Lord Leveson’s still-secret report on the press will please some and displease others, and for others still could be a convenient way to avoid awkward truth.
The speculation, as we await the publication of the report today, is over the nature and the degree of press control that he recommends, and what Parliament will do about it amidst fears that press censorship could be reintroduced in the name of Leveson. This, while important in the context of press freedom to speak the truth, misses the point.
Phone hacking, the narrow start to the Leveson Inquiry, and the abuse of the privacy and dignity of individuals by journalists was able to become rampant because of an unethical culture that was condoned if not encouraged up to the highest level. Laws were and are in place that, if enforced, would have stopped all but the most criminal activity before it occurred, but it is known now that many in the police and other public representatives were as guilty as the press for corrupt or illegal practice. Similarly, the conduct of politicians in fraternising with the press over decades for political gain at the expense of impartiality has been shocking: only John Major, it seems, of recent Prime Ministers refused to have dealings with the barons after, he said, Rupert Murdoch told him what his policies should be. Subsequent leaders may be wishing now they had had the principles of a once reviled but now respected man.
The sad and embarrassing revelations of the Leveson Inquiry would not have occurred if those involved in the different cases had used integrity in their conduct, including sometimes the celebrity “victims”, and if the law had been observed and applied. Many, many people showed their flaws and let themselves and others down. Whatever the government decides to do with the Leveson Report – and it has to do something – unless there is the will and intent on all sides to try to do better in a personal as well as a collective sense, no amount of new regulation will prevent the continuing abuse of position and of people, for personal gain at the expense of fairness and justice, and of honour. Having compassion would help a lot.