The Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and practices of the press has uncovered a treasure trove of illegal practices, shady deals, complicit relationships and unethical behaviour that absorbed the attention of many in the UK for over a year. The Inquiry took place at a time when credibility in leading public institutions is declining and when existing business models that underpin journalism are in crisis. Lord Justice Leveson and his team quizzed editors, politicians, prime ministers, journalists, regulators, academics, victims of phone hacking, perpetrators of phone hacking, advocates of media reform and staunch defenders of the present system. The Inquiry has been attacked for conducting a witch hunt against press freedom and criticised for limiting itself to narrow questions of individual behaviour instead of adopting a more systemic focus. This paper will consider the implications of the Inquiry for democratic reform through examining some of the arguments mobilised during the hearings and will reflect on the extent to which the whole process has offered a possibility of redeeming the press precisely by airing its dirty laundry to many millions of people.
Des Freedman, Reader, Communications and Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, co-author of Misunderstanding the Internet (2012) and author of The Politics of Media Policy (2008)