Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Leveson Inquiry

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian focuses on the Leveson Inquiry. It is as follows:

Lord Justice Leveson’s wide-ranging Inquiry into the “culture, practices and ethics of the press” has reached its conclusion. After sixteen months, and numerous hearings, he has produced a hard-hitting report some 1,987 pages long and containing over one million words.

It is to be welcomed that “regional” newspapers such as the Cornish Guardian have been praised as “playing an important social role” and being “good for our communities, our identity and our democracy.”

But tellingly, the main bulk of the report tackled how elements of the press had (i) failed to respect privacy, (ii) obtained information illegally or unethically, and (iii) harassed individuals.

The behaviour of certain journalists, investigators and their editors were rightly condemned by Leveson as “outrageous.”

The report contained a range of recommendations, including a “new independent press regulator” underpinned by legislation to ensure that it has the power to act.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has already refused to support the key proposal of a “statutory body” to oversee the regulator, expressing concerns that it could infringe both “free speech and a free press.”

I do not share Cameron’s view and feel that it is the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who has summed up the situation rather better.

He has noted that there are two principles at play. One is the belief that a “raucous and vigorous press” is the “lifeblood of a healthy democracy.” And the other, is the belief that “the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests.”

This is an extremely important balance that must be achieved in the future.

I would not want to see an end to high quality investigative journalism, but it is important that action is taken against those who have undermined reporting in the UK.

There have been so many shocking examples of how hundreds of people, both celebrities and ordinary folk, have had to endure invasive surveillance, and have also had their phones hacked and their computers compromised.

To give just one example, I was pleased that Leveson condemned one of the tabloids who “obtained” private medical information about Gordon Brown’s four-month-old son, and then published the fact that young child had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Such intrusions are unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

We need a responsible media and that is why I support Leveson’s full recommendation for a new independent press regulator, underpinned by legislation.

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