Socialist Appeal - the Marxist voice of Labour and youth.

After months of waiting, the first half of the Leveson Report into press standards has finally arrived. Two thousand pages long and nearly a foot high in printed form, it contains a mass of data into how the press has operated and makes many damming comments on this– the recommendations however are what matters. Leveson’s call for an independent panel to monitor press standards, backed up by law, to replace the discredited Press Complaints Commission, has split the Coalition.

After months of waiting, the first half of the Leveson Report into press standards has finally arrived. Two thousand pages long and nearly a foot high in printed form, it contains a mass of data into how the press has operated and makes many damming comments on this– the recommendations however are what matters. Leveson’s call for an independent panel to monitor press standards, backed up by law, to replace the discredited Press Complaints Commission, has split the Coalition.

The government established the Leveson Inquiry after the torrent of revelations about phone tapping led to the closure of Murdoch’s News of the World. The scandal quickly spread out to reveal deep-seated links between the press, politicians, the police and other sections of the state. Of course, such links have long been understood to exist but for the first time here was clear evidence of just how enmeshed and corrupt they were. The scandal even spread to Number 10 with the employment of former News International employee Andy Coulson as Downing Street head of Media.  Given the growing pressure, Cameron had to do something to divert attention away from Westminster, hence the setting up of the Inquiry. 

Behind the scenes the press barons begun to plot in order to turn this to their advantage. They hoped that Leveson could be convinced to establish a PPC Mark Two under their control with more powers being given to it, including the right to investigate journalists’ behaviour and be the sole issuer of Press Cards. When it became clear that this was not going to happen, a huge press campaign against the expected recommendations was launched. Over the last month the national papers have been full of spreads attacking Leveson as being some-sort of “left-wing cabal” and droning on about historic rights of press-freedom.

Now the report is here. The bulk of the Tories want a voluntary “independent” panel with no legal backing to it. In truth this would be just like the old PPC but instead of being staffed by editors it would now be staffed by the sort of worthies who fill up many other official bodies and quangos. As we shall explain below, it would be more of the same but with a thin veneer of independence to give it some creditability. Labour and the Lib-Dems however support the Leveson recommendation in full, which would mean statutory backing for any such panel.  This would make things a bit more difficult for the press owners but not by much. The reason is that neither the report nor any new panel they might set up still fails to deal with the question of ownership. At the end of the day, even a panel set up along the lines of how Leveson presented it would come up against this problem. The fact that Leveson seems happy for the useless Ofcom to oversee the panel just confirms its limitations in reality.

We do not have a “free” press in this country. All the national (and for that matter local) titles are firmly in the hands of the capitalist class. No wonder most back the Tory party and all show clear hostility when it comes to workers in struggle. Even the supposedly Leftist Guardian usual fails to support strike action when workers take it.

Interestingly enough, despite all the talk of our press being free from legal constraints, this was not always the case. Before the end of the 18th  The press remained under restraint in one form or another up until the 19th century when you saw capitalists starting to take a serious interest in buying or setting up national and local titles to take advantage of the new potential profits that were appearing as a result of the industrial revolution and the huge growth in towns and cities. Many of the papers we know today were born during this period. Right wing, jingoistic and often adopting a more-sensationalistic approach than had been the norm before, these papers firmly backed a status quo and therefore needed no restraints from the state. Far better to present them as voices of the people, free from being told what to say etc., etc.  Then, as now, they were weapons of the ruling class, one of the “pillars” of state. century it was the norm for the press to be restricted and subject to government control. Papers who did not toe the line were regularly shut down or had their presses smashed. This makes sense when you remember that many presses and newspapers were owned by groups rather than individuals. During the English Civil War (or English Revolution to be more accurate) the country was awash with printed papers and pamphlets, including those of the Levellers.

Leveson steers clear of having anything particular to say about this issue – after all he is part of the status quo and does not wish to rock the boat too much. He also uses the limitations imposed by forth-coming court cases to avoid confirming the clear collusion that existed between Number 10 and the press. However, it would be naive to reject this reality. During the Thatcher years it was well known that the Tories and people at all the right-wing papers had regular, sometimes daily contact, to plan strategy, especially during election campaigns. After all they all had the same interests at heart, the interests of the ruling class.  No wonder even Leveson was forced to comment that politicians and the press have been too close in a way that “has not been in the public interest.”

Now that the Coalition is split over the Leveson report, a number of different outcomes may present themselves. On a vote Cameron may be defeated or some sort of compromise may be worked out behind closed doors. Whatever happens, nothing fundamental will change. Even if the panel is backed by "robust" statutory regulation the best we could expect is some sort of reigning in of the worst-excesses of the national press, at worst it could be used to further hamper genuine investigative journalism (already much restricted by owners who prefer sensationalist stories to real revelations) or attack left wing publications. One thing we can be sure of -  the press and the rest of the media will remain firmly under the grip of the press barons and the class they represent and defend. Collusion will continue between all sections of the ruling class to act against our interests. Free speech will remain free only for the few who can buy it. For socialists the way forward should be clear. The national press should be nationalised and opened up to all sections of society and ideas based on their support rather than just on the criteria of wealth. Then we would see a really free press that would act in all our interests.