Forgive a vanity post but in a summer mood of reflection I have just re-read my keynote lecture to the International Press Institute World Congress from September 2010. I discuss phone hacking, and put a couple of ideas on the table that the Leveson Inquiry may want to think about.
First: that the latest performance is just an interlude in a very long term ‘dance’ in which the state and the fourth estate are the main partners. The Royal Commission on the Press (1947-9) was not the first attempt to discuss and resolve the interlocking issues of media concentration and media power, and there have been 2 Royal Commissions on the Press since then. Each of them, but in subtly different ways linked ownership concentration and the problem of media power in a democracy, and gave some assessment of press self regulation. The terms of the Inquiry should require Leveson to do the same, and he would be departing from tradition and precedent if he does not deal with structural issues of market power of media owners.
Second: that what marks out the current episode is that the press now compete not only with the regulated medium of broadcasting, but also with less regulated platforms, and that they are in a deepening crisis of circulation. There may be a race to the bottom.
Third: politicians across parties have made the admission – crucial for the inquiry – that they are scared of the press and that this has affected their behaviour. If this is the case, then Leveson really must get to the bottom of it. This is the fundamental threat to our constitution and one which requires some far-reaching and creative thought about solutions.