THERE are times when I think of print newspapers as
piston-engined aircraft: unimaginably wonderful pieces of
engineering, intelligent in every detail, which have no future
except as rich men's toys, or workhorses where nothing else is
The Leveson inquiry, then, would be a charter for the regulation
of Spitfires and Hurricanes in an age of cruise missiles. It may
well turn out to be a much less important step towards setting the
bounds of free speech than Lord McAlpine's decision to sue anyone
with money who had defamed him by passing on rumours on
With that said, you still wouldn't want to be strafed by a
Spitfire, or a Hurricane, even if machine guns are now obsolete.
The Daily Mail's 12-page pre-emptive attack on the Leveson
inquiry suggested to me that the whole exercise had to be worth
while. Newspapers are natural bullies, even if, like most bullies,
they imagine that they are acting in self-defence.
While it is certainly true, as Max Hastings argued in the
Financial Times, that most of the dreadful things
uncovered by Leveson, and by The Guardian, were in fact
illegal when they were done, this is not a complete argument that
no laws are needed.
"What took place at News International was not a breach of press
ethics but sustained criminality. No regulatory body past, present
or future, could investigate and punish such wrongdoing. It was
plain to some of us years ago that the police had disgracefully
failed in their duty to investigate News International. Lord
Justice Leveson lets them off absurdly lightly."
You might as well argue against speed cameras on the grounds
that speeding is already illegal. If the people who break the laws
are so powerful that no one dares cross them, then further laws
diminishing their power may be necessary for the existing laws to
Still, the pontifications of the great and good will matter less
in the end than the various criminal trials of former journalists
and executives, which will add so much to the delights of next
year. It is in the light of those verdicts that the new press
regime will be framed.
AND so to less grand matters, on which my opinion might just be
better informed. This was not a good year for the predictive powers
of the religious journalists. The only thing you could say for us
was that we knew better than the bookies, most of the time. It was
the clear and repeatedly expressed opinion of all the experts that
Dr Sentamu was going to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
Clippings from May now make embarrassing reading. Just as much of a
shock was the failure of the draft women-bishops legisla-tion.
What both these failures suggest to me is that we are not eating
enough. In particular, we are not eating enough lunches of the sort
from which stories emerge. So long as the chief source of newspaper
stories is what other people have written, we will be missing all
the excitement and novelty of what people say face to face in
In the light of this, and of the probable future of our
industry, it should be the resolution of everyone in the business
to spend far more of next year at lunch.