Ian Monk: Clash of agendas at Leveson Inquiry

The credibility of many newspapers, traditionally the scourge of reputation, is coming under savage fire at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the print press.

Ian Monk: Clash of agendas at Leveson Inquiry
Ian Monk: Clash of agendas at Leveson Inquiry

Much of the testimony so far has been brutal, with victims from Hugh Grant to Kate McCann recounting tales of intimidation, intrusion and harassment by what they paint as a feral press.

One problem for the print medium in protecting its reputation is that, as with most media stories, everyone reporting it has their own agenda.

Is the BBC, for instance, so supernaturally impartial as to report without bias or inflation the woes of those newspapers that have appeared hostile to it for so long?

Executives at News International, publishers of The Sun, Times and now-defunct News of the World, and the Daily Mail do not believe so.

News International newspapers have already suffered what many believe is terminal reputation damage through the phone hacking scandal and the alleged corruption and cover-up which precipitated the Leveson Inquiry. The company's current comms policy is to repeat its new mantra of full co-operation with police and Leveson inquiries. Other newspaper groups are basing comms strategies on proactive denials of wrongdoing, including phone hacking.

At the same time robust leader columns and op-ed pieces proliferate, proclaiming public interest in the maintenance of a free press.

Newspapers are aggrieved at an inquiry that allows star witness to make accusations under the protection of legal privilege and yet without being properly cross-examined. The Mail on Sunday, accused, it insists wrongly, by Grant of phone hacking, issued a powerful rebuttal of the claims. It then came under fire from Lord Leveson for being over-aggressive to Grant.

While many may have limited sympathy for newspapers, this approach seems cavalier.

The inquiry, the greatest media show in town, will run for a year. Who will help the arbiters of reputation defend their own good name and ensure their survival?

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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