1) examination into facts or principles
2) a request for information
3) a systematic investigation often of a matter of public interest
(Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
The Leveson Inquiry was published on the 29th November 2012, and was established by David Cameron to investigate the press. This occurred after the News International phone hacking scandal, which came to a head in the July of 2011. The results of the inquiry are quite controversial, with Lord Justice Leveson recommending a new regulatory body which could be backed by law. However, will these recommendations be listened to, and furthermore, why is this necessary?
‘Questioning the questioners’ could well have been the topic of this inquiry, as the press is supposed to act as a body that presents all information in the public interest, making sure transparency permeates throughout society. Historically, dictatorial regimes have tended to go hand in hand with restriction of press rights, the most notable and effective being Joseph Goebbels’ stranglehold as Reich Minister of Propaganda in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. This is taught to us in history lessons, which when considered alongside George Orwell’s presentation of Newspeak (language controlled by the state) in his work “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in a futuristic totalitarian regime, projects the idea that any form of press control inflicted by the government has a negative impact on a healthy society. However, is a society healthy when the ‘questioners’ break laws and personal privacy to gain their information?
Certain members of society (understandably some newspaper proprietors and politicians) explain to us that restricting the press is a line that cannot be crossed within a free society, but Leveson has not suggested that the new body checking bad practices in the press should be Government controlled. In fact, if it had any power behind it, it would be from the law. What is apparent is that families from the Hillsborough tragedy did not deserve their families to be slandered. All the people that had their phones hacked illegally, dead or alive, did not deserve such an invasion. In these cases, there is no difference between a celebrity and a murder victim. However, members of the press, and the people they worked with, felt that this was morally and legally acceptable. Setting firmer boundaries is not restricting freedom of speech or giving the British authorities a right to try and ‘gag’ stories that aren’t to their benefit. It protects the powerless, and upholds basic human rights.
Every human is fallible, therefore no-one, including the press, should be put on a pedestal and not held accountable for wrong-doing. Their purpose in society does not give them an excuse, in fact it makes acts like this even more inexcusable. Society is paranoid of loss of free speech, yet we can never understand how acts such as phone hacking can make a victim lose their voice. Their own lives turned against them, and printed for the world to see, all for the sake of a ‘sensationalist’ story. Hugh Grant, in his recent Channel 4 documentary talking about his support for Leveson’s inquiry, bemoans lack of debate with the other side, the journalists and politicians who wish to keep the press out of reach of their responsibilities. Hugh Grant is right – debate is exactly what we need. If Leveson’s report is going to make any difference, instead of being shelved like all those before it, we need to stand and unite behind those that have suffered at the hands of the press, without fear. However, we still need to celebrate what is good in our media today, and encourage it.
See the Leveson Inquiry website for links to the full publication of the inquiry.