Leveson Report Dedicates Just Five PARAGRAPHS To Internet Journalism
There are just five paragraphs dedicated to the “relevance of the internet” in Thursday’s Leveson report.
Note: the entire report is 1,987 pages long.
Readers can find the section on the “relevance of the internet” on pages 736-737. In it, Lord Justice Brian Leveson writes that save a few publications, “the internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’.”
“This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity,” Leveson wrote.
On the other hand, he stated, the printed press does “claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct” — unlike, of course, the ethical vacuum of the internet.
“People will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy; it need be no more than one person’s view,” he wrote. “There is none of the notional imprimatur or kitemark which comes from being the publisher of a respected broadsheet or, in its different style, an equally respected mass circulation tabloid.”
And as for publishing photos online, Leveson says, that’s nothing compared to what getting them in print will do for water-cooler conversations.
“There is a qualitative difference between photographs being available online and being displayed, or blazoned, on the front page of a newspaper such as The Sun,” he wrote. “The fact of publication in a mass circulation newspaper multiplies and magnifies the intrusion, not simply because more people will be viewing the images, but also because more people will be talking about them. Thus, the fact of publication inflates the apparent newsworthiness of the photographs by placing them more firmly within the public domain and at the top of the news agenda.”
And this is “most decidedly not a debate about free speech,” he writes in the final, fifth paragraph on the “relevance of the internet.”
“To turn this into a debate about free speech both misses the point and is in danger of creating the sort of moral relativism which has already been remarked on,” Leveson wrote. “This is, or at least should be, a debate about freedom with responsibility, and about an ethical press not doing something which it is technically quite able to do but decides not to do. This freedom (and where the editors choose to draw the line whether rightly or otherwise) was neatly encapsulated by the decisions taken in relation to Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge.”
And that’s that on the “relevance of the internet.”