Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lord Leveson

Lord Leveson and I have something in common, besides both having the same Christian name of Brian , we share the same hairdresser. Well hairdresser is stretching it a bit as the more traditional term of "Barber" covers it, particularly as neither his Lordship nor I have much hair left .

 The publication of the much anticipated Leveson Report has laid out a blue print for the future conduct of the media and it is still to be seen if the Politicians accept the recommendation. Clearly no change is no option as there have been far too many innocent people ranging from the family of Milly Dowler to Chris Jefferies, the man wrongly accused of his tenants murder whose lives have been damaged by the activities of less than scrupulous journalists . My view is that the Leveson report should be accepted in whole and that the Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband are more in tune with the public than the Prime Minister on this matter  and that statutory regulation is necessary and is needed now.

My personal run in with the unlamented "News of the World" happened about six years ago when about 6pm one evening as I was changing to go out to a public event my front door bell rang and a young man who identified himself as a reporter from the "News of the World" asked me if suggestions that were apparently "being discussed at North London Dinner Parties" that I was, or had been, involved in a relationship with a well know International pop star were true. I was somewhat mystified as frankly I do not attend, nor indeed get invited to "North London Dinner Parties". At the time I got rid of the journalist from my doorstep by ringing a friend who had a senior role on the "News of the World" who spoke to the guy who promptly disappeared and no more was heard of this story again.

At the time I was extremely puzzled as to how the newspaper got hold of any supposed details of my  private life, something I do not discuss with anybody and certainly not journalists and frankly could not think of an answer. Five years later the answer became obvious.

Likewise it was always a mystery to me how various stories appeared in the media during the 2002/3 Fire Brigade pay dispute. Several media figures are now facing criminal charges which involve alleged phone hacking of Mr Andrew Gilchrist , who at the time was General Secretary of the Fire Brigade's Union so no doubt matters may well become clearer during that criminal trial .

The Leveson report however does not in my opinion go far enough.

I cannot see why journalists should not be forced to belong an individuals to a professional body along the lines of the Law Society or the British Medical Association and be disciplined or struck off for unprofessional conduct. These days anybody running a dodgy website  can buy a digital recording devise, pay a subscription to the National Union of Journalists and waddle into Town Hall claiming to be a "professional journalist ".

Likewise as my former Assembly colleague pointed out in her intervention in the House of Commons this afternoon after the Prime Minister's statement that something had to be done about the digital media .

I do not mean the obsessive bloggers and tweeters, although post Lord McAlpine I suspect many tweeters will rightly be far more circumspect in what they tweet, I mean those journalists who think it is right to post a story when only half the job is done . I have lost count of the times the "Hendon Times" which years ago under the Editorship of the  late Denis Signey, had a high reputation in the Community, has published a story on its' website without even bothering to check the facts or seek a comment from individuals mentioned in the story and has later been forced to take the story down or amend it .

Likewise a right to privacy is long overdue in this Country, it is already against the doomed Press Complaints Commission code to publish photographs and some stories about the children of public figures and that should be extended to all relatives . Furthermore just as the Local Government Code of Conduct recognises that complaints cannot be made against Councillors when they are off duty, the media regime should be extended to the media being forbidden to harass Politicians and their families when not fulfilling public duties .Likewise there needs to be protection against the media publishing the private addresses of Politicians or details of their children's schools .

Lord Leveson has started the process of cleaning up the cesspit of current tabloid journalism, we need to go much further.


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