There 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.|