One thing that has struck me about the Leveson enquiry is how it has stayed away from discussing what is not published. At the moment, we are focused on the various methods the press did, or did not, use to get information for stories. Yet, what has not been pursued is the issue of stories not published.
A well known figure in the industry is Max Clifford and he is as well known (and well paid) for the stories he gets published as well as the ones he keeps out of the press.
Therein becomes the interesting dog that did not bark in the Leveson inquiry. What are the stories that have been unpublished by editors and papers? In doing this, did they “trade” these stories for better coverage, or other stories? When editors engage in this practice, it raises the question of whether they are operating in the public interest or their own interest. If a story is good enough to print, because of the public interest, yet is buried because of political pressure, organisational pressure, or because it is to be leveraged into a better story, the public interest becomes uncertain.
The pressure can come from a variety of sources as the film the Insider portrayed. In that movie, based on real events (if dramatised for the screen) CBS 60 minutes was told by CBS corporate not to run the story revealing Big Tobacco‘s use of enhancing the addictive properties within the cigarettes. CBS corporate was concerned that a Big Tobacco lawsuit would undermine the pending sale of CBS to Westinghouse Electric corporation. For a fuller discussion of these points see the following link
In terms of politics, it gets to a core political issue of whether, and how, politicians and editors trade in information about political decisions. For the most part, the trade or activity is benign and part of the political process. The media are a stakeholder and an important conduit to the public. In that regard, it serves a useful purpose for both parties. The trade in political information is needed for a democracy to flourish.
What remains to be seen, and is still unasked, is what happens (and how does it work) when the press start to pressure the politicians to make and change political decision that relate to the press but not the public’s interest. In this sense, the political process of information sharing and distribution becomes subverted for personal or organisational purposes. For example,
At the same time, the media was putting an MP under surveillance, which raises questions about what information they sought to get and for what purpose. In themselves, these actions raises question about the ethics of the media. However, the deeper issue is what was it that was intended with any of the information obtained? Was the News of the World intending to use this information as political leverage or to supply it to its political allies or to the political opponents of the politicians pursuing the case?
At its heart, the dog that has not barked is whether the democratic process, by which the democratic mandate is achieved and maintained has been lost. If the democratic process has been, and continued to be subverted in this way, what does this say about the democratic mandate or the fate democracy in its birthplace?
- Leveson inquiry cost £855,300 for first three months (guardian.co.uk)
- Leveson inquiry: Charlotte Church’s mother ‘attempted suicide before News of The World article’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Why editors have made two key changes to their code of practice (guardian.co.uk)