Murdoch Scandal Update: Freedom Of Press Report Released

Today’s stories in England differ from those you might be reading in America. First, the topics differ but, of greater interest, so does the tone.

The big issue today relates to freedom of the press, a topic reliably carried on page one above the fold because it hits hard at newspaper self interest. Recall, that there was a scandal when it was learned that some of the racier tabloids has engaged in shocking episodes of hacking the phones of deceased teenagers, and false attacks on the better known.

The tentacles reached from the press to the highest level of the Conservative government leading to considerable embarrassment.

All of this resulted in a lengthy inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, and yesterday he presented his report and recommendations. A British inquiry differs from a U.S. Congressional hearing in two significant ways: it is designed to find a solution, and it is conducted by grown ups.

The policy divide is hardly a new one. The press wants self-regulation while the maligned would feel more comfortable with some manner of statutory oversight. Despite some delicate conflicting relationships, David Cameron’s Conservative government sides with the press while the opposition Labour Party sides with the with the report’s conclusions. Interestingly, the government’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, also line up against the press.

Listening to Lord Leveson present his findings on the BBC, I was struck by his erudition and the level of his remarks. Both struck me as dramatically higher than the talking points we are accustomed to hearing in America.

His words were moderate but forceful. He was clear that there could be more than one view. He recognized the difficulties and pitfalls but, in the end, concluded that newspapers should no longer be allowed to “mark their own homework.” The Press Complaints Commission was no longer up to the task.

The friends with whom I shared my reaction were astonished to learn that political speeches in the United States are targeted at those with a seventh grade education.

Should our chosen leaders continue their fumbling with debt and deficits, we would do far worse than asking Lord Justice Leveson to “sort it” for us.  First, he would likely come up with an answer and second he would be more persuasive.