The Death of the Press

by Rebekah Law

‘That’s it, it’s over! The free press is finished!’ declared Ian Hislop on Have I got News for You. With daily reports across the media the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press has been the cause celebre in recent weeks. It has brought the question of the freedom of the press vs. individual privacy to the fore. Whatever the future of journalism, rarely has there ever been such interest in the profession not just for the news it supplies but also for its own sake.

Hugh Grant, JK Rowling, Sienna Miller and Max Mosley have all been called to participate in and give evidence to the inquiry, alongside parents of murdered school-girl Milly Dowler and missing child Madeleine McCann. For the public, the distress caused to friends and relatives of victims of crime is the most repugnant and shocking (and therefore convincing) evidence that the freedom of the press needs to be curtailed.

From this inquiry recommendations will be made on new regulations for the media, press behaviour and relations between the police and the press. Investigative journalism is under scrutiny and many believe it is under threat. Lord Justice Leveson began the inquiry by highlighting the positives in the British press, stating: ‘I fully consider the freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be fundamental to our democracy and fundamental to our way of life.’

It has been pointed out that it is already illegal to use phone-hacking as part of a journalistic investigation. I would agree with Ian Hislop’s stance: is there, then, any need to change the current legal position or would it suffice for current laws to be enforced more rigidly? Hislop told the Leveson Inquiry that it should examine why the laws were not already rigorously enforced. Why should journalism be tamed and constrained for the sake of punishing the few journalists who have employed illegal methods to gain sensationalist stories? The potential damage to democracy is surely the greater evil in this case.