11.29.12

Leveson Report: 9 Juiciest Bits

After a 16-month inquiry, Lord Justice Brian Leveson has unleashed a 2,000-page indictment of the British press in the wake of phone-hacking scandals. From an ‘unembarrassed’ Piers Morgan to one politician’s surprising vindication, The Daily Beast breaks it down.

1. Press & Pols Got Too Close

Flagging News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch’s famous demands for face-to-face meetings with politicians, Leveson calls the relationship between media and government in Britian “damaging.” “[O]ver the last 30-35 years and probably much longer,” he writes, politicians and the press had “developed too close a relationship in a way that has not been in the public interest.” He recommends that MPs should disclose their meetings with “executive decision makers of the press” and disclose “the frequency and density of communications.”

2. No, It Wasn’t a Rogue Hacker

One of the original claims about phone-hacking at Murdoch’s newspaper empire was that it was the work of “one rogue reporter,” specifically News of the World’s Clive Goodman, who pleaded guilty in 2007 for working with private investigator Glenn. Goodman served four months in jail, Mulcaire served six, and Andy Coulson, then-editor of News of the World resigned. News International clung to the theory for years, despite a constant trickle of allegations about large numbers of reporters illegally accessing voicemails of celebrities and politicians. In 2011, after thousands of victims’ names were released, Rupert Murdoch shut down the News of the World. Here, Leveson quashes the “rogue” excuse once and for all, writing “it is clear that these practices were not limited to a single journalist. It would not be unfair to describe the practice of voicemail interception within a part or parts of the NoTW as culture.”

3. Why So Long for an Investigation?

Leveson doesn’t limit his criticisms to just politicians and the press—he also criticizes the police for not reopening the investigation into phone hacking after articles were published in The Guardian and The New York Times in 2009 and 2010. Leveson writes that Scotland Yard assistant commissioner John Yates should have thought again on “whether he should be involved in an investigation into the newspaper at which he had friends, including one who was the deputy editor.” But conversely, Leveson says Scotland Yard was “fully justified” in 2006 to limit the investigation to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire due to wider counterterrorism priorities.

4. The Internet’s ‘Ethical Vacuum’

Given all the talk about regulating the newspapers, Leveson gives very little attention to online journalism, though he does write that it’s “clear that the enforcement of law and regulation online is problematic.” Acknowledging the “ethical vacuum” of the Internet, he draws a distinction between the Web and print: “the Internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and other may, if they choose, act with impunity.” The press, though, “does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.”

5. Discrimination Against Minorities in the Press

Leveson concluded that the “evidence of discriminatory, sensational and unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning.” He writes that the while many in the press seem to take care to avoid discrimination, “there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude” that discriminatory reporting is a “feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration.” But Leveson chose not to investigate claims of media sexism—especially the charges lobbed against The Sun’s infamous topless Page 3 girls—writing “this Inquiry is not the place to analyze, let alone reach conclusions on these matters.”

6. Piers Morgan: ‘Sufficiently Unembarrassed’

The CNN host and former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor has long claimed he had no knowledge of hacking and did not participate. But at the Leveson hearings in May, Jeremy Paxman testified that Morgan showed him how to hack into phones in 2002 while at the Mirror. Leveson writes that “the evidence does not establish that Mr. Morgan authorized the hacking of voicemails,” but states that there is proof Morgan “was aware that it was taking place in the press as a whole and he was sufficiently unembarrassed by what was criminal behavior that he was prepared to joke about it.” To boot: a documentary narrated by Hugh Grant called Taking on the Tabloids air this week—featuring footage of a conversation in which Morgan tells singer Charlotte Church that a “spate of stories” resulted from hacking phones.

7. Jeremy Hunt Cleared

Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was drawn into the scandal during News Corp.’s bid to take over a majority stake in broadcaster BSkyB. Hunt was tasked with overseeing the $16 billion bid in a “quasi-judicial” role—a role he undertook after his predecessor, business minister Vince Cable, admitted he was “at war” with the Murdochs. But Hunt seemed to have the opposite problem: his office was found to have exchanged over 1,000 emails, texts, and phone calls with a News Corp. lobbyist. Hunt admitted to the Leveson Inquiry in May that he was “sympathetic” to News Corp.’s bid. On the whole, Leveson clears Hunt of almost every charge, writing that “in every respect except one, the bid was commendably handled.” The report does say Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith, who resigned in April due to “inappropriate” contact with News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel, should not have been put in that role.

8. The Victims: the Dowlers, the McCanns, and Hugh Grant

Leveson does address some of the highest-profile victims of phone hacking: the families of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and missing Madeleine McCann and actor Hugh Grant. On the Dowlers, Leveson writes that they were “treated as little more than a commodity in which the press had unrestricted interest.” The McCanns, whose 4-year-old daughter Madeleine disappeared during a family vacation in Portugal, “were the victims of grossly intrusive reporting, prying photographers and an ongoing ‘media scrum’ which paid little or no regard to their personal space, their own personal distress and, in particular, the interests of Madeleine’s younger siblings.” As for Hugh Grant, Leveson writes that the Daily Mail’s attack on the actor the day after his appearance before the inquiry proves the press engaged in “defensive attacks” against those who stood up against them.

9. Sorry, Not a Lot of Murdoch Gossip Here

Did Leveson want to avoid another pie being thrown? While the report, he admits, will be “disappointing” to those who want a full-fledged assessment of News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, it does state that “politicians’ interests would find themselves highly aligned with Mr. Murdoch.” Leveson also knocks Murdoch’s famous demands for face-to-face meetings with politicians and insists that despite his large media holdings, the mogul does not have the right to operate like a king whom editors and prime ministers must woo for approval.