Leader writers and columnists are delighted that charges have been dropped against a number of journalists caught up in the Operation Eleven corrupt payment investigation, following earlier acquittals in similar cases.
This, we are told, is proof that a campaign to ‘chill’ good investigative journalism has failed, and that a Leveson-inspired witch-hunt against the press has been frustrated. The tragedy is, apparently, that innocent people have been put through a long and harrowing ordeal.
Amid all the righteous indignation, a point has been missed. Who made the difference here? The juries which declined to convict journalists. And what is a jury? It is a panel of independent people making an impartial judgement when presented with all the relevant information.
Yet the newspapers that are most indignant about the Elveden cases are the same newspapers that are stubbornly refusing to trust independent people to make judgements in matters of press ethics and conduct.
That is what Leveson recommended, what the Royal Charter can deliver, what all parties in Parliament have endorsed, what the victims of past press abuses want and what the public overwhelmingly supports. But the cartel of big newspaper corporations will not accept it.
They will not allow independent people to assess whether journalists have breached their own code. Instead, they insist, those judgements have to be made by IPSO, a body designed, owned and overseen by a committee of newspaper executives.
Imagine if the courts where the bribery cases were tried had operated in such a way, but with the government or the Crown Prosecution Service pulling all the strings? Who would trust the verdicts? Who would still have any faith in British justice?
Instead we have an independent judiciary and, by ancient tradition, we trust panels of independent people – juries – to make the important decisions. And it seems that in the Elveden bribery cases most juries have chosen a path that gives journalists the benefit of the doubt.
If you want justice, if you want rigour, if you want fairness and if you want to protect journalism in the public interest, it appears that your best bet is independent scrutiny.
So why do the big newspaper corporations oppose independent scrutiny of their industry so desperately? Sadly, because their priorities are not justice, rigour, fairness and public interest journalism. What they want most is freedom for their papers to go on lying, bullying, distorting, discriminating and covering up without any meaningful form of accountability.
Independent scrutiny of the kind recommended by Leveson and promised under the Royal Charter would deny or at least restrict that freedom. The trussed-up, hand-picked, wholly-owned sham that is IPSO will not.