Journalism & society

Much of the evidence to the Inquiry referred directly or indirectly to the fundamental matter of journalism’s role in a democratic society. Many submissions from journalism and news organisations stressed the importance of freedom of expression and of journalistic inquiry in holding power to account, exposing wrongdoing, challenging accepted views and generally informing citizens. The judge many times expressed his agreement with these views and the Report summarised them with approval.

The Inquiry also heard evidence of the harm done to innocent citizens by journalists and news organisations, and central to its mission was to determine where boundaries should lie. How could unjustified harm be prevented without stifling reporting? What could or should be done by law, and what by codes and regulation? Was effective regulation compatible with freedom of expression for journalists?

The question of plurality of ownership and its relation to diversity of opinion was examined, as was the matter of how journalism is funded and the economic outlook for the news industry in the online age. Witnesses addressed bias and the possible need for objectivity in reporting. Some attention was also devoted to the privileges and protections afforded to journalists, such as special access to people, events and information, and public-interest defences.


'Media plurality' refers to the relationship between the ownership of news organisations and the range of information they make available. If most newspaper proprietors are right-wing, does that mean their papers do not properly reflect other views? Does it mean the so-called 'marketplace of ideas' in our media is not a true or free market? In particular, do too few people own too much of the media in the UK, and if so what should be done about it?

Plurality and media ownership figured in the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry, and so it investigated the views and role of proprietors and of politicians and the functioning of existing legislation. The arguments are reviewed in Part C, Chapter 4 and conclusions on plurality are set out in Part I, Chapter 9. Eight of the Inquiry's Recommendations related to plurality.

Closely explored in this context were Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the Times and Sunday Times in the 1980s and the involvement of the Thatcher government, and Murdoch's unsuccessful attempt in 2010-11 to acquire full ownership of the BSkyB television company. See also: 'The News International bid for BSkyB'.

Leading politicians gave their views on plurality, including Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Jeremy Hunt, and the subject was addressed in detail in submissions by Robin Foster, Ofcom, Guardian News and Media, and Clare Enders of Enders analysis.

Find out more

Censorship and freedom of expression

Hardly a witness failed to mention this matter, and the judge referred to it in almost every public session, often stressing its importance to democracy. The need for the Inquiry to avoid stifling freedom of expression was also written into the Terms of Reference.

Differences arose over how far it was possible to prevent journalists causing unjustified harm to the public without censoring or at least 'chilling' their legitimate output. Was effective regulation possible without an unacceptable loss of freedom of expression? Britain's tradition of highly partial and 'raucous' press reporting might be in jeopardy, some asserted. In these discussions the public interest was often invoked, as, less often, were examples of good and bad practice in other countries.

The Report addressed this at some length in Part B, Chapter 2, and it looked in detail at the legal aspects in Appendix 4. Among witnesses who discussed it were, on the press side, Paul Dacre, Trevor Kavanagh, Alan Rusbridger and James Harding, and from a legal perspective, Hugh Tomlinson and Gavin Phillipson, and also the philosopher Baroness Onora O'Neill.

Find out more

Role in democracy

Many witnesses stressed the importance of journalism for democracy and the need for it to remain free from political influence so that journalists could place the interests of the public first in their work. See also: 'The public interest'.

Citizens need to be informed if they are to participate in society, and not least if they are to be able to choose how to cast their votes in elections, and that is primarily the job of journalists. Equally, those in positions of power, whether elected or not, must be held accountable by means of journalistic scrutiny, and when they fail or do wrong the public must be told.

This latter function of scrutiny was the subject of concern for many witnesses, who warned that it was threatened by a shrinkage of resources. See the testimony of Nick Davies, Lord Hunt and Martin Moore. This was particularly true of local and regional journalism (see also: 'Regional and local press'), but the effect could be seen nationally too, in the decline of parliamentary reporting and in the warnings of danger to investigative journalism.

These matters were addressed at length in Part B, Chapter 2 of the Report.

Find out more


The treatment of minorities in journalism figured both in oral evidence and in written submissions from a variety of groups, including ENGAGE (now MEND), the Federation of Muslim Organisations, Trans Media Watch, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Journalists raising concerns included Peter Oborne, Richard Peppiatt and Katharine Quarmby.

The Report reviewed this evidence chiefly here: Report

The ability of existing laws and code provisions to protect people from religious, ethnic and other minorities from discrimination and the incitement of hatred in journalism was challenged, as was the commitment of the managements of news organisations to tackle the issue. So far as regulation was concerned, much argument surrounded the reluctance of the Press Complaints Commission to accept third-party complaints.

There was limited discussion of the presence of minorities in newsrooms, and the opportunities for minority candidates to gain training and employment.

See also: 'Group and third-party complaints'; 'Representation of women'.

Find out more

Objectivity and partisanship

The UK national press is famously partisan in its approach to public affairs: papers and editors take sides in big arguments, notably political arguments, and some papers are closely linked to political parties.

A number of witnesses and submissions (including the BBC, Ian Hargreaves and Angela Phillips) contrasted this with UK broadcasting, which is required to be politically impartial. There was also discussion of whether partisanship was consistent with accuracy; in other words, could journalists at a paper strongly supporting a political party be counted upon to report without distortion? Distortion was the subject of a submission by Thomas Gibbons. More generally, the National Council for the Training of Journalists and some of the academic witnesses discussed objectivity as part of journalism education. Several editors, ex-editors and proprietors, including James Harding, Richard Desmond, Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Neil, Paul Dacre and Lord Rothermere, shed light in their evidence on the nature of partiality in the press.

Find out more

Economics of journalism

Was the press under unprecedented financial pressure and did this make unethical and illegal conduct more likely to occur? Did newspapers have the time and the resources to check their stories properly? And were the competitive pressures so great that standards of behaviour were suffering in consequence? These questions, in various forms, arose on a number of occasions at the Inquiry. Declining print sales and the challenges involved in making money from news published online were considered, as were shrinking newsrooms and the effects of competition.

See the submissions and evidence of representatives of the National Union of Journalists, Martin Clarke, Peter Hill, Media Standards Trust, Google, Facebook and Richard Peppiatt. The Report addressed these issues in Volume 1, from Page 93.

Find out more

Journalism education

The Inquiry gathered a great deal of written evidence about the teaching of journalism ethics at universities and under the auspices of the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). The material relating to universities, including in several cases detailed teaching programmes, can be found in evidence submitted in the names of the universities or of particular academics.

The oral evidence on the subject was less full, and came notably from Professor James Curran, Professor Angela Phillips, Professor George Brock, Professor Brian Cathcart, Professor Steven Barnett and Professor Chris Frost. It was also discussed at a hearing involving Professor Ian Hargreaves, Dr Daithi Mac Sithigh and Professor Julian Petley. The Inquiry made no Recommendations in relation to journalism training and education.

Find out more

Regional and local press

The regional and local UK press received nothing like the degree of attention at the Inquiry that was devoted to national news publishers, principally because they were not considered to raise serious problems of standards. None the less, many submissions were made about the regional and local press and a number of witnesses discussed it.

The Newspaper Society, which was the umbrella grouping for regionals and locals, made a lengthy submission, as did the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and several of the main companies active in the field, including Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror (now 'Reach'). A number of regional and local newspapers and journalists also made submissions, and several editors gave oral evidence, notably in the afternoon hearings of 18 January 2012. See also the afternoon hearing of 28 March 2012, where the relationship with the police was the chief subject.

The Leveson Report discussed the regional and local press, concentrating on its financial difficulties (see here).

Although the judge made no relevant formal Recommendations, he wrote: 'I suggest that the Government should look urgently at what action it might be able take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of this much valued and important part of the British press.' The report made clear that regional and local news publishers should be participants in recognised regulation but said this should place no 'added burden' on them.

Find out more

The Internet

Though its Terms of Reference did not refer directly to the internet, the Inquiry took the view from the outset that 'the press' meant 'newspapers whether printed or online' (see Report, Part A, Chapter 2, Section 1.7) and that in consequence its Recommendations were intended to apply to news publishing online (where it was not already regulated by another body).

Chapter 3 of the Report includes reviews of online publishing not only by newspaper publishers but also by aggregators, bloggers, web-based publishers and social media. Part F, Chapter 7, Section 3 challenges arguments put forward in some evidence that any UK regulatory regime would be made irrelevant by the internet. In Part K, Chapter 1, Section 1, the draft criteria for future regulation specified that 'it must be durable and sufficiently flexible for future markets and technology'.

Evidence from Enders Analysis and Paul Dacre considered the competitive pressures on newspapers arising from the internet, while Martin Clarke and Alan Rusbridger discussed newspaper internet activity. Paul Staines, Camilla Wright and David Allen Green offered the perspectives of bloggers.

Google submitted evidence and its legal director Daphne Keller testified, as did Facebook's Richard Allen, both mainly looking at legal matters.

The New Zealand Law Commission submitted a detailed 2012 report entitled 'The News Media meets New Media' (see here).

In Appendix 4 of the Report, Sections 3.187 to 3.194 examine the application of defamation law to the internet.

Find out more


Understand all the key topics and the context behind the Inquiry's findings

Journalism & society
View more
View more
View more
Future of journalism
View more
Background & history
View more
Subsequent developments
View more
Ethics & abuses
View more