No sooner has Lord Leveson produced his long-awaited report than the SNP is declaring that Alex Salmond has been “exonerated” of any ill-doing in his relationship with Rupert Murdoch and News International.
This, presumably, is “exonerated” as in the same way that the SNP’s victory in a spectacularly low turnout at the 2011 election was an expression of “the settled will of the Scottish people”.
The fact is, he is both guilty and not guilty as charged.
In this case, the exoneration only applies because he was not actually required by Mr Murdoch to fulfil his agreement to lobby on behalf of News International in its attempt to take over BSkyB.
Lord Leveson takes pains to point out Mr Salmond’s remarkably “cosy” relationship with News Corp and also that he cannot be exonerated in respect of what he said he was prepared to do to help Mr Murdoch and News Corp.
Once again, Mr Salmond slips off the hook, but sooner or later his luck and/or judgment will run out.
He would do well to remember the old adage about fooling some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.
In spite of the hard effort to cultivate a connection between Scotland’s First Minister and the Murdoch media interests, indeed if not to incriminate him in some murky collusion, nothing has surfaced in the Leveson report to give solace or support to these efforts.
Were the same efforts to be made in a greenhouse, probably we could partake of the rosiest tomatoes ever cultivated.
Were the same efforts to be made in our sheriff courts to incriminate every accused on any single day, we would be in an incarceration crisis and requiring new prisons erected every three months.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the eating isn’t being relished by the same media, not to mention a number of politicians, who gave the impression in Scotland that they might happily have accommodated some curbing of the press had Scotland’s First Minister been not exonerated by the Levenson report.
In a report delineating what he insisted “cannot be characterised as statutory regulation”, Lord Leveson produced a blueprint for state-mandated regulation of the press.
It was unfortunate that it emerged the day our unfettered press forced the military judiciary to free an unjustly jailed SAS sergeant in front of an outraged but impotent government.
Later, the contrast between the Prime Minister’s determination to protect press freedom and the sanctimonious opportunism of the Labour leader could not have been greater.
Our hacking scandal hysteria brings to mind the words of Lord Macaulay: “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.”
The fact is that parliament abolished press control in 1695, and writing press regulation into the law of the land would overturn centuries of tradition in response to a political panic.
(Dr) John Cameron
The Leveson inquiry has, broadly speaking, drawn the right conclusions about press regulation, but a “self- regulating body” to oversee the activities of the press must have teeth.
If an individual or individuals is/are unjustly accused by the press of misdemeanours or crimes, if the press indulges in speculation, rumour, slander or gossip, if it uses underhand methods to obtain information, spurious or not, then the aggrieved must have proper right of redress.
A court financial settlement is not sufficient because the impact of the press is, in the words of Lord Leveson, “uniquely powerful”.
The regulating body should give the aggrieved full editorial control over the same number of press reports or articles in which he or she was falsely maligned or portrayed, the same space, the same number of words, the same prominence, in whatever newspaper has published the said defamatory material.
Only then would natural justice be served. An eye for an eye.