The suits are on as the Leveson Inquiry continues at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Lord Leveson sits in the chair he has sat in for the past seven months, his brow ever quizzical as he listens to evidence from politicians, celebrities and journalists. The number of witnesses will soon be 500 but the end is still not near.
People from JK Rowling to Hugh Grant, Tony Blair to the McCanns have been asked to give evidence on the press while the rest of the Journalistic community waits on bated breath.
Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair found himself at an MDF made a desk with a plastic coating to make it look like birch. He looks around the small courtroom ignoring the small black microphone in front of him. The tabletop is littered with paper and folder with tabs for easy access to important documents. Lord Leveson has sat away from him on a desk which has been raised so he can see the entire courtroom. Behind him hangs a blue curtain.
Various clerks and lawyers are to Blair’s twelve and nine, all with flat-screen computers and papers of their own.
He is about to be questioned about part three of the Inquiry’s aims, to look at the relationship between the press and politicians.
When the clock turns to 10:00 am, Mr. Jay, a solicitor starts the proceedings.
“Sir, the witness today is the Right Honourable Tony Blair, please,” he says to Lord Leveson. And after the formalities of the opening of court, the pleasantries of name asking and thanks for coming, ensure the hearing gets underway.
Oddly enough, in his first speech to the courtroom, Mr. Blair said something that was very odd in spite of where and why he is speaking. If he could he would have stood up, hand over heart and looking off into the distance longingly.
“What is more, I’d like to make it clear right at the outset, sir, if I might, that British journalism at its best is the best in the world, the finest in the world,” he said.
It may be one of the best defenses of journalism heard during this Inquiry, yet it is something that is very easily overlooked what with all the other evidence heard so far.
Skeptics of the press and press regulation have said that there is a great need to control what is published and how reporters go about their jobs.
However, there has to be a bigger picture of journalism in Britain than introducing regulatory or privacy laws. The everyday journalist, the local paper report or the at home blogger, these are just some of the people who could be affected by laws like those.
“I think Ofcom probably is the right body to decide issues of media policy. I don’t actually envisage it replacing the PCC,” Blair said in the inquiry.
After he went on to talk about journalism being about the news and how comments and opinions of the media should be kept separate from each other, e.g. a newspaper should report news about the Eurozone, good or bad, not publish a comment on their views about the Eurozone under the façade of news.
“My distinction is between that and how you actually report the story as a piece of journalism,” he said.
The future of media regulation hangs in the balance due to the evidence heard at Leveson, that is no lie but the consequences on British Journalism could be huge. We’re not talking about chasing down celebrities to fast food restaurants or hacking into phones for fun, we’re talking about real journalism like the expenses scandal and, dare I mention, Watergate.
While bad practices of Journalism should be stamped out by editors and journalists themselves, restricting reporters could have a dire consequence on good journalism, like stopping Journalists from breaking stories about deceit or corruption in politics or economics.
At the minute, the Press is regulated by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The PCC Code offers ethical guidelines for journalists for fair practices of reporting, however, they are not laws. Journalistic academics have often criticized the PCC for being too weak but at the end of the day, the press does need a bit of freedom to operate in the name of freedom of information.