Leveson: Am I missing something?

Today we found out what Lord Justice Leveson had to say about the press and future of press regulation. The past few days have seen newspaper and magazine editors getting their knickers in a twist about things and coming out with some real nonsense. If I didn’t know better, I would have been quite scared that the freedom of the press was at stake. But unless I’m entirely missing something, no such thing was ever suggested.

Fraser Nelson, Editor at The Spectator spoke out to say they would refuse to sign up to anything enforced by government. I sat open-mouthed as Charles Blackhurst, Editor of the Independent suggested that if a regulator were set up, he’d have to keep ringing them to check he could print stories. Now either he’s totally daft (in which case how did he get to the position he’s in) or he’s scare-mongering.

My background is broadcasting. We are regulated by Ofcom. Does that stop us broadcasting news and entertainment? No. Does that stop good journalism? No. Have I ever called them to check something I’m about to put on air? No. Of course not. It doesn’t work like that. It’s just there to ensure that competitions are fair, children are protected, and listeners have a place to go to complain if they think they’ve been mistreated or found something offensive. Does Ofcom fine broadcasters for every complaint? No. They look at the evidence, the context and make a decision, independent of the broadcaster. That doesn’t seem too awful to me.

So Leveson suggests an independent body, well that makes sense. We’ve had the Press Complaints Commission “marking their own homework” for years and it’s not exactly doing a great job of keeping the papers in line. When I say “in line”, I am not talking about muzzling the press, but just stopping them overstepping the mark and doing horrendous things, like hacking the phone of a missing school girl. Most journalists wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, so why should they be worried? The independence of this body should be backed up by legislation says Leveson. Okay. What’s so bad about that? An independent body, that *has* to be independent. Why is that scary? Why would that worry you? If you are doing good journalism, then you should be confident in your story and your skills to get that story out without breaking the law, intruding people’s privacy or hounding them. Occasionally there may be cases where the public interest may override the usual rules, but there are laws to protect you on that too. I really am at a loss as to why this should be such a bad thing.

Of course there will be people making a fuss about this, undoubtedly the papers will have something to say tomorrow, but for now, if anyone can tell me why the Leveson report is anything other than reasonable, common sense, please let me know. With all the fuss about it, I feel like I must be missing something, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s (parts of) the newspaper industry that are missing something. The simple truth that good journalism does not involve hacking phones and taking long lens photos of members of the royal family just to sell a few more papers, and that if they had confidence in their journalists, regulation shouldn’t be something they fear.

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