What lessons will we take from Leveson?
MEDIA & MARKETING:In the context of the Minister’s overflowing in-tray, the more pertinent Leveson sessions, however, are not the ones that zero in on press regulation, but the ones devoted to the political handling of media mergers, writes LAURA SLATTERY
PAT RABBITTE has been watching the Leveson Inquiry, by which I mean he’s been keeping an eye on it, not that he’s glued to the online feed.
Although there’s no evidence that the “more odious practices” of the British press ever took place in Ireland, the hearings and future findings of Lord Justice Leveson “are important for all of us here”, Rabbitte told the Press Council at the launch of its annual report on Monday. Leveson may make recommendations “that could have application here”, he noted.
But which of the many Leveson sessions have been of particular interest to the Minister for Communications?
Was it the sorry tales of phone hacking victims such as the Dowler family and the much-slandered McCanns? Was it when Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, conceded that columnist Jan Moir’s take on the death of Stephen Gately “could have benefited from some judicious subbing”? Or when former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks was interrogated by counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, about her publication of a story about the cystic fibrosis diagnosis of Fraser Brown, son of Gordon and Sarah, then aged four months?
Indeed, if the Leveson box set is ever released it will be packed with lowlights showcasing the worst of press behaviour. But that’s not all the inquiry has exposed. The spotlight on relationships between the political elite and the media one has not always been kind to the former, as the grilling of today’s Leveson rabbit, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (or “embattled culture secretary” to give him his full title”) will doubtless prove.
A nadir of some kind was reached on Monday when Tony Blair’s reaction to being called a war criminal by a Leveson-invading protester was to make a theatrically sanguine wrist-flick gesture, as if the accusation was all a bit “meh” for him.
Rabbitte’s feelings towards the media shares some common ground with that of Blair, in that both have professed themselves unhappy with specific genres of press reporting. In Blair’s case, it was the overt fusion of news and comment, epitomised by the Independent’s one-time self-description as a “viewspaper”, that irked, while in Rabbitte’s case it is an alleged “race to the bottom” drop in standards of political reporting that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
“The impression is abroad that if some journalists wanted to file stories that rise above tittle-tattle and cynicism, they will be rejected by their editors,” he said – cynically – earlier this month, declining to give specific examples.
Leveson-watchers, Rabbitte included, are naturally beginning to speculate on how the ultimate endgame of the inquiry – its recommendations on the future regulation of the press – will pan out. For free press advocates such as education secretary and former Times columnist Michael Gove – who this week warned Leveson that the cure risked being “worse than the disease” – the attention paid to the model operated by the Press Council of Ireland must come as some relief, given that it mirrors the self-regulation of the now defunct UK Press Complaints Commission, but with a few crucial tweaks.