If you cannot personally attend the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics due to work commitments, an absence of appropriate footwear, or indeed a complete lack of interest, you could always catch up with the latest revelations into journalistic skulldugerry in the newspapers. After all, you can be certain of honest and unbiased reporting, because the hacks follow a Code of Practice, denoting ethical standards. In the unlikely event that these standards slip, you could always take the matter up with the Press Complaints Commission, which is a voluntary regulatory body with no legal powers. The PCC has been widely criticised for its lack of action over the phone hacking scandal, the central focus of the Leveson Inquiry. The Press Complaints Commission was set up in the 1990s, replacing the Press Council, which was kicked into the long grass because it was ineffective. Can anybody spot a pattern developing? If I were a betting man, I’d put my tenner on the PCC being forced into early retirement to be replaced with another voluntary regulatory body with no legal powers, and a rather familiar tendency towards abject failure. But that, of course, would be to unfairly pre-judge the outcome.
Set up by the Prime Minister, the inquiry is looking into press practise and ethics, and will make recommendations on future regulation of the industry. Lord Leveson will particularly focus on the “relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.” In addition, the police investigation into phone hacking, Operation Weeting, is ongoing.
Of course, running the inquiry concurrent with the criminal investigation into phone hacking, and the like, allows alleged victims to put largely unchallenged accusations into the public domain, which one could argue would unfairly prejudice a potential trial. On the flip side of that, editors have been routinely guilty of character assassination over the years. If and when the facts turn out to be fiction, the paper’s slapped with a fine and an apology’s buried on page seven, but the stain on the victim’s public image is not always one that will wash out at 40 degrees. The pen is mightier than the sword, and some are now finding out that their biros cut both ways.
Like the Iraq War Inquiry, this one looks likely to cost as much and take as long as building the Millenium Dome, and may be just as full of hot air. However, it is largely engaging. Comedian Steve Coogan gave evidence last week. Commenting on the balance between publicity and intrusion, he said he “never entered a Faustian pact with the press”, whereas singer Charlotte Church claimed to have been offered just that. When asked to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding, she was offered £100,000, or no fee, but a guarantee of good press. She didn’t take the money, and Murdoch denies the offer even existed. In the murky business of Faustian pacts, it seems if you make a deal with the devil you had better get a receipt.