Friday, 30 November 2012

Has Leveson Logged Off?

The blogosphere is unsurprisingly swamped with responses to the publication of the report from the Leveson Inquiry - that Sword of Damocles suspended over the head of British media. 

Or, more accurately, the PRINT media. 'Dead Tree' journalism as it is routinely and scornfully referred to by disciples of the other mediums of communication - yes, even in this so-called 'multiplatform' age. The divides between television, internet, radio and broadcast journalism have never been more keenly felt than when the knives came out for the pariahs of Wapping and Fleet Street. 

Indeed, many commentators - such as the Wannabe Hacks - have observed Lord Justice Leveson's failure to include the quasi-press entities online in his recommendations to the government for media regulation. George Berridge of WH expressed his surprise thus:
True, the inquiry was set up to look at the print press but, Hell, when we’re spending £5m why not at least try and cover the web?
There are two responses to this. Firstly, web journalism - blogging, tweeting and social media reporting - was simply not on the stand. The catalyst for this Inquiry was the scandal exploding out of the News of the World, illuminating dodgy practices across News International even as the editors and executives desperately tried to bail out the dirty water.
At fault were some of the flagship titles of the British print media, which still remain the greatest source of news for consumers, which can influence government policy and practice (never the same thing), and which have become traditional institutions which command respect far and above the sort of work that, say, Guido Fawkes does. 

This isn't to condemn Paul Staines and his work, which certainly has its place. Indeed, he was a witness at the Inquiry, but his input was of a sideline commentator, describing the action as it happened on the field Leveson was judging - that of newspaper journalism. 
Staines wasn't being accused of hacking voicemails, blagging personal details, or any of the crimes laid at the Murdoch's door. So - for the moment, anyway - online journalism simply doesn't deserve the Leveson gunsights training on it. 

Secondly - the attitude of 'try and cover the web', with the remnants of the £5m spent on Leveson pursuing the world-famous publications which led to a 2,000 page report, indicates a dangerously optimistic opinion of success. Or a dangerously simplistic idea of how the internet actually works. 

To try and tackle the concept of legislating, even trying to control and corral the vast, chattering, rambling masses of online news producers, will be a herculean task. I cannot even imagine where to begin with such a task - but if it is to succeed, it will signal a landmark legal, cultural and social turning point in our online history. 

The internet is a vast, vital, lawless, perplexing, intimidating and invaluable place. Deciding how we proceed in this entirely new world is not something to be tacked on carelessly to the side of an equally crucial Inquiry into 'dead tree' journalism - which as we've established, is far from being woodchipped just yet. 

Let us concentrate for now on how best to regulate print media, how to put the old house in order, before we even consider the challenge of controlling the new.

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