Lord Justice Leveson has come swinging at the British press in his report on media ethics in the country. Calling some journalists’ behaviour outrageous, the chief of the Leveson enquiry set up by premier David Cameron, pulls no punches in berating the media scene in the country where journalism for so long was considered to be upholding the best traditions. The report said that the press has wreaked havoc in the life of innocent people.
The press all over the world is in turmoil for some reason or the other. While western societies are dealing with falling ethical standards of the press, the east has seen many an authoritarian regime wreak havoc on press standards.
The Leveson probe was called after a massive scandal which saw media baron Rupert Murdoch close the decades-old News of the World. The entire media scene in Great Britain was thrown into turmoil after the scandal that drew global headlines. The Leveson enquiry saw a large number of celebrities including the parents of Madeleine McCann depose before it. Madeleine disappeared from a resort in Portugal where she was holidaying with her parents who are doctors. She has not been found till now and the press has largely been instrumental in creating a bogey around her disappearance. There were allusions of even her parents being involved in the kidnapping by the press, including many tabloids in Britain.
The culture of tabloid journalism has wreaked havoc with the principles of ethical journalism in Britain.
The paparazzi scare was at its peak when Lady Diana was killed in Paris. She was being chased by the paparrazi while being with her boyfriend in her car in Paris. As her chauffeur drove at 100 miles an hour, he crashed into a part of the tunnel, killing Prince Charles wife. The tragedy had drawn global attention across the world and prompted a rethink on the role of tabloid journalism.
With the advent of new media, ethical standards in the press have again come to the fore. There are frequent arrests over Facebook comments and Twitter posts. India, where the press is considered largely free, recently arrested two girls for Facebook comments against the shutdown in Mumbai called by the Shiv Sena, a rightist party that took the entire province of Maharashtra by storm after the death of its leader Bal Thackeray. Thackeray was known to be an extremely communal and parochial leader who never spared a chance to lambast the minority community.
For the press, the dictum has been that facts are secret, comment is free. Even the freedom of the press, though operates under certain curbs. Governments have to apply proper standards to see that press freedom is not curtailed. At the same time it is the duty of the press to see that it does not infringe on the liberty of the common man.