Delivering a damning indictment of the culture and ethics of the press, more specifically the behaviour of a small minority of editors and journalists, Lord Justice Leveson provided a comprehensive and considered 2,000-page report – the result of the seventh inquiry into the press in under 70 years.
The press plays a fundamental role in guarding our democracy, holding the most powerful individuals and organisations to account. It is also there to inform, educate and entertain. Press freedom has been a hard-won, long-established core principle of this nation.
But media organisations themselves are powerful; owned by powerful individuals with very specific agendas. Press freedom is there to defend the public interest, not the vested corporate interests of powerful businessmen.
The inquiry was initiated with cross-party support, following widespread public revulsion of the phone hacking of a murdered teenager. Many more unconscionable acts were exposed before and during the inquiry. Politicians, police and journalists, and the relationships between them, were all criticised.
He highlighted that the press had wreaked havoc with the lives of many innocent people, often behaved recklessly, failed to uphold its own agreed standards and still wanted to “mark its own homework”.
Independent self-regulation, underpinned by statute
His core recommendation was the establishing of an independent self-regulation body to replace the failed Press Complaints Commission, mainly to include outsiders and to specifically exclude serving editors. The statutory framework would not enforce newspapers to sign up. He called for legislation to guarantee press freedom and underpin up the new regulator. He also called for low-cost arbitration for victims that avoids courts. His recommendations found huge support with the public before they even came out.
Why it matters to us
Our interest is the woeful misinformation and disinformation regularly spread by the press on issues related to sustainability, such as renewable energy and climate change.
As we wrote last week, freedom of expression is not the same as a freedom to mislead. Clearly it is not the freedom to wreck innocent people’s lives but nor is it the freedom to wreck our planet.
As Leveson points on page 689, “False balance (or on occasion, overtly politicised reporting) was noted as a general concern in relation to other topics, including the reporting of GM crops and climate change. The Daily Express’ article ‘100 reasons why global warming is natural’ was identified as an example of where false balance, or the title’s political agenda, resulted in a misleading and inaccurate piece of science reporting.”
And on page 691, he writes, “The reporting of climate change is also susceptible to exaggeration. When a Nature paper modelling climate change projected warming between 2 degrees and 11 degrees, almost all the newspapers carried the latter figure in their headlines, with one tabloid splashing a huge 11 degrees on the front page alongside an apocalyptic image. This was in spite of the fact that the press briefing to launch the paper had all emphasised that the vast majority of models showed warming around 2 degrees.”
We will be exploring this in more detail in our Guide to Responsible Media in December.
Who will guard the planet?
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