The Leveson Report landed today, I’m sure with a hefty thud. It doesn’t seem so long ago that the news was full of daily revelations of the wrongdoings of the press, and at the time, as the truth came out about the misdeeds, the cover-ups, the lies, the absolute moral disintegration that had led to wholly despicable activities being carried out under the mantle of ‘the public’s right to know’, I didn’t think newspapers would recover. And I was pretty glad about it. A murdered child’s mobile phone was hacked. That is a horrible, horrible fact, that cannot and should not be readily passed over.
Asking the press to self-regulate is like asking the wolves to guard the sheepfold. Too many journalists and newspapers have proven consistently incapable of acting responsibly or with integrity. If there’s a story or money or power to be had, then that is what will win out, and to hell with whatever damage is done along the way.
You might have noticed I feel quite strongly about this. And yet, I still can’t quite get behind the idea of legislative regulation either, because at base, I do believe in the idea of press freedom. There are good, investigative journalists digging into stories that the public does need to know about, and they should be able to do that without fear of reprisal no matter who those stories touch. Thus my concern with regulation is that it’s the thin end of the wedge of press censorship, and censorship is generally not a hallmark of democracy.
I don’t know what breaks the deadlock. I fear that we have the press we deserve, and that is quite terrifying in a world in which a lot of people read The Daily Fail. I’m sure many tabloid readers were almost bursting with righteous indignation at some of the Leveson interviews; if only they could think it through and realise they are a huge part of the problem, that might be part of the answer.
For the rest, I think press behaviour will be cyclical. There’ll be shock and apology and promises to do better; and then a gradual re-ascendance to a moral high ground founded in quicksand until it’s time for the whole circus performance to be repeated. The bottom line is that there’s no long-term incentive for improvement, unless and until there’s no market for the tawdry. I’m not holding my breath on that one.