The Daily Mail wants you to ask yourself why Lord Justice Leveson is not reopening his media ethics and standards inquiry to deal with the BBC’s role in the Jimmy Savile scandal.
By all means ask yourself that, but please don’t dwell on it, because the answer is simple. Lord Justice Leveson’s terms of reference, written for him by the government, state clearly in the very first sentence that he should inquire into ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’.
It’s not his job to scrutinize the BBC, any more than it is the job of the Daily Mail to deliver milk to our doorsteps.
It is curious that the Mail, which kept a team of uncompromising lawyers at the inquiry every day partly to ensure that the judge didn’t stray one inch from his remit, should now want him to tear it up. And the paper isn’t just asking him to do it; it is implying that he is a hypocrite if he doesn’t.
To justify this nonsense the Mail wilfully misrepresents the text of the terms of reference. The editorial says: ‘The remit of Leveson was to investigate the media’s “ethics and standards”.’ No, not the media, the press.
This is a characteristic use by a paper of the argument of convenience. One day it is an outrage if the judge departs from his remit and the next day it’s hypocrisy if he doesn’t. One week it is a matter of high principle that what is on the internet (e.g. Harry pictures) should be available in newspapers and the next week it is an outrage if that happens (e.g. Kate pictures). Today it is absolutely vital that the BBC’s conduct over Savile is scrutinised independently, yet on every other day it would be an outrage if the conduct of the press, no matter how bad, was scrutinised independently.
The moral, as ever, is that we need an independent body – independent of both the editors and the government – that applies a clear code of practice consistently and rigorously to the papers and has the teeth to make them comply.
Would that reduce the freedom of the press? Well it is surely relevant that it was television journalists who were free to break the Savile story – ITV journalists who are subject to independent regulation by Ofcom, underpinned by a statute.
Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.
Photo from Alex Muller.