Pressing ahead after Leveson

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YEARS and years ago now when the Leveson Inquiry first started I read an opinion piece in a local newspaper about the phone hacking scandal.

“I bet you imagine,” the writer noted, “that, as a journalist, I’m always breaking into voice mails. I bet you think I’m bribing council officials and paying police off.”

I flicked back to the front page.

The splash was about a doctor running a race to raise money for a patient. Something told me no-one had risked jail to nail that scoop.

Still...that was sort of his point. He’d never broken any laws in the name of journalism, he said.

Neither have I, unless you count once forgetting to buy a Supertram ticket. And neither, I’m confident, have any of my colleagues.

Our stock-in-trade, see, is legal journalism: in holding local institutions to account, investigating local issues, reporting local crimes and supporting local campaigns.

The Star is here to inform you what the council is slashing next or to reveal what the student games are still costing or to tell you why the police were round at number 57 last night.

It’s not in the remit to listen to Sean Bean’s voice mail; or pay paps to sit outside Jess Ennis’s home in the hope of getting an upskirt shot.

It’s a paper that’s part of the community, and you can’t be part of any community if people don’t trust you because you’re mired in corruption.

Hacking, blagging, pinging and bribing have no place.

Those were dark arts confined to a few dark journalists working on dark national newspapers. The preserve of scummy types for sure - but, significantly, just a few of them.

This is what Lord Leveson - and I imagine he’s reading so I’m happy to remind him - must remember before recommending any statute-backed press regulation tomorrow.

Some hacks have acted disgracefully. They should be punished by law. But the trade should not be. Newspapers, like The Star, must be allowed to go about their business without fear of excessive, expensive and time-extracting monitoring.

Why? Because a press free from interference is one of the single most important things this country has.

Good newspapers watch our country’s institutions - courts, councils, police, and other newspapers indeed - and ensure they do no wrong. They keep us safe. They provide transparency and ensure free speech. They are a democratic bulwark.

Which means it’s probably not entirely wise to leave such papers under either the direct or arms-length influence of MPs - you know, the people at the centre of an expenses scandal a while back.

The conclusion? The law will punish the journalist wrong-doers. For the rest of us - for good newspapers, for The Star, for the reporter with the scoop about a doctor running a race - we should be left free from excessive, potentially vindictive, possibly dangerous legislation.

Because, ultimately, consider this: it was journalists themselves who uncovered the phone hacking scandal.