30 November 2012

Leveson: a few thoughts

OK, I'm short of time (which also explains the horrendous lack of posts this month on, well, anything at all) so I'm going to do this in the style of "five thunks" from the excellent BHaPPY website. (Although I'm not sure there will be five of them... let's see.)

1 - Dave Cameron has rejected statutory regulation outright and that is a huge tactical error. He's basically awarded this little skirmish game, set and match to Ed Miliband. All Ed needs to do is make sure that the next Labour manifesto contains a promise to implement Leveson's recommendations in full and that's a nice little vote earner right there. The perception that Dave Cameron is a friend of the rich and powerful who cares nothing for the "little people" (to use the Blade Runner term), already very widespread, is reinforced.

2 - Hanging on to the coat-tails of Ed Miliband will not save Nick Clegg. Even if Clegg backs Leveson all the way - which is still far from clear - the idea that Clegg can lie his way through an election campaign, sell out three-quarters of his voters (to the stage where most polls show him behind UKIP, for crying out loud) and then suddenly rediscover credibility by jumping on the Ed bandwagon is ludicrous.

3 - The right-wing press are going to be gunning for Ed Miliband all the way to the election. But so what? They were gunning for him anyway. In some ways this might even work in his favour as it makes him look like the candidate who's prepared to take on vested interests.

4 - The Tories jumping up and down screaming about "freedom of the press" are being extremely misleading. Press freedom in the UK is already circumscribed. The press is subject to libel law (assuming that the person who claims to have been libelled has the money to fight a case against them) and also a raft of restrictions on grounds of "national security" - for example D-notices. Introducing a statutory regulator would just be a slightly different kind of regulation from what we've already got. Ideas that it is "crossing a rubicon" are bunkum.

5 - The police are as much to blame for the phone hacking scandal as the press  (or perhaps not - maybe it's the judiciary who are actually at fault... see comment from John below.) Phone hacking is already illegal but the police failed to enforce this crime - something which happens very very often in the UK as we have a large quantity of laws and a police who either lack the resources or the will to enforce them. In this case it looks like criminal activity was deliberately ignored. I don't know if Leveson's made suggestions for police reform - probably not in his remit. But it's desperately needed. (Having said that, I have not, at this stage, given much thought as to how to ensure that the police do investigate crimes rather than deliberately ignoring them. It's an important issue as there is very little point having a legal system unless it's enforceble).

So that was 5 "thunks" after all.


John said...

You say that the police are as much to blame for the phone hacking scandal as the press. I thought this as well until I read the Leveson Report.

Leveson wrote a great deal about existing laws and investigations but did not include this in his summary. What he found is that the police did indeed investigate criminal activity but the judiciary treated this activity as a joke and largely gave conditional discharges as sentences.

Millions of pounds and thousands of police man hours were spent trying to bring the criminals to justice and the prosecutions were laughed out of court. The judges even seemed to think that hacking Milly Dowler's phone was of little consequence. See The Leveson Inquiry for an account of Leveson's coverage of the criminal prosecutions.

It was not the police but the judiciary who were at fault. Judges viewed corruption as of such little consequence that they let the perpetrators go free. This gave the press the green light to do any crimes they desired.

The press and political classes are now so caught up in trying to get political advantage out of the report that this serious failure of the judiciary is being ignored.

Hal Berstram said...

John - that is extremely interesting, many thanks. I will be reading the report in detail over Xmas (which will be the first chance I get), and will comment further after that.