Leveson – it came, it saw, and seemingly left everyone disappointed.
The Inquiry that promised so much, has seemingly satisfied so few.
And one of the big reasons for this is that in its 1,987 pages of findings it failed to create a positive meme or a brand story encapsulating how it intended to create a new world, a better future.
A meme is a body of information that is able to replicate itself and go viral. A brand story is a narrative that underpins successful ideas, which describes a past, present and future and has within it a spine, a backbone for describing the change process in a more compelling way.
Leveson faced a difficult meme challenge: in one corner stood the press, with its powerful backstory underpinning its meme of a ‘free press – the independent watchdog of society’. Opposing were the ‘Victims Test’ or the ‘Millie Dowler Test’ meme possessing a towering array of celebrities – who incidentally only provided 2% of the total evidence but garnered 98% of the headlines.
In this context Leveson had to create a meme and brand story that would prove the Inquiry’s worth, and that it rose to the challenge. We needed ‘Leveson’s Law’ and instead got ‘Leveson’s limp whimper’.
Personally, Leveson disappointed on several counts:
He firstly failed to deliver a set of fundamental principles, underpinned by tangible legal backbone to establish a new order for balancing press freedom, individual liberty and responsibility.
Here was an opportunity to address new communications issues of balancing absolute freedom of expression with responsibilities for truth and ethics in all media, online as well as the traditional media. And Leveson missed that opportunity; he let the fish swim away.
He also let off the hook the Police and Politicians who connived and played along with the gutter press out of fear, and somehow hoping it would steer their way; they pretended not to see. They pocketed ill gotten gains when it suited them. But they got off Scot free.
He also let the ‘Great British Public’ off the hook. The tawdry media world captured by Leveson was the media we deserved. The post-Diana revulsion was soon distracted by the latest kiss-and-smell. He should have highlighted that as consumers we have a role to play, a responsibility to respond and refuse to buy news that is unethically sourced.
Leveson highlights how the PR industry has also failed. When you hear campaign groups call for a banning of ‘off the record briefing’ it highlights our collective failure in the industry to explain how we work.
In responding to Leveson David Cameron has also failed: failed to seize the opportunity of this historic moment to create a new era for media standards.
He has also failed, at his peril, to take into account what can be called ‘the Joanna Lumley syndrome’: whatever the logical merits of a case the celeb, with the right image on the right wicket will win. And Leveson has coachloads of Joanna Lumleys to put the boot in to Cameron’s weak protestations. It will prove a costly political mistake for him.
The press defence of the need to maintain a status quo on the grounds of maintaining the worldwide reputation for excellence of journalism is also misplaced. Britain also has a worldwide excellence in advertising, and also, I believe Public Relations.
This supremacy rests not on freedoms of expression, but rather a genius of British culture, based primarily on its primacy in the use of the English language – an asset which UK plc needs to exploit more.
Leveson has created a meme – that of a missed opportunity, a failure to seize an historic collision of forces, and the desire of a white knight, to tackle the monster, take us to a better place, be collectively changed by the experience, so we can seek transformation from within – and from the intervention of the Inquiry.
Instead of ‘Leveson’s Law’ we got a damp squib, a product veering between comedy and tragedy of a lost opportunity.
If only Leveson had recognised the need for effective memes and a brand story narrative in his conclusion, history could have looked kinder upon him.