The whole shabby story that resulted in the Leveson Inquiry leaves ordinary mortals – that is, people with a clear sense decency, fairness and a deep respect for the rights of others to privacy – feeling angry that anyone could put the race to win a scoop or to publish the most outrageous story before these essential principles. Add to this the tragic suicide of nurse Jacintha Sandanha, who felt humiliated when she became the victim of a prank phone call from two Australian radio DJs in pursuit of a funny story for their listeners, and we begin to realise that the first Duke of Wellington’s exhortation to ‘publish and be damned…’ has become the everyday code of practice in some parts of the publishing and media industries.
These incidents and their aftermath raise issues for ordinary publishers – that is, publishers with a clear sense of decency, fairness and a deep respect for the rights of others to privacy – as the whole industry becomes tainted by the deeds of a small sector and potentially loses the trust of its readers, who used to think we had their interests our hearts. It also raises the spectre of legislation controlling the press and its information-gathering methods, which could adversely affect the freedoms of other publishing sectors to source and develop materials in new and creative ways.
In all the reports I’ve read since the Leveson Report was published, no-one has mentioned another simple – but tough – principle that prurient journalists could usefully jot down at the top of their notepads: with power comes responsibility. Perhaps this is what we now need to enshrine in whatever code of conduct or mandatory set of controls are now developed to protect people from journalists and news publishers – and to protect the prurient press from itself.