If Leveson wants to know who misled the press, he should ask a policeman
The media came in for some tough, if uneven, treatment in the first phase of the inquiry into ethics and practice. Will the same now happen to the forces of law and order?
School’s back! Or rather, Lord Justice Leveson and his fine collection of silks are back from their between-module break. After roughing up the press in general, we’re now promised particular attention to what goes wrong when coppers and hacks consort. And yet, already, you can sense a certain ennui in high political places as this four-ring legal circus grinds on.
Take one example. Michael Gove, the education secretary, warned the other day against the clear danger that “we may see judges, celebrities and the establishment … imposing either soft or hard regulation on what should be the maximum of freedom of expression and the maximum of freedom of speech”. Well, he used to be a columnist on the Times and he still reveres Rupert, critics say. No great surprises there, then?
Except that, among many other things, Gove is a very influential member of the government and notably close to David Cameron. He speaks out clearly enough, but never off-message. And there is, indeed, some anxiety about the rather bewildering kid-gloves-and-iron-fist strategy of module one, featuring every real or alleged press bungle of the last 20 years in no particular order.
Will that scattergun approach still be there in the second phase? Consider… We know who revealed the name of Chris Jefferies, the teacher arrested then cleared of killing Joanna Yeates: the police. We know who quietly briefed reporters: the police. We know who misled journalists covering the Madeleine McCann disappearance: the Portuguese police. We know who told the Press Complaints Commission that phone hacking was much overblown: the police.
The police, as some of them admit, have a lot to answer for. Nor should we be served up too much about temptation and bribery – as though this consisted only of evil journalists traducing the forces of rectitude. For consider the only modus operandi that makes sense. Surely you don’t just wander down to your local policeman’s pub waving brown envelopes? That would be an insane risk.
No: you wait until Inspector Bung starts dropping hints. You wait until you’re offered something worth paying for, open palm extended. The inspector moves; you dutifully shake out a bundle of fivers. And nobody intrinsically doubts who’s corrupting who.