the NOTW used the word Nazi is their description of the leather clad bum spanking orgy Mosley had with a German hooker. All those years spent trying to avoid the shadow of his father and prove himself as a respectable citizen and the Nazi barb prompted him to start a campaign against Murdoch.

From what I saw only Ian Hislop and Michael Gove had the guts to warn Leveson of the greater danger to our freedoms that an over censored press might bring.

And, whilst I’m at it, all this sanctimonious faux-outrage is a bit sickening – we all knew the NOTW were up to dirty tricks – the ‘fake Sheik’ stories were wonderful insights into what was going on.

“From what I saw only Ian Hislop and Michael Gove had the guts to warn Leveson of the greater danger to our freedoms that an over censored press might bring.”

Does this mean that the press must be allowed telephone hacking and tapping in the event some journos stray upon interesting news not in the public domain?

Recall that what started all this and the prison sentences handed down to Clive Goodman, the royal editor on the NOW, and Glenn Mulcaire, the NOW’s commissioned investigator who was paid an annual retainer of more than £100k, was previously undisclosed news about a minor knee injury of Prince William. Big deal.

As Goebbels was won’t to say: Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.

Bob B re comment 12:

I said ……”only Ian Hislop and Michael Gove had the guts to warn Leveson of the greater danger to our freedoms that an over censored press might bring.”

To which you replied …. “As Goebbels was won’t to say: Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.”

Do you usually quote leading Nazis to support your point of view?

Oh well, not long until Leveson reports and our honourable MP’s enact legislation skewed to make sure nothing like the expenses scandal ever comes to light.

Kojak

Try harder not to be so silly.

You could start by quoting the substantive part of what I posted @12, not just the snippet from Dr Goebbels, which rather aptly characterises the rationale for the investigative journalism of so much of our tabloid press. Btw it has been claimed that Dr Goebbels was quoting Robespierre, who claimed to be creating the virtuous society.

Bob B re comment 14:

I thought your weighty point about Clive Goodman complimented my earlier one about the ‘fake sheik’ so I didn’t mention it.

I’m a bit nervous we are sleepwalking into the kind of self-censorship we associate with the French press.

As far as Robespierre goes – I won’t quote anyone to whom there isn’t a statue dedicated.

16. Planeshift

“the son of Owsald Mosley used his money and influence to piece together a coordinated response to the NOTW all because the the NOTW used the word Nazi is their description of the leather clad bum spanking orgy Mosley had with a German hooker.”

The lesson being don’t fuck with people into BDSM, as you’ll get hurt.

I think Mosley deserves a knighthood for it frankly, the tabloids have been ruining lives for years. I think its unlikely leveson will do anything to harm quality investigative journalism, his recommendations are more likely to simply allow people like Chris jeffries easier access to justice and prevent the kind of witchunting stuff going on.

The Inquiry has been very interesting. At the same time the Police appear to have decided that they hade been made to look very foolish – consequently they have started to use the evidence that was right under their noses. This has meant that we have learnt a great deal about the relationship between the media and politicians, in the last few months. However we still don’t know what is going to be in the report and we don’t know how that will translate into action.

The media can only hold politicians to account if they are at arms’ length from each other. Murdoch phoning up Blair to talk about the invasion of Iraq is the opposite of accountability: it was connivance between a press baron and a PM about a policy and about which illogical arguments to employ. (And the evidence suggests that it was easier for Murdoch to get through to Blair than it was for the Attorney General to get through to Blair at that time.) Yet ambitious politicians such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson inhabit that twilight world between the media and politics, so I think we can expect them to do their utmost to derail reforms.

Kojak

Almost all the hacking and tapping by the tabloids turned out to be about trivia. The hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone could have misled police investigations on what turned out to be a murder inquiry – and perhaps did so for a while. I quoted Goebbels to highlight the irony of the claim that only those with something to hide need fear exposure by the hacking and tapping.

It only emerged into the public domain about a decade or so ago that Harold Macmillan’s wife had a long affair with Bob Boothby. Apparently, this was widely known at the time in the Westminster Village and among political journalists but was suppressed by an implicit conspiracy of self-censorship. Did it really matter that most of us didn’t know?

Try this on Blair and the Freedom of Information Act:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18987496

I really think we ought to be able to read the correspondance between Blair and Bush which committed Britain to the invasion of Iraq supposedly because of all those weapons of mass destruction which turned out not to exist.

There is a good article by Ross McKibbin in the latest London Review of Books about the present political context. Among the many interesting things he says is the following:-

“I doubt that anyone anticipated what the Leveson inquiry would reveal, or imagined that virtually all the country’s past and present political, media and police leadership would appear before it, often abjectly ……… There is hardly any part of the power structure that has not been tainted. ……. But the system was not a shambles. On the contrary, as a means of mutual reward and assistance it worked very well, until one of the participants over-reached himself.”

Quite. We have seen the level of corruption, but don’t be surprised if those who are part of the system try to convince us that this corruption is the price of a free press.

It emerged that hacking into voice mail boxes and answer phone messages was often very simple for journalists and their hired investigators because the owners hadn’t taken steps to enhance access security.

Apparently, some continue to insist that maintaining that situation is crucial to “preserve the freedom of the press” to uncover trivial news such as unpublicised royal knee injuries…or whether celebrity X is having an affair with celebrity Y.

I really can’t believe that I’m alone in regarding such pretexts for invading personal privacy as pathetic.

“If so much of Fleet Street was doing this, why is all the focus on News International?”
It’s actually a fluke. News International made the mistake of getting caught doing something illegal against the one group of targets who the police would not ignore, and that was the royal family. They ran a stupid story about how Prince William had injured his knee. And the reality was that Prince William hadn’t injured his knee, but for a few hours he thought he had, and he left a message on somebody’s phone, saying, “I think I’ve injured my knee.” And so when he read the story, and his people read the story, there is only one way the News of the World could have got that. So that meant, because it’s the royal family, the police couldn’t ignore it, so they investigate, and then they arrest the private investigator and seize all of his material. Now, it so happens that he works full time and exclusively for the News of the World, and so that means all of the evidence which the police have got relates to the News of the World.

And then the other thing is that as a background fact, if you take my basic thing that I was talking about, the sort of spectrum of activity, it’s mostly the tabloids, and it’s particularly the Sundays, so the News of the World is a Sunday tabloid and therefore it has been more involved than almost any other paper. I would think it probably has done more than any other. But it was a fluke that it was their investigator who ended up getting investigated.

http://www.adweek.com/news/press/nick-davies-comes-america-133930 (via Tim Fenton)

The bit about Stuart Kuttner (one of those recently charged), is also worth reading:

Then when the book [Flat Earth News] came out in January ’08, I was on BBC Radio talking about it, and they had a guy called Stuart Kuttner, then the managing editor of the News of the World—he was actually arrested just last week—and I said something in the interview about the dark arts, as they’re known in Fleet Street, and Kuttner came across the table, “Nick Davies lives on another planet. What’s he talking about? It was just one journalist at News of the World, who did it once, and he was fired and went to prison.

only Ian Hislop and Michael Gove had the guts to warn Leveson of the greater danger to our freedoms that an over censored press might bring.

Gove rightly received a ticking off. The pompous, patronising twit could learn a lot from Hislop about delivery.

Oh, and another thing:

The publisher’s recent ”limited admission” senior managers knew of the voicemail interceptions and tried to conceal them from police by destroying email archives was not sufficient reason to avoid new searches that could reveal more damaging evidence before a trial, Justice Sir Geoffrey Vos said in London on Thursday [in January 2012]

‘They are to be treated as deliberate destroyers of evidence,” Justice Vos said of News Group Newspapers, a part of News International, at the hearing. ”I have been shown a number of emails which are confidential. Suffice it to say they show a rather startling approach to the email’ practices at the company,” he said.

Yes, there is some irony in concern about censorship of the press!

“Only Ian Hislop and Michael Gove had the guts to warn Leveson of the greater danger to our freedoms that an over censored press might bring.”

No. Wrong. A myth.

No-one is talking about censoring the press.

Leveson discussed freedom of the press with the editors of all the major newspapers who appeared and with many other witnesses, debating how it could be preserved while dealing with unacceptable press practices and the undesirable proximity of some politicians to certain media moguls. It didn’t require Gove to make any warnings.

Gove actually said that the Inquiry is having a chilling effect on press freedom. He wasn’t talking about what might happen. He provided no evidence for this assertion. Does he have any evidence that the media is more afraid of investigating corruption in high places because of the Inquiry? Or does he mean that the media is more circumspect in invading the back gardens of footballers’ girlfriends?

Gove appeared to call into question the need for an Inquiry, which is an odd position for the member of a government that set up the Inquiry. He was lucky just to be ticked off.


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