When I first arrived in Fleet Street a new friend said “Welcome to the street of broken dreams,” and I had no idea what he was talking about – but I did when I left.
This week, Lord Leveson produces the first part of his report into bad behaviour into the press. The Daily Mail and the Sun are against it. I worked for both and that’s a good enough reason for me to be in favour.
The trouble with the Leveson inquiry is that it seeks to work out remedies for the bad behaviour of the press as if all newspapers occupied a common ground, but they don’t. Whatever common ground there was between the popular and broadsheet ends of the newspaper market disappeared when Rupert substituted entertainment for journalism and made Kelvin McKenzie editor of the Sun
His selection and replacement by those who cut their journalistic teeth in showbiz led to the Mirror going down the same path with Piers Morgan, and the Express group following suit. Meanwhile at the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre emerged as the latest propagandist of the “frighten-to-death” school of editors whose absolute control of the medium and the message meant there could only be one voice – his.
Where the popular end of Fleet Street had ended up could finally be seen in the dock at Leveson where tabloid editor after editor embarrassed the journalists they had managed to hang onto with a bizarre exposure of their trade as they saw it.
Of course, Leveson had its faults, not least that none of its members had any experience of tabloids – but hearing from Kelvin and Piers and Dacre sadly filled in any gaps they may have had. All these papers employ journalists who arrived in Fleet Street with honourable aims only to find them bullied away and without Leveson’s help it can only continue.
They, not just the readers, need legal enforcement of proper behaviour.
They need a contract of employment which outlaws illegal behaviour unless signed off formally by the editor in defence of the public interest. They need a whistle-blower office at whatever replaces the disgraceful Press Council.
And as for the readers, they need the key right to have any apology made when a newspaper gets the story wrong on the same page and with the same prominence as the original. They also need the right to have urgent and independent investigation of their complaints.
These new rules won’t affect proper newspapers and may even put some heart back into those who, like the Mirror, might learn that going their own way has value.
We have been drinking at the last chance saloon for 30 years.
It’s time to call time.