UK: Inquiry reveals cosy ties between press, political class
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Last Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012, 17:27
  
London: Riveting to some, but irrelevant to others, a public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press and cosy relations between it and the political class is now in a key phase, with implications for democracy and journalism.

Set up in July 2011 in the wake of phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, the Leveson Inquiry is broadcast live and attracts an influential and international audience, gripped by the rigours of the British justice system and insights presented by key stakeholders across the press, police and politics.

The inquiry follows the controversy involving News of the World and other newspapers published by News International whose parent company, News Corp, is headed by the world's biggest media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Employees of the newspaper are accused of phone-hacking, police bribery and exercising improper influence in pursuit of scoops.

London: Riveting to some, but irrelevant to others, a public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press and cosy relations between it and the political class is now in a key phase, with implications for democracy and journalism.

Set up in July 2011 in the wake of phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, the Leveson Inquiry is broadcast live and attracts an influential and international audience, gripped by the rigours of the British justice system and insights presented by key stakeholders across the press, police and politics.

The inquiry follows the controversy involving News of the World and other newspapers published by News International whose parent company, News Corp, is headed by the world's biggest media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Employees of the newspaper are accused of phone-hacking, police bribery and exercising improper influence in pursuit of scoops.

He recalled that he had exposed a similar cosy relationship during the early 1980s in India when he had tried to takeover publicly quoted companies, a bid in which he was thwarted following intervention by some politicians. He saw a lot of similarities between those events and some of the things happening in Britain.

"It is a bit sad that Prime Minister Cameron has had to deny twice that he had no deal because nobody had accused him of that," Paul said.

"The revelations so far have shown many warts in our public life. It is time for introspection to ensure that in Britain we retain the values it was known for," Paul said.

Some like Education secretary Michael Gove believe that the inquiry has already had a "chilling" effect on free speech, while sceptics believe that the inquiry is a waste of public money, and that nothing will actually emerge out of it.

From early July, the inquiry is scheduled to deliver its recommendations to prevent and deal with the aberrations in British journalism as reflected at various levels in the phone-hacking controversy.

At the heart of the Leveson Inquiry is the key question: the idea of 'freedom of speech' is sacrosanct, and many have died over centuries to uphold it, but how, and in what form should the news media be regulated to prevent illegal and unethical practices in journalism?

In short, as Justice Leveson has often asked: "Who guards the guardians?"

Any solution suggested by the inquiry risks affecting 'freedom of speech', an idea that goes back to 1644, when English poet and polemicist John Milton wrote his Aeropagitica ‘a tract against censorship’ which set in motion a train of ideas and events that, over the years, irrevocably led to the entrenchment freedom of speech as a key element of democracy.

Some commentators have warned that the phone-hacking scandal should not target all journalists.

The publicly funded inquiry is divided into four modules. It is currently towards the end of Module 3, which is looking into the relationship between press and politicians, and has so far heard evidence from the leading lights of Britain's political elites, including Prime Minister Cameron.

Module 4, the last module, is due to commence in early July, and will focus on the key issue of "recommendations for a more effective policy and regulation that supports the integrity and freedom of the press while encouraging the highest ethical standards".

Module 1 focussed on the relationship between the press and the public and looked at phone-hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour, while Module 2 explored the relationships between the press and police and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest.

Justice Leveson has often reiterated his commitment to safeguarding the freedom of speech, but is also keen that his report expected later this year does not end up in one of the lower shelves of a professor of journalism, but brings about real changes in the cut and thrust of journalism.

Referring to the unethical and illegal news-gathering practices, he said during a recent hearing: "I have absolutely no interest in imperilling the freedom of expression or our free press; absolutely none. But it does seem to me it ought to be possible to find a way of solving all that without imperiling what is important to our society".

Given the aberrations in journalism in various democratic countries Leveson's recommendations and whether they lead to a change in regulation, or not, is being keenly watched in the world of journalism across the globe.

PTI


First Published: Sunday, June 17, 2012, 15:24


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