Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Neil Wallis

GET UPDATES FROM Neil Wallis
 

Lord Leveson Will Decide Whether Britain's Press Will Publish Those Naked Prince Harry Photos

Posted: 22/08/2012 12:33

Extraordinary scenes are going on this morning in newsrooms and editors offices all over Britain.

The subject is a set of photos taken of a naked Prince Harry cavorting with naked girls in a Las Vegas hotel room. Extremely interesting in lots of ways, not in itself earth-shattering, but undoubtedly of huge interest to many of the public.

No, the extraordinary thing is the basis on which the decision will be made on whether to publish or not.

It won't be made by the Editor purely on his/her journalistic instincts - it will be made on what that Editor thinks Lord Leveson will let him/her get away with.

The paranoia and brain-freeze going on with senior journalists throughout Britain, and starkly evident on Twitter (follow me @neilwallis1) since the story of the pictures broke in the early hours, is whether the British Press DARES to print.

Whether, despite the pictures being online and free to see worldwide already for half a day, Britain's national and regional print media (still a massive source of news information for most UK citizens) will risk Leveson Law, Leveson's Wrath, to publish.

Nothing to do with journalistic merit, nothing to do with the merits of the story, nothing to do with legal issues, nothing even to do with journalistic ethics...

The decisions are being reached on the basis of: "What will Lord Leveson think?"
And that is shocking, it is outrageous, it is a disgraceful affront to free speech... and its true.

For those frozen in time for the last year or so, a public inquiry into press standards and behaviour was set up as a result of the phone-hacking scandal. It was set up by panicking Prime Minister David Cameron, and followed Guardian allegations - later proved false - that News of the World journalists not only hacked murder victim Milly Dowler's mobile (awful enough) but actually erased messages from it, so giving her poor parents false hope she was still alive.

Lord Leveson began his Public Inquiry on 14 November 2011 amid huge public awareness.
It continued "taking evidence" in an atmosphere somewhat akin to the Salem Witches trial to the beginning of the summer.

Essentially, anyone from the last 20 years wanting to slag off the tabloid press for either genuine (often) or self-serving (frequently) reasons was given a platform.

Good, valid people did appear, and told some terrible stories that should never have happened. But all sorts of toerags from scummy actors like Hugh Grant to leftie professors were also given free rein to opine it is time to bring in press laws and shackle our irreverent, rude, iconoclastic, nosy, opinionated, campaigning but fearless and brilliant national newspapers.

I was summonsed to give evidence to Leveson twice, and it became clear that those not taking part in the governing narrative were not very welcome. I vividly recall His Lordship's ire when I refused to go along with one view he was pressing upon me.

Many of the witnesses he did call did meet his approval, however, and a distinct all-embracing tone was sent out. What I dubbed Leveson's Law.

Don't publish anything anywhere that anyone might have some kind of objection to - and certainly not without their permission!

It has had a devastating effect on what has for more than a century been the most vibrant press in the world.

Essentially, months of trashing of both tabloids and mid-markets at Leveson, coupled with the chilling coverage of various police inquiries into press activities, have left Editors running scared. If I was still one of them, I would be too.

No-one doubts that if Lord Leveson directly criticised an Editor they are likely be sacked. If he attacked a story, MPs would howl and advertisers might bolt. The fact that he hasn't so far is irrelevant, the fear is there.

The message from the Inquiry is that Lord Leveson disapproves of traditional popular newspaper fare - so run it at your peril.

Newsdesks now dread the humiliation of being offered controversial stories because they know Editors daren't run them.

Stories about disgraced MPs, high society vice rings, drug-dealing celebrities, philandering tycoons, have all but disappeared from the papers. Not because they're not there - trust me, they never go away - because even if you can get them past the lawyer you are still to scared to try and get them past His Lordship.

I don't believe that that is good for democracy. Would the MPs Expenses scandal broken so brilliantly by the Daily Telegraph even be risked today? I hope so - but am not at all sure.

I've no doubt Lord Leveson means well. He seemed a decent-if-typical judge to me - white, male, old, married, old school tie. But his chosen reading will be the FT not The Sun, the Guardian not the Mail. His panel of "expert" advisors doesn't include a single tabloid or mid-market expert.

As for the Prince Harry pictures, should they be published? I would. He is third in line to throne, he has been a very major part of the monarchy's presence at the Olympics, romping with a gang of girls he almost certainly doesn't know from Adam, in pretty dubious circumstances... And anyway, its fun!

I gather Buckingham Palace is now huffing and puffing to stop them being published, but they haven't complained about the "jack-the-lad" poolside pap pictures run most days this week, have they?

It is truly amazing that, despite the pix already being up on US sites like TMZ, the world's biggest and most tabloid newspaper MailOnline hasn't dared to run them at the time of writing.

I'm also quite happy for an editor to say "No, not for my paper, thanks". As long as it's the editor's decision. Not Lord Leveson's.

However, sadly, I'm afraid it's His Lordship's Voice that speaks loudest in Britain's newsrooms today.

 

Follow Neil Wallis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/neilwallis1

FOLLOW UK