Dr Death: Leveson hastens decline of printed press?

In effect, Leveson is attempting to regulate a dying industry while the internet is universally acknowledged as impossible to regulate

Is the dead tree press on its death bed?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 29 November 2012 16:11

So, independent self-regulation it is. But any hope that Hacked Off might revert to F***ed Off is likely to be dashed with so many questions still to be asked as to how it will all look. There are MPs to be lobbied and state regulation agenda to be enforced. Plus, there are 'independent’ panel jobs up for grabs.

Leveson is not exactly bonkers, and David Cameron is clearly caught. Despite the PM’s robust ‘concerns’ over regulation underpinning he has to implement Leveson for fear not only of damaging the coalition and relationships with elements of his own party, but also of the prospect of a Miliband-led, Media Standards Trust-backed band of draconian pro-state regulators bent on statuary controls. 

But with left-leaning celebrities giving submissions, members of the Media Standards Trust acting as assessors on the inquiry – as well as submitting self-serving evidence of its own –  not to mention Ed Miliband actively looking to back statutory regulation, there was always going to be a real danger of statutory under-pinning of press regulation. 

Despite Leveson's insistence this is not state regulation, having Ofcom as the ‘underpinner’ will make it appear that way to many. The fact that Ofcom is led by Gordon Brown's ex-SpAd, Ed Richards, is even more depressing. The sinister Media Standards Trust will doubtless be angling to further influence above and beyond with good old Common Purpose philosophy, where doyen Julia Middleton serves as a trustee.

Of course, Leveson was always going to be hijacked by those with a political agenda. The moment expenses-fiddling part time MP Tom Watson invested £2000 in an absurd, tough-guy makeover prior to his day of days on the CMS select committee, the writing was on the wall. Motivated by his self-confessed visceral hatred of the Tories, Watson became the grand inquisitor one day, Woodward and Bernstein the next. 

By the time the Media Standards Trust and its mouthpiece, actor Hugh Grant (from Sucked Off to Hacked Off, to quote one wag on Twitter) and other bleating celebrities got in on the act, the essential purpose of Leveson, to deal with the excesses of the press in relation to ordinary people, was in danger of becoming obscured. Hacked Off’s practical solutions appeared increasingly muddled and the notion as explained by Grant, that the courts could decide if there was justification for journalistic law-breaking depending on the validity of a story, sounded faintly ridiculous.

But all of this could be a total red herring. As Emily Bell writes in today's Guardian, Leveson is irrelevant to tomorrow's press.

By his own admission, Leveson's process is unable to apply its findings to the internet. Indeed out of 2000 pages there is just one on the relevance of the internet.

In effect, Leveson is attempting to regulate a dying industry while the internet is universally acknowledged as impossible to regulate. The next time someone like Steve Coogan is found relaxing with hookers and cocaine, it is likely to be publicised via twitter, a celebrity blog, or any number of full-blown, web-based publications with a global reach. And not even The Media Standards Trust will have any relevance in that context.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express

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