The good thing about the Levenson Report is that the Inquiry documents and evidence is published on a website and thus available for detailed criticism. Levenson himself has proved a dud. A new self-regulatory system sounds good until you realise this is he very recommendation always made in British public affairs and always fails. What happened to self-regulation in the City? How did we end up with the IPCC instead of a truly independent, civilian-led complaints system? Why is it so difficult for ordinary people to engage in civil suit generally? Why are the banks doing much the same stuff as before the financial crisis and our politicians still claiming as much in expenses as before that scandal? The only good point I can find is that people should be able to seek redress and compensation without going through our very expensive courts.
Senior cops made mistakes. One of them was telling us people protesting against dictatorship in Bahrain were criminals whilst the Inquiry was still going on! The same cops who didn’t investigate the phone hacking don’t do much to bring obvious frauds in public office and financial services to court. Levenson doesn’t open this (necessary) can of worms at all.
Our Establishment is a past-master in appointing independent people who are nothing of the kind. Bringing outsiders in seems a good idea, but in practice we get the same old faces.
What self-regulation needs is critical input and constant practical evaluation of whether the service works as it is supposed to. One trick in assuring this doesn’t happen is to waffle about transparency, a trick from the same book as ‘we must learn the lessons’ and publishing the dubious statistics we are all familiar with that never probe the relevant experience and sample of those actually affected.
The only real recommendation is that a tribunal should be set up by the press to provide a cheap form of redress. We could already have such a system of Ombudsmen across society – and generally don’t. We now accept that cops and every other body (including MPs) lied about Hillsborough for 23 years. We still have no change in he way cops are allowed to collude on evidence and fabricate stories through smear and the exclusion of evidence contrary to the ‘party line’. Whatever the scandal of paedophiles exploiting vulnerable kids is, all we have in our free press amounts to allegations against dead people like Saville and Cyril Smith. Blogging has added nothing other than tittle-tattle and Twattering.
Nearly all companies now have equal opportunity polices in place. Has this changed much? Do ‘Codes of Conduct’ ever work? The cops have them. Academics have them. Athens had a democracy that was nearly always at war, committed genocide and its treasury was ’empty’ when subject to physical audit (like our banks?). Bureaucrats merely adjust to changes in rules – apparatchiks become entrepreneurchiks – and present defences based on procedures in place. They have the resources to gather and present ‘evidence’ – how will the ordinary person be able to compete?
I suspect what Leveson and other scandals like the one going on amongst US top brass will merely teach organisations and individuals to cover their tracks better and ensure email and metadata trails cannot be discovered – in order to reduce enquiry to the my word against yours context. The US generals and their mistresses were caught after trying to hide emails (more or less through something like ‘Dropbox’) – trails were found by analysis of ‘anonymous’ contacts from hotels and establishing only that person was in all the hotels at the relevant times. Some companies are already sourcing their emails in servers in Panama and removing all traces (not easy) from what can be got hold of here. Hardly surprising when one thinks of offshore money in tax evasion.
Cops are now subject to disclosure rules – in several levels. I’m not sure these work and whether they can be subverted by not writing or otherwise recording what doesn’t fit the prosecution case. Given Hillsborough we should have greater safeguards. But this isn’t a matter exclusive to police enquiry. The BBC (and most others) have just smeared Lord MacAlpine without even showing a photograph to the ‘witness’. The Lord was not even named directly but blogged and twatted across the Net.
I have no time for the press hacking and the rest when it merely produces tittle-tattle, doesn’t see the significance of Parliamentary expenses (well done Telegraph) etc. – but the real issues are about its access to the evidence and ability to argue from that. Levenson addresses none of this latter. How can our press be independent in current lobby and embedding systems – let alone ownership by the interests headed by people like Murdoch?
Leveson absolved the appointment of Hunt when it is obvious Cable was not so inclined to accept ‘Murdoch pressures’ – but how can anyone know the truth of this without eavesdropping on a killer conversation equivalent to passing of brown envelopes? And how the hell could we get that without cops spying on the politicians away from the public statements they make? God forbid, incidentally. Real protection here would be a press that presents the real arguments and a public that can understand them – so we wait until hell freezes over.
Anyone could have come up with an independent non-statutory body backed by legislation. It isn’t clever. How much did Leveson cost to come up with something a grammar school debating team could have? The scandal at least stopped NewsCorp in its tracks for a while.
What Levenson should have looked at, directly, is how a free press could and should approach getting at the truth of stuff like Hillsborough, paedophile rings and abuse of vulnerable kids, aid to Rwanada, analysis of who supposedly independent judges, regulators and so on actually are (in the sense of structural analysis) and how independent, critical analysis of press and other institutional bias might be published on an equal footing in the mainstream.
Arguments I’ve heard from journalists on what is ‘objective’ are stuck in the 19th century upper crust of Pulitzer and the press barons. They claim to report news not make it – yet 90% of what I see is clearly made and packaged – business reporting is a classic and another is war reporting that reminds me of the reporter stood with the New Scotland Yard sign in crime reporting (blue flak-wear and shooting in the air or at never-seen enemy replaces the sign). In business news we get stock market figures when the bond markets are now 5 times bigger and rarely any comment on volume. QE is ‘discussed’ without mention of where the money goes or stays, how much we would all get if it was posted to us and not the banks. Rather than reporting news, reporters are often just unpacking the flat-pack made earlier to save them bother.
‘The Thick of It’ probably gets it right in the last ‘Blackadder blurs to poppyfield’ episode in which the vicious spin-doctor points at the politicians doing an Inquiry and asks who the hell they are to sit in judgement. Keith Vaz heads on such committee in real life. I have no idea on the truth of what was smeared about on him. The issue of what independence might really be is not addressed by the judge. Generally, an independent body needs to have investigators and a large budget. The IPCC isn’t even big enough to do a job on Hillsborough 23 years after the fact. It doesn’t even make the decision on whether to investigate or not and can’t force police officers to give individual statements on the spot or to stay silent under the same rules as an ordinary person. The Incompetent Poodles of Constabulary Corruption have been around 8 or 9 years. Does Levenson envisage such a disaster for an independent press review body?
Danny Nightingale’s sentence has just been reduced and suspended. An exemplary soldier and gentle man has been released. The conviction stands – here I’m not sure. That depends on the medical evidence. Mark Andrews is back. I think both men were in the wrong – but wonder why the hell courts were ever needed. Self-regulation failed, as did good sense. Our courts make different decisions on the same evidence, banging people up for no good reason (these men should have been disciplined and counselled).
We need some deeper ideas that incorporate what we know of how bureaucracies work over history (the story is awful and comedic) and that there is always a significant difference between espoused theory and theories in action. Leveson could have been written 70 years ago or by an undergraduate from a case study. One answer he fails to address (typically non-independent as he is a lawyer) is whether radical overhaul of our civil justice system to make it possible for ordinary people to use it would remove the need for any press standards panel. If he’d submitted to me I’d have sent him off to cost his vague plan and study Dutch and German legal provisions.
I suspect the answer is not to regulate the press, give them greater access to evidence and investigation – and make it easy to sue the arse off them in accessible courts or get the cops to do their job if the actions are criminal. Leveson is a conservative duffer who has let Hunt off the hook by not setting investigators on that situation, handed the PM a report very convenient to him and that uses clown political ‘change must come’ messages as vapid as those as anyone touting for our vote.