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The Leveson Inquiry

The Leveson Inquiry, which began in autumn 2011, published its final report on the 29th November, signalling a shake-up of the media as we know it.

Most people have heard of the inquiry, and its significance for the world of the press and world of celebrity. But what exactly will the implications be for these groups? And what will happen to journalism because of it?

The inquiry was initiated and set up by David Cameron to look at the culture, practice and ethics of the press, after the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.

In the 1,986 page report, the inquiry recommended as its main point, replacing the industry-led Press Complaints Commission with an independent board. They wished this to have more outsiders in it, to be able to charge higher fines, and also to be backed up by a ‘verifying’ body in order to make sure it is doing its job. Leveson suggested the model of Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, as an example and possibility for the print media.

The parties have already been in conflict and discussion over what to do about the inquiry, and what measures to implement. Labour has come up with a draft bill with six clauses, including the idea that the Lord Chief Justice will be responsible for checking the regulatory body.

The Conservative Party and David Cameron, have decided to try and encourage the media sort themselves out, however Cameron warned recently that the clock was ticking.

Recently, editors from the major publications in the country met to try and agree on an outcome from the inquiry. They have announced they will accept most of the recommendations it suggested, in favour of this rather than a state-led body to direct them.

But, what will this mean for the press?

Well, firstly, it might initially mean a decline in the tabloid and so-called ‘gossip trade’. Now that everyone knows where their stories come from, perhaps there will be a slump in demand for it. Or perhaps not. To be frank, many people have ignored the suspicious ways of the media for a long time, will this inquiry make a difference?

What the inquiry’s regulations will truly affect is the attitude of journalists. Many have seen their colleagues get put on criminal trial for the scandal. And thus, perhaps will think twice about their own actions within the media.

In terms of more ‘serious’ journalism, the implications could go either way. One possibility is that demand for it will increase as the tabloids decline. However, more likely there will be further restrictions held on this part of journalism. But, as hacking was illegal in the first place, some have questioned the validity of the inquiry and its outcomes.

The question is, will investigative journalism be harmed? Lets hope not.

One of the main functions of the media is to hold politicians and those in power to account, and an excellent example of this was in the expenses scandal of 2009, exposed and published by the Telegraph group. This was investigation at its finest, and indeed restrictions on actions such as this should not occur. Freedom of the press is essential, and a luxury we have in the UK, where many other countries do not, and thus why the state must keep its distance from the regulatory body for the media, in order that it can be held to account fairly.

And what about the celebrity culture that drove this hacking scandal in the first place?

Hugh Grant at the Inquiry

Celebrities such as Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant and JK Rowling were involved in the scandal, giving testimonies at the inquiry about their privacy being violated.

However, despite the views of these celebrities, others have a completely different approach. Some in the industry feed off publicity for their careers. They need the attention.

Thus, although there might be a slowing down of the celebrity culture and reporting in the future, ultimately it is unlikely to disappear altogether.

So the question is, what will the overall impact of the inquiry be?

The Leveson Inquiry officially stated that ‘the ideal outcome is a satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry.’ And subsequently, a new regulatory board is almost certainly going to come into existence. But, to be honest, will it look any different, or will it just be another board of bureaucracy?

Perhaps the tabloid and gossip culture will also decline in the short-term, but inevitably it will return when there’s a dry week of news. That’s just how the industry works, right?

Lord Justice Leveson

The important thing to remember is what do we expect from journalists, and from politicians? Journalism is there in order to inform the public,  criticise the government and keep them in check. Politicians are there to represent the public, and to run the country, so to speak. Thus, the two institutions should be separate, but should work together to provide the best service for the public.

Lord Justice Leveson stated that ‘it is not by accident that the Editor’s Code begins with a requirement for accuracy: it is the foundation stone on which journalism depends.’

However, with this fundamental ‘foundation stone’, one also needs freedom of speech and the opportunity to hold the government to account. Only then will the media truly fulfil its duty and role in the country. Let’s hope that Leveson can deliver this once and for all.

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