Belfast Telegraph

Leveson’s probe could make press barons quake

By Paul Connolly

More developments in the press ethics debate this week. Unlike other years, 2011 didn’t draw breath long enough for the onset of the annual silly season.

The News of the World hacking scandal kept itself on the boil all summer long.

The latest developments have the appearance of a circular firing squad at News International, with leading figures all intent on taking each other out, so to speak.

The headlines that drew attention recently were the contradictions regarding who saw which email and when at News International. And now James Murdoch’s return for a second — and I’ll predict, even bloodier — inquisition at the House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport. But away from the headlines, there was some pretty interesting stuff also.

More details emerged about the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics — actually it’s really an inquiry into the ethics of the UK’s national press, but its out-workings will touch everyone in the media business.

This week it was learned that a bunch of famous and not so famous people, and a couple of national news organisations, have been granted ‘core participant status’ at the inquiry, which means they will be entitled to legal representation, the right to cross-examine participants and a range of other concessions.

Because of the ongoing police investigation into phone hacking, Leveson’s inquiry has been divided into two parts. The first part will look at the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’.

It will initially consider the relationship between the press and the public, then the press and the police, and then the press and politicians. It will then try to assess some kind of model for future governance.

Leveson was given 12 months to complete this part of the inquiry — but there are already signs that the legal, political and ethical matters involved are sufficiently complex and meritorious that it may require much longer.

I’m sure he’s aware of the lessons of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Part two — delayed because of potential criminal proceedings — will look at unlawful or |improper conduct within News International and other media organisations.

It is difficult to see how it can proceed until all police and crown prosecution inquiries into these matters are complete.

So this is all going to take a long time.

Meanwhile, it’s not much of a local angle, I’ll confess, but as an aside — one of the core participants will be that veteran of the tabloids, Calum Best, son of our own George Best.

Given his colourful past, Calum’s testimony should be worth tuning in for.

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