6 scathing highlights from the Leveson report

November 29, 2012

The report issued by a panel headed by Justice Brian Leveson singled out Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World for wrongdoing in the phone-hacking scandal, and also took on criminal behavior and ethical lapses in the British press overall.

Lord Leveson publishes his report into Press standards. (AP Photo/Mark Richards/Pool)
Lord Leveson publishes his report into press standards. (Mark Richards/Pool via AP)

[Read our story about the report from London]

The report is nearly 2,000 pages, so here are some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective):

Public interest hasn't always justified surveillance, and Leveson seeks to further restrict the public interest defense when it comes to journalists digging into personal information, such as phone records:

"It does appear that, in respect of the vast majority of the instances in which surveillance has been used, inadequate consideration has been given to whether such surveillance is itself justified in the public interest, let alone whether it is likely to produce any relevant information which  goes to a story which is being contemplated."

The Press Complaints Commission, the British press regulators, haven't done a very good job. The agency failed to ask the right questions about the extent of the phone hacking and was opaque about the extent of its powers:

"Through acquiescent silence, the PCC permitted policy-makers and the public to make mistaken assumptions about the breadth and depth of the powers and capacity of self-regulation. It is damning of the PCC that it was only when the system of regulation was under unprecedented scrutiny and extreme threat, that a programme of reform was announced that asked questions of import directed squarely at the system’s failings."

Leveson called for a new, independent body to be created that could investigate and arbitrate claims made by victims of media wrongdoing.

There has been systematic discrimination against minorities in the press:

"There are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration."

Newspapers occasionally invented stories in order to boost circulation and they "disregard the rulebook" when it comes to chasing "big stories:"

"The Inquiry heard sufficient evidence to conclude that some sections of the press have deliberately invented stories with no factual basis in order to satisfy the demands of a readership."

Politicians are getting too cozy with the press:

The Independent reports:

"The judge said that politicians were guilty of spending a “disproportionate” amount of time and resources on their relations with the press and had gone too far at times in seeking to control the supply of information to the public.

The report found that the risk of the public seeing bias and secret dealings between politicians and newspaper owners had been encapsulated by the ill-fated £8bn BSkyB bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which was abandoned in July 2011 following the revelation that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler."

Though there's no evidence of corruption among senior police officers, Scotland Yard should have pursued the phone hacking case more vigorously, rather than taking a "defensive mindset:"

"In particular Lord Leveson found that Assistant Commissioner John Yates should have stood aside and asked another officer to review the original inquiry because of his friendship with the News of the World's deputy editor, Neil Wallis."

 

 As the Washington Post's Anthony Faiola and Eliza Mackintosh point out, "many of the practices documented by the report are already illegal under British law, suggesting that the problem is as much one of of tolerance or ineptitude in law enforcement as it is one of journalistic ethics."

h/t the Guardian, the Independent

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Max Fisher | November 29, 2012