So, after millions of British taxpayers hard-earned pounds, months of statements from the press themselves and the victims of phone-hacking and the politicians who were involved, we have finally – over a year after it began – come to the conclusion of this independent and public analysation of media ethics and conduct of the British press.
And the proposals were as predictable as they could have come. So too was the murmurings of discontent from the press and David Cameron (the man who appointed a disgraced press secretary and had close ties to Rebeccah Brooks, who worked under News International). In fact, there were zero surprises in the findings, and no surprise that the government has chosen to apparently disregard most of the proposals set out in the Leveson report. Which does beg the question – why was so much money spent on this media circus when there was so little intention to follow through with whatever Lord Justice Leveson proposed to them?
The British Press is an incredible force for good in the world, but it is the one place I have personally heard the term; “Never let the truth get in the way of a good old-fashioned kicking!” We now know that phone hacking was systemic and widespread throughout the press. We know many have suffered in its wake, and we also know that certain people in the press were too close to politicians, influencing and negotiating better terms with them. We know that some within the police force were bribed. We know that investigations into crimes, both minor and serious such as the Milly Dowler case, were compromised in this relentless pursuit for more gossip and speculation. We know that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, enjoyed an extremely close friendship with Rebeccah Brooks.
But we must also remember the last 18 months of media and legal scandal outside of the Leveson investigation – we must think of the Superinjunction scandal, where famous people with money to burn could hide behind a legal wall of secrecy that did not sadly cover some of the others involved in their scandals, forcing those individuals to suffer the full wrath of the British Press which were legally unable to break the law and name the other person behind their shield of secrecy. We must remember the Jimmy Saville scandal, and the subsequent mistake of taking subsequent accusations too far too quickly. We must also think of the torment of the parents of Madeleine McCann, whose relationship with the press has been swings and roundabouts dependant largely on their own feelings at any given time, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes unnecessarily cruel. So too must we remember that the media is not above the law; we enjoy a long-standing tradition of innocent until proven guilty, a tradition being unwound by a press that thrives and subsists on scandal and gossip. When there is nothing on the criminal, they delve into the victims and make them the villains instead.
To say Leveson is just about Phone Hacking is to vastly understate the repercussions of his findings. The press self-regulates, but as Lord Leveson stated this “…amounts to marking their own homework”. Indeed, as we saw not long ago with the BBC, the British press is more self-destructive and cannibalistic than that. They cannot agree as a unit on a statutory board of rules to follow; they cannot agree on the best way to go about punishing those who step out of line, because they have traditionally done that by effectively printing it, scandalising it and making a lot of money from it. The Leveson Report was important for a variety of complicated legal reasons but two important ones; the first is the statutory protection of the press, and the second was the statutory protection of free speech.
Now, there is a fear from some that various media moguls – specifically from south of the globe, perhaps – might get too close to the government and seek to undermine the process of enshrining such things into law for their own benefit. Of course, that’s complete arse and we all know it. The politicians have as much to hide with their own scandals and revelations and crimes as anyone, and expecting them to enshrine into law something that damages not just their friends but protects the rights of the press to publish their wrongdoings for all to see was never going to be straight-forward. We exist in a state where we all genuinely believe we have a right to free speech, to say what we want and when we want it. But the law states otherwise in so many areas. Our libel laws are some of the murkiest and most abused anywhere in the world. We have the previously mentioned Superinjunctions that can actually jail those who even unintentionally name those protecting their identities. We have laws which limit what we can say, such as “Incitement to Racial or Religious Hatred”, which has in some cases meant that certain groups of individuals who are breaking the law were not dealt with in the correct manner for fears of accusations of racism. Much like Nikki Minaj to Steve Tyler, and as a mixed-race man myself I loathe anyone who plays the race card to forcefully and without any regard to the consequences.
To enshrine some of these rights into law would be to undermine many laws and regulations already imposed by our Government – and previous government – that govern our daily lives.
So then there is the concept of an independent regulatory body that does not answer to the Government or Press.
This is something that all the press agrees is necessary, but again there’s that issue that they cannot agree on how to do it. Nor do the government want to be seen setting one up for their benefit, as that might indicate a particular bias or allow certain individuals to tamper with due process. In effect, the reason this proposal cannot be instigated is not because people disagree that it is absolutely necessary in the wake of the failure of the Press Complaints Commission, but because no-one trusts each other to do it. It’s like asking five people to watch a box containing a million pounds for the night. By the morning, you know they will all hate each other, all think each other is trying to steal the money and all have physically at some stage come to blows. Even if all five are perfectly sensible, rational people who know the others have no reason to do such a thing. It’s who we are, and how we are.
The overriding problem I have with Leveson is that it simply feels like a waste of time and money. I could have stated the above a month ago, three months ago, six months ago, a year ago and it would have been as relevant then as it is now. It’s all well and good to have an inquiry into it that costs millions and wastes the time of normal people and high-profile celebrities, but when the findings cannot be legally enforced and have to go through appropriate government channels you do have to ask yourselves if we have learned anything from this. Everyone is too much of a coward to do anything, everyone is terrified of each other and how the world will view them if they start on this road. Lord Leveson could have turned up in a clown-suit and said “Womens Knickers” every few minutes and quite frankly it wouldn’t have made any difference. No-one but the victims seem to care, to be brave enough to go through with it. Those who have suffered at the hands of the media welcomed the findings but you could tell by some of their expressions that there was more chance of a spontaneous naked conga happening than the report having any real influence or impact on the government that instigated it. Nothing was done to change the media as it is, and it did nothing to change where it is going – online, internationally to our mobiles and computers, and to the hands of smaller people and bloggers like me, or to Twitter, or Facebook. Nothing changed, save a waste of precious oxygen.
So today we’re largely in the same place we were last week and last year even. Nothing has been said we didn’t already know or realise, and nothing much will be done to improve it because it’s either not in their interests or they don’t trust each other to do it properly or take it seriously. It’s hard to escape the sensation that Lord Justice Leveson is an intelligent man who probably already figured this would happen. It shocks no-one. But affects us all to some degree, because no-one is willing to take the next step. Which means we will continue to see the same mistakes and problems made as we have been seeing them do for years now, because they can. Because they now know that in some cases, there’s not much left to be done to them. No real threat.
I find it incredibly sad. But more sad that millions of pounds were spent on something we knew was never going to happen anyway.
It’s been a stupid, pointless waste of time. And if anything I fear will damage Lord Leveson more than anyone else, because he’s the one they hope to pin the blame on that nothing will be done. It’s a brilliant system. But sadly, it’s one they know how to abuse all too well. And he has served his purpose with dignity and grace.
Jaded? Yeah. I am a bit…