Freedom of speech is likely to be the scapegoat of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, says Korieh Duodu
Before we can look at what Lord Justice Leveson should propose, we have to grapple with his terms of reference – this was a knee-jerk political move to stave off critics of Number 10’s cosy relationship with certain media organisations. The scapegoat is going to be freedom of speech.
Leveson LJ has been tasked with the impossible: to perform a retrospective that was out of date and irrelevant before it started. To misquote from the Old Testament, he has been asked to visit the sins of past hacks on present and future media. And he has to do so with one hand tied behind his back, because he cannot analyse the core issue of phone hacking itself.
To stretch the biblical analogy even further, he is busy writing the Old Testament when the Gospel is being preached on the streets. His team are focused on a branch of the media that is swiftly becoming outdated and irrelevant, in an age of social media news and citizen journalism.
In an ideal world, Leveson LJ would not propose any sea change in the regulatory landscape affecting the print media. What is the point, when such media will have changed beyond recognition within a decade?
He must also apply proportionality and perspective. Criminal behaviour is of course not to be sanctioned, but neither should criminal activity – even on a wide and institutional level – leave the whole media susceptible to a greater burden of constraints at a time when it is fighting desperately to survive and adapt.
This is a time for a creative debate by real industry experts and ‘super-users’ about the relationship between free speech and media regulation in a world that consists of information travelling at the speed of light. We need to encourage the blossoming of an information rich society, not laden it down with greater regulation.
Korieh Duodu is a barrister and partner with David Price Solicitors and Advocates