Leveson, Week One

Max Mosley seems to have swept all before him and does so because his case pushes into so many corners of the matters Leveson is considering. Pace the rather silly remarks by Hugo Rifkind in  The Times (25 November 2011) it is important that we don’t wrongly calibrate the media’s offences. Sienna Miller has as much a claim on protection as Mr and Mrs Dowler; J K Rowling as much a claim as Mr and Mrs Watson , and as the latter’s dead daughter. The point is after all that we have to work out a way of stopping the press invading privacy, and/or lying, for profit. All the cases we heard last week, and all of them equally, show that the media’s wrong-doing did harm but no good.

On those lines, we ought to beware any nonsense about “Faustian Pacts” in which it is supposesd that celebrities lose their rights if they ever speak to the media; or invasions of privacy are warranted if the reporting is accurate. A celebrity whose kitchen has once been in OK magazine does not thereafter lose the right to leave her curtains open at night. Part of why Mr Mosley is so important is that his case reminds us that his privacy would have been no less sacrosanct had his sex games involved a Nazi theme.

Mr Mosley is right, too, to insist that the principle of prior notifaction is crucial, and foremost. The problems which flow from prior notification are the ones we have to deal with, not flinch from.

It’s worth saying that my normal response is to be sceptical when people take offence at common abuse and other  nonsense. The “sticks and stones” argument is quite a good one. I have been sentimental about the 18th Century habit of bawdy and scurrilous gossip. Happy days, etc. On reflection, I am not sure they were all that happy, but in any case we are in different territory now.

Indeed, it may be that we need a scrupulously honest professional press now and do so exactly because the gossipy, profane and vicious voices of the masses are out there in hyperspace. The media who are in Leveson’s dock are of interest to his Lordship and the rest of us only because they claim to be decent and honest. We are trying to work out ways of making them be what they claim to be.

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Publication date

25 November 2011