Leveson Inquiry report into UK press
An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press: executive summary and recommendations [Leveson report]
1. For the seventh time in less than 70 years, a report has been commissioned by the Government which has dealt with concerns about the press. It was sparked by public revulsion about a single action – the hacking of the mobile phone of a murdered teenager. From that beginning, the scope of the Inquiry was expanded to cover the culture, practices and ethics of the press in its relations with the public, with the police, with politicians and, as to the police and politicians, the conduct of each. It carries with it authority provided personally by the Prime Minister. It requires me to consider the extent to which there was a failure to act on previous warnings as to the conduct of the press, the way in which the press has been regulated (if it has) and, in any event, how regulation should work in the future.
2. The inclusion of the relationship between the press and the police came about because of public concern that the police had become too close to the press in general, and News International in particular, with the result that the investigation of phone hacking had not been conducted with the rigour that it deserved and calls for re-consideration of the allegations were ignored. Inclusion of the press and politicians followed not only because of the political consensus from the Government and Opposition parties that politicians had been too close to the press but also because of concerns about the bid by News Corporation for the remaining shares in BSkyB plc. The operation of the wider regulatory framework in relation to data protection, together with consideration of issues of plurality of ownership and its effect on competition came to be included as wider consideration was given to the all embracing nature of the Terms of Reference for Part 1.
3. It took three months to start receiving the evidence (although the process continued for a year). In nearly nine months of oral hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others (individuals or groups) were read into the evidence without them being called. Almost all of the evidence is and has been available to watch and daily transcripts have also been published online. Statements and exhibits can be examined on the Inquiry website: it has become the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen.
4. The task set by the Prime
Minister is that I should make recommendations, based firmly
on the evidence that I have heard and read, about the way in
which things should be done differently in the future. This
has meant reaching broad conclusions as to the narrative of
events sufficient to explain and justify my recommendations,
all the while being mindful of an ever expanding police
investigation which has already led to over 90 arrests.
Every single one of those arrested is presumed and remains
innocent unless and until the contrary is
proved in court. It has thus been a core principle of the Inquiry that the investigation and any prosecution should not be prejudiced by its work: that has inevitably led to serious restrictions around the evidence that could be called or investigated in areas that are obviously key to the Terms of Reference.
5. By appointing a judge to conduct an Inquiry of this nature, the intention was that it would proceed along judicial lines. In other words, the Inquiry would be a process of obtaining evidence and reaching conclusions based on objective appraisal of evidence, independence and political neutrality. Furthermore, for over 40 years as a barrister and a judge, I have watched the press in action, day after day, in the courts in which I have practised. I have seen how the press have assisted the investigation of crime and seen the way that the public have been informed about the operation of the justice system. I know how vital the press is – all of it – as the guardian of the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events, as the standard bearer for those who have no one else to speak up for them. Nothing in the evidence that I have heard or read has changed that. The press, operating properly and in the public interest is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As Thomas Jefferson put it:
“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
6. As a result of this principle which operates as one of the cornerstones of our democracy, the press is given significant and special rights in this country which I recognise and have freely supported both as barrister and judge. With these rights, however, come responsibilities to the public interest: to respect the truth, to obey the law and to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals. In short, to honour the very principles proclaimed and articulated by the industry itself (and to a large degree reflected in the Editors’ Code of Practice).
7. The evidence placed before the Inquiry has demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that there have been far too many occasions over the last decade and more (itself said to have been better than previous decades) when these responsibilities, on which the public so heavily rely, have simply been ignored. There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist. This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained. This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them, truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.
8. That is
not to conclude that the British press is somehow so devoid
of merit that press freedom, hard won over 300 years ago,
should be jeopardised or that the press should be delivered
into the arms of the state. Although the Inquiry has been
reported as having that aim, or likely to have that result,
even to suggest it is grossly to misrepresent what has been
happening over the last 16 months. I remain (as I started)
firmly of the belief that the British press – all of it
– serves the country very well for the vast majority of
the time. There are truly countless examples of great
journalism, great investigations and great campaigns. The
exposure of thalidomide, the campaign to bring the killers
of Stephen Lawrence to justice,
the exposure of abuse in the operation of MPs expenses are but the best known in a long list. The press describes world and local events, illuminates political issues and politics generally, holds power to account, challenges authority, investigates and provides a forum for debate.
9. It is not necessary or appropriate for the press always to be pursuing serious stories for it to be working in the public interest. Some of its most important functions are to inform, educate and entertain and, when doing so, to be irreverent, unruly and opinionated. It adds a diversity of perspective. It explains complex concepts that matter in today’s world in language that can be understood by everyone. In no particular order, it covers sports, entertainment, fashion, culture, personal finance, property, TV and radio listings and many other topics. It provides help lines and advice; it supports its readers in a wide variety of ways. It provides diversion in the form of crosswords, games, and cartoons. In short, it is a very important part of our national culture.
10. But that does not mean that it is beyond challenge. Neither does it mean that the price of press freedom should be paid by those who suffer, unfairly and egregiously, at the hands of the press and have no sufficient mechanism for obtaining redress. There is no organised profession, trade or industry in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked because of the good done by the many. Indeed, the press would be the very first to expose such practices, to challenge and campaign in support of those whose legitimate rights and interests are being ignored and who are left with no real recourse. That is, indeed, the function of the press: to hold those with power to account. It is, in fact, what the Guardian did in relation to the News of the World, and what first ITV and then Panorama did in relation to the BBC.
11. The purpose of this Inquiry has been two fold. First, it has been to expose precisely what has been happening by publicly testing the evidence of those who are able to speak about different aspects of the Terms of Reference: the public has been able to see and read what has been said and can make up its own mind. Second, it is to make recommendations for change. As to that, there is no argument but that changes do need to be made. For example, it is almost universally accepted that the body presently charged with the responsibility of dealing with complaints against the press is neither a regulator nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility.
12. Although the contrary is often asserted, not a single witness has proposed that the Government or that Parliament should be able to step in to prevent the publication of anything whatsoever. Not a single witness has proposed that the Government or Parliament should themselves be involved in the regulation of the press. I have not contemplated and do not make any such proposal.
13. The Report has been written to build up the evidence in relation to the public, the police, data protection and the politicians before going on to consider the law and regulation. In the light of my findings, it is possible to deal with the press and the public, the police and politicians entirely separately. Accordingly, this summary deals first with background, and then turns to the press and the public followed by the Press Complaints Commission and regulation of the press (including references to the law). It then deals with the police (both as regards Operation Caryatid and the relationship between the press and the police) before going on to the press and data protection. The main section ends with press and politicians and the issue of plurality.