The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

Hacked Off: Top Ten Myths About Leveson

leveson-inquiry-distortedThere are lies, damned lies and then there are Leveson stories in the British newspapers. Sections of the press have been engaged in a systematic and transparently self-serving campaign to undermine the credibility of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, a campaign which began even before it was published.

It’s a catalogue of smears, half-truths and misreports that the legendary former Sunday Times editor, Sir Harold Evans, described as a gross distortion of the truth.

We can expect the myths to continue to tumble out of the cynical propaganda machine rubbishing Leveson, directed by the editors and proprietors of some national newspapers. For our part, Hacked Off promises to continue to debunk them whenever they arise.

Here are the top ten fictions:

A shadowy network of politicians, businesspeople and campaigners skewed the objectivity and impartiality of the Leveson Report A baseless slur on a blameless individual. The Mail’s 12-page hatchet job on Sir David Bell, a former Chair of the FT and respected member of the Leveson team was a mix of spurious innuendo and groundless guilt-by-association, as exposed here, here and here.
Leveson will stop whistleblowers going to the media Nonsense. Leveson refers to whistleblowing in only two contexts: the recommendation that journalists should be able to blow the whistle on unscrupulous editors (a proposal from the NUJ) and the issue of police officers contacting the media. Leveson says it is ‘both legitimate and justifiable’ for whistleblowers in the police service to go to the press.
If Leveson had been implemented, then it would have been impossible to report Cash for Questions, MPs’ expenses, etc Scaremongering. If Leveson’s proposals did any such thing, then Hacked Off and its supporters (who include investigative journalists) would never support them. Neither would the National Union of Journalists. The suggestions – which the Ministry of Justice will consult on – are intended to protect ordinary people. If they impede serious journalism, it’s inconceivable that they could become law.
Leveson could lead to state control of the press (and here) Alarmist and illogical. During the inquiry, Leveson was at pains to point out – on an almost daily basis – that he believes in a vigorous free press. No one who gave evidence thought that state control was a good idea. Nowhere in the report did Leveson recommend politicians should have power over newspapers. On the contrary, he favoured an independent self-regulator, overseen by a recognition body acting on behalf of the public. If a future authoritarian government wants to control the media, they will do it anyway, regardless of the existence of a regulator whose independence from politicians is guaranteed in law.
Leveson will enable the police to force journalists to hand over documents and reveal their sources Wrong. Leveson did not recommend making it easier for police to seize documents from journalists. He said he had only heard one side of the story and gently suggested to the Home Office that it should consider getting all the facts. This the Home Office has begun doing.
Leveson’s plan for damages is illegal as it breaches the Human Rights Act Legal opinion differs. Hugh Tomlinson QC, chair of Hacked Off, says “There is no substance in the argument that exemplary damages are somehow incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights”. The newspapers have procured one opinion, but is it really likely that Lord Justice Leveson proposed an illegal measure? And in the unlikely event that the press are right, then they have nothing to worry about, do they?
The Attorney General is worried about the stress caused to suspects in the phone-hacking inquiry and thinks journalists caught up in it have been victims of ‘rough justice’ Complete Fantasy. Hacked Off have it on impeccable authority that this story is made up. A quote from the Attorney General’s office given to The Sun confirms as much.
Leveson is only supported by Hacked Off and a handful of celebrities No: Everyone’s Hacked Off. The overwhelming majority of victims of phone hacking and other forms of press intrusion are ordinary members of the public and not celebrities. Hacked Off exists to speak on their behalf. Statutory underpinning of the kind recommended by Leveson is supported by the NUJ, the largest organisation in the country representing journalists, MPs and peers of all parties and a wide cross-section of society. The Hacked Off petition, urging full implementation of Leveson, has been signed by more than 170,000 people; a higher number of signatories than on any petition on the Downing Street website. The latest opinion polls show more than 75% of the public agree with them.
Leveson means ministers can use D Notices to block publication of embarrassing stories Misleading. D-Notices – official requests to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security – have nothing at all to do with Leveson. The elision of a method used since 1912 by the authorities to censor reporting of sensitive national security information and the Leveson Report of 2012 designed to repair the broken system of press regulation is a smokescreen to baffle readers.
Leveson’s recommendations pose a threat to the local press In fact the opposite is true: it will be more expensive for the regional press to stay out of a Leveson regulator.


  1. Ananse Spider

    The lack of impartiality of this website is now alarming. There is a heady cocktail of authoritative sounding law reporting mixed in with one-sided hectoring along the lines of the Hacked Off agenda. It is a shame, because you used to publish respectable and authoritative media law commentary.Now you are little more than a campaigning group which has utterly lost its objectivity – and credibility.

    It is not possible to do both. Perhaps you can separate yourselves into two publications: one which provides useful and authoritative updates on media law, and the other which publishes useless one sided attacks on freedom of speech.


    The Inforrm blog does not set out to be “impartial”. Our aims are to promote an independent, strong, free and responsible mass media.- see “About Inforrm” on the home page. As a result, we support the aims of Hacked Off which campaigns for a “free and accountable” media.

    However, as we say on “About Inforrm” we also set out to “to provide a forum for debate, to be inclusive rather than exclusive”. We have always invited – and often solicited – contributions which put contrary views.

    If any of our readers would like to defend the press reporting of Leveson or provide a reasoned critique of the Leveson Report then we would be happy to publish their contributions..

    • Ananse Spider

      Thank you. But you should be more transparent about the fact that you share the same agenda as Hacked Off, rather than offering the nebulous and self important description on the ‘About us’ page which says very little at all. For a blog promoting “responsible media” – whatever that is – you seem to do nothing of the sort yourselves.

  3. "Robin Lupinhyo"

    But of course you ‘support Hacked Off’. You’re the same people.

  4. Elaine Decoulos

    Maybe I can assist, to use a classic line in court. The Hacked Off campaign and like-minded campaigners seeking to improve the standards of the British press have much in common with media law. For if the media law was rigorously and fairly applied with sufficient damages as a deterrent in the UK, without the use of oppressive legal costs as a means to bully and deny justice, it is unlikely there would be any campaigners!

    As everyone knows, the same goes for the criminal law on hacking, blagging and illegal payments. The law was not applied because of the power of newspaper proprietors and systemic corruption. It has nothing to do with attacking free speech. The argument is similar to the one being used by the National Rifle Association in the US saying banning military assault rifles violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. It’s a bogus argument.

    It would actually be helpful if the current Defamation Bill was further amended on Leveson lines to cover all aspects of media law, that being libel, privacy and the specific issues of dealing with the most abusive press in the ‘free’ world. There is no fine line between any of them, as I know from bitter personal experience.

    A tidbit on exemplary damages and free speech…some US states have them for libel claims despite the US First Amendment.

  5. Loverat

    I am afraid Labour and the group ‘Hacked off’ which supported the amendment will lose support – particularly if their attempt at hijacking the bill results in the bill not proceeding. This behaviour is about the most undemocratic act I have ever witnessed in this country. Do we really want censorship of the press and internet? That’s what we will end up all because of the self interest of a few dinousaur grandees – and people like Hugh Grant who hold long standing grudges.

    The Libel Reform Campaign have worked tirelessly and effectively for a change in the law which is now about to be wrecked a bunch of individuals who have old scores to settle with the press.

    If you want Leveson recommendations to become law, then do the work yourself. Don’t hijack the hard work of others to sneak censorship through the back door. If censorship has such wide support you will have no problem in getting support for your own bill.

    Lord Lester recently wrote:

    “Free speech in this country is in grave danger of being stifled by party political gamesmanship. The threat comes from politicians who have hijacked an attempt to reform our out-of-date, repressive libel law by clogging the Defamation Bill with wrecking amendments.”

  6. frankieephesus

    You have been misinformed about this amendment. It was not an official Labour Party amendment and it was not put forward or promoted by Hacked Off. This was an initiative by a group of back bench peers – including the former Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

    It was supported by a broad coalition of peers – Labour (176 votes), Cross Bench (63), plus 13 Conservatives, 6 Bishops and 5 Lib Dems. These were not “wrecking amendments” but amendments designed to implement part of the recommendations of a public inquiry set up by the Government and which all political parties have accepted (subject to an issue about statutory implementation on the part of the Conservative members of the coalition).

    Hacked Off supports the implementation of the Leveson recommendations and also supports the Defamation Bill. If the Bill does not proceed this will be the result not of “party political gamesmanship” but because the Conservative part of the coalition has decided to withdraw it.

    It is difficult to understand where your reference to “censorship of the press and internet” comes from – this is certainly not proposed by Leveson (or indeed anyone else). The fact that someone can, apparently unself-consciously use the word “censorship” to describe attempts to make large self-interested media corporations act responsibly – in accordance with a code of practice laid down by a self-regulator (not one imposed from outside) – demonstrates how public discourse in this country has been vulgarised by persistent media distortion. The British press favours only freedom of expression for the powerful. It is fighting Leveson tooth and nail because it sees it own unaccountable power being undermined.

  7. Andy Reporter

    All the arguing – probably from pre-existing dogma – should be set beside the human cost of the media victimising people who have committed no crime and the political cost of letting the powerful practise corruption without scrutiny. All the fancy word constructions are lightweight indulgence alongside that. This is more than an issue about politics, it is something to do with civilisation itself. A fact is a fact; it’s values that decide what you do with it.

    No law was ever framed that will ensure fairness. If we don’t want corruption in public life, investigative journalism is one response. But I ask you all to remember how a journalist sat in the chair at the Leveson enquiry and described how a young woman killed herself after being caught by his photographer taking drugs, and also that a schoolboy in Glasgow topped himself because he couldn’t stand the “attention” of a local daily and a national women’s’ mag, who had decided his sister was a demon.

    How can it be that we cannot or will not see the difference between character assassination and trial by media on one hand, and displaying the emperor’s new clothes on the other?

    Of course, if you have no compassion, it doesn’t matter a stuff, does it? Roll down the road, unencumbered by values, and look after your shares, or polish up your favourite political catechism. The argument with “the other side” matters so much more than human lives.

  8. Loverat

    I remember reading an argument someone was making on one site discussing free speech on the internet and the damage caused by trolls. The argument being put forward was that we should ban the internet because some people who had been victimised or bullied online had committed suicide. I think we saw a glimpse of the same mentality and totally over the top reactions for a while after the Australian Radio DJs played out the practical joke which triggered a tragedy. Anyway – I think someone responded to this ridiculous argument by asking whether we should ban cars due to the number of car accidents.

    It is my understanding that phone hacking and other wrong doing is against the law, so is a police matter. Newspapers are also subject to defamation laws. O.K perhaps it is difficult to enforce the current law and some legislation and guidelines are required to improve standards across the board. I can accept that.

    But that is the case in all sorts of areas of life and business (e.g financial regulation and market abuse) which is crying out for proper regulation. What is so special about this that we have to rush through ill thought out legislation because of a minority of journalists who have abused their power? Everyone else has to campaign and work hard for their cause. Why should ‘Hacked Off’ and Co get preferential treatment over others who have worked for years for free speech and other worthy causes. I am all for better standards in journalism but this leaves me with a very bitter taste.

    The question still remains. Why has the defamation bill been hijacked?

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