There is so much bile and unrest surrounding the vexed (and vexatious?) question of whether and how to regulate UK newspapers that it's hard to know where to begin.
Sir Brian Leveson was called before the Department of Culture Media and Sport select committee yesterday and today and gave a masterclass in not answering any questions of substance, telling the MPs: "This is your problem."
The committee and reporters covering the session were frustrated at Lord Justice Leveson's refusal to answer any questions of substance, but he's right: this is Parliament's problem. The inquiry was launched by David Cameron, its timings, terms of reference and scope were decided by Government. It's his shambles.
This site has been reluctant to join in building the mountains of coverage that followed the Leveson report, and the internecine political fighting, because essentially all you need to know, still, is:
-- This whole process is about political power, not the future of newspapers
-- Leveson broadly recommends self-regulation of newspapers with statutory under-pinning (i.e. through Ofcom). The media rejected this so
-- The Government came back with a Royal Charter which would introduce some element of state regulation.
-- Now the row is intensifying because newspaper proprietors won't agree to the terms of the Charter (they won't be forced to join it), leaving the three political parties to think of ways to make it more palatable before the 30 October deadline. Go Democracy!
-- Stuttering foppish romcom botherer Hugh Grant calls this a "betrayal" of the "victims" press abuse.
I commend Fleet Street Fox's list of reasons why all this will end in tears.
Remember, this all goes back to the collapse of the News of the World and the phone hacking scandal, which continues unabated and has now spread to other publishers. Notionally, this is about:
a) How newspapers set a moral and ethcial code and
b) How anyone will get them to stick to it, including dealing with complaints
But in reality, the relationship between the politicians, the police, the judiciary and the press is the thing that's being redefined here.
The Leveson Report (all 2,000 pages of it) left many unanswered questions, many of which are still being ignored. Here are just a few:
-- WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET? Leveson referred to this as the "elephant in the room" during the inquiry, but it's more of a stampeding herd featuring all the creatures of the Serengeti, trampling over any idea that you can protect the public from bad media behaviour by regulating a single, non-digital medium.
-- NO REALLY, WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET? One could write a very long list of sites, services and online entities that won't be covered by either Levesons's original proposals nor the Royal Charter. As long as political power resides with printed media (older, more politically active voters like print) the powers that be will ignore online media
-- The local question: The PPC worked well as a complaints arbitrator, particularly for the 1,000+ regional and local papers. There are genuine fears of a "compensation culture" and higher costs for non-national titles. The political chess game in Westminster will have many unintended consequences.
-- What about magazines? Consumer and B2B titles make up a small number of the overal complains the PCC receives but it still acts as an effective framework. What incentive have these publishers been given to sign up? My colleague Neil has touched on this.
-- What happens when people stop buying newspapers? OK, this is a long-range question, but national newspaper sales are falling at between three and four percent every six months. By 2017 it will have fallen by 45 percent in just ten years.
As printed media's dominance falls, so will its political influence and for future generations media regulation will be a very different challenge indeed.