Million pound fines. Full transparency of behind-the-scenes meetings between the press and politicians. A "conscience clause" for journalists. Lowering the cap on media ownership. Tough, new independent regulation of the press. Lord Justice Leveson has produced a report (summary here, in full here) whose key findings and recommendations few would disagree on. In fact, in his statement earlier in the Commons, Dave was at pains to express his agreement with everything Leveson had to say. All, that is, except for the means of implementing it.
While it is bad form to second guess the motives of politicians, it is funny that things have a habit of becoming a point of principle if it means seriously challenging the interests one is, or was, close to. Like many Tory frontbenchers and government outriders for the 'no statute' position in the days leading up to publication, Dave is refusing to back up regulation of the press by legislation. Apparently, it would be "too complex", it would be a lever by which future unscrupulous politicians could force censorship on the press and, of course, a regulatory body backed by statute would end 300 years of free speech and turn Britain overnight into a Stalinist hellhole, like the brutal dictatorships of Ireland and Denmark.
And so Dave will be immediately meeting with the other party leaders to look at ways of getting the press to sign up to his preferred "independent, self-regulating authority" (a non-sequitor if there ever was one). Sadly for Dave, his attempt to kick this embarrassing and uncomfortable episode into the long grass is unlikely to succeed. EdM's reply in the House (statement) makes it clear that Labour is for the full implementation of Leveson's recommendations. Interestingly, Cleggy has retrieved his spine from down the back of the Coalition sofa and backs an independent regulatory body underpinned by statute. With Labour and the LibDems, sundry Tories, and the small parties arrayed against Dave, if EdM forces a vote he could well be hit with a double whammy of a split party and Coalition, and a humiliating defeat at the hands of his increasingly prime ministerial-looking opponent.
As a whole, Leveson did not go far enough. While welcome, the disgusting behaviour of the press is not an outcome of poisonous newsrooms nor an amoral culture that afflicts journalism. They are symptoms of a deeper morbidity - the concentration of media ownership. As the press have become increasingly beholden to the profit-taking proclivities of their respective barons, business models have emphasised downsizing and churnalism. It's easier, and cheaper, to print made up scare stories about that week's folk devil, or regurgitate celebrity gossip pulled from the internet. The press, except on very rare occasions, will not invest time in long-term investigations of the rich and the powerful because, according to their model, easy cash can me made from littering your paper with that Friday's wardrobe malfunctions. It is also no coincidence that press standards have been on the slide since the effective breaking of union power in the newsroom.
Leveson does very little to tackle this root cause, merely proposing a lowering of the cap on how many titles a press baron or corporate entity can own. Media plurality and the freedom of the press, that very thing many a right-wing scribbler has bleated about, can only truly be served if ownership blocs are broken up. Structures of ownership have to be changed too - employee-owned trusts and cooperative employee/reader models should also be introduced. It is not enough to leave it to the market.
But still, there is consolation for Dave and his chumrades. While Leveson makes general criticisms of the closeness that politicians have allowed develop between themselves and the press over the last 30 years, he exonerates the PM and his clueless sidekick, Jeremy Hunt from any wrongdoing. They feel it's a vindication from accusations of impropriety. I suspect it's good politics on Leveson's part, ensuring his recommendations are the big story of the day, not finger-pointing.