It was a packed house last night for our event at the Frontline Club debating life after the Leveson Inquiry, which is set to make recommendations for regulation of the British press this autumn.
Panellists Brian Cathcart (Kingston University and Hacked Off), David Aaronovitch (Times), Helen Lewis (New Statesman) and Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths and the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform) — chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby — discussed what they both believed and hoped Leveson would hold for the future.
Phillips argued that the level of collusion between the press, politicians and police was the “shocking” factor, adding that Leveson must examine media ownership to prevent future abuses. The issue — which has been raised of late as hearings come to a close — is outside the judge’s broad terms of reference, with Aaronovitch questioning how diversity would be ensured were caps to be brought in.
On public interest, Cathcart repeated his call for a strong public interest defence to protect responsible journalism, with Phillips matching it with a statutory right of reply. As for ethics, Aaronovitch toyed with the idea of a “bulked-up” self-regulatory system with ethical underpinning, suggesting a modified version of the BBC’s guidelines and penalties model.
Lewis, meanwhile, implored Leveson address the reality that the British press is now competing in a global market of news websites and papers alike. “What the internet has done is terrifying because you can see how well each piece of content has done,” Lewis said, adding that we needed to “get over the idea that blogs and Twitter are the Wild West”.
This has not been the first time Leveson has been nudged to examine the pressures brought on by the web, with MailOnline editor Martin Clarke telling him in May that the Inquiry was obsessing with the “last war” of print in trying to solve the press puzzle. It was left to Aaronovitch last night to muse: “we are locking the stable door after horse has died.”
Indeed, as several audience members noted, there was perhaps more confusion after than before the debate. Such is the array of issues Leveson himself has to tackle this summer as he sits down to pen his report.
Can’t say I envy him the task.
The debate was streamed live, and you can watch it in full below: