The Leveson Inquiry: why Steve Coogan should be applauded

Today Steve Coogan gave evidence in the Leveson enquiry into the ethics of the media. Little of what he said will come as a surprise to most. But what he did was paint a graphic picture of what is one of the most embarrassing aspects of Britain.

Some of the highlights, for want of a better term, are listed below.

He claimed that a personal friend called him from a News of the World office in an attempt to get him to admit to details of their intimate relations. The conversation would be recorded without his knowledge. He was allegedly alerted to the circumstances shortly by a third party before the conversation was due to take place.

He claimed that photographers sat outside his house over a period of about ten years, then following him in his car.

He claimed to see people rummaging through his bins looking for information about his life.

Others added to the putrid reality of tabloid journalism.

Garry Flitcroft said he believed media coverage of his extra-marital affairs contributed to his father’s suicide

Margaret Watson from Glasgow spoke of her son who killed himself after reading derogatory articles about his dead sister

Mary-Ellen Field, a business adviser to Elle Macpherson, said she was fired for leaking secrets that were actually obtained by journalists hacking into the Australian star’s phone.

Self-regulation does not work. Over the years, tabloid journalism has become more and more eager for news, fuelled in part by the public’s demand for such news. (Argument will abound as to the cause and effect in this spiral. I guess that each acts as both a cause and an effect.)

Press freedom is important. But its intrusion into people’s personal lives must only be legally, and is only justifiable when there is a genuine public interest at stake. The sex lives of Steve Coogan and Gary Flitcroft do not constitute public interest. All of the above scenarios are embarrassing and grave.

The press has stepped way beyond the realms of the law. And even when their scurrilous tactics don’t yield the truth, the measures are inadequate. Their ability to print a three-inch apology on page 37 for mistruths in a four-page spread advertised on the front page the previous week makes a mockery of the need for truth and ethics in journalism.

The consequences for breaking the law must be enforced rigorously. And lazy journalism that throws out half-baked, unresearched stories must be quashed by introducing highly stringent penalties for such behaviour.

Between them, these measures should cut out a lot of the bumf that fills our newsagents of a Sunday. And by reducing the supply, the demand will fall similarly.

Former Blackburn Rovers captain Garry Flitcroft, who said he believed media coverage of his extra-marital affairs contributed to his father’s suicideMargaret Watson, from Glasgow, whose son killed himself after reading derogatory articles about his dead sister; andMary-Ellen Field, a business adviser to supermodel Elle Macpherson, who says she was fired for leaking secrets which were actually obtained by journalists hacking into the Australian star’s phone

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