Hold the Front Page! Judge Backs Legal Remedy

Article excerpt

Leveson Report: Newspapers

When the Prime Minister established the Leveson Inquiry, he was doing more than setting up a vehicle for some gentle probing into the excesses of the press.

He was putting the press on trial and choosing the judge. And Leveson has been like a court, make no mistake. The Inquiry sat in courtroom 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice, witnesses gave their evidence under oath, they could have been compelled to attend, the proceedings bore all the solemnity of a court hearing, Leveson was robed, those appearing were cross-examined by a QC. And now we have the judge's verdict.

It's damning and shaming. On page after page, he lays bare journalists out of control, stopping at nothing to get a story, sometimes doing untold harm to those they were pursuing, frequently displaying a total disregard for accuracy, decency and objectivity. Sometimes, they were aided and abetted by the police and politicians - newspapers did not behave badly alone, they paid for information and were able to call on favours to suppress investigation into their activities.

All of which is shocking; except I am not shocked. Nothing in Leveson's gargantuan tome causes me to fall off my chair or reach for a medicinal brandy.

Leveson has done what I could have done. What any intelligent person could have done, if asked to examine the culture, ethics and standards of the press. I admit, I might not have brought the same degree of diligence to the task as the good judge - I'm not sure I could have sat there day after day and displayed patience and courtesy throughout - and I would have made my final report a lot shorter.

But then my version would have lacked authority and weight. It would not have gone in for the point-by-point dissection that in the end pummels even the most sceptical Leveson reader into submission. My degree was in law, I was trained as a lawyer (I was, it must be said, a bad lawyer which is why I became a journalist), I know how lawyers think and act. Some of my best friends are lawyers, very good ones, some of them have names that would cause even Sir Brian Leveson to nod in appreciation.

Leveson approached his brief as any brilliant lawyer would have done, particularly one hugely experienced in the art of presenting a case for the prosecution. He's left no stone unturned, maintaining rigour and dispassion throughout, cold in his analysis but able to pull on the heart-strings with tales of ordinary people who were left wounded, without recompense, by the press.

In this instance, though, there is no jury for Leveson to plead to, no defence to counter his claims, no judge sitting on high giving him a baleful stare and asking him to get on with it. …