I reproduce without much need for comment a short exchange which occurred in the evidence given yesterday by Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, to the Leveson Inquiry. Other things which Boulton said may have generated more headline attention, but his clear-headed analysis here is more useful than hundreds of other such dialogues in explaining (while not excusing) the events which gave rise to the Inquiry in the first place. The questions were being put by one of the Inquiry counsel, David Barr, who starts by referrring to Boulton’s evidence statement.
Q. Moving to the fourth point: “Rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more, important than the news itself.” I think that runs into an allegation that there’s been a confusion of news and comment. Do you think there’s been a lack of attention paid by the print media to separating news from comment sufficiently?
A. I think there has been an inevitable process whereby, because primary information has been conveyed electronically, print media have been forced, to a certain extent, into a secondary market of comment and disclosure. For example, when there were regular Prime Ministerial monthly news conferences, they were things that television, both rolling news and news bulletins, used quite extensively. They were largely overlooked by many of the newspapers because they felt that that material had already been on the record elsewhere. Therefore I think there was a natural tendency to look for secondary matters or controversy, but I — you know, I think that’s a product of what I believe you’re calling the elephant in the room, the competitive pressures which are threatening the viability of the print media.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: That’s presumably got worse, not merely because of the Internet, the elephant in the room, but also as, for example, government departments put more material out electronically themselves.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: It’s all very well handing out a press release to the journalists in the room, but if they can press a button and send it to every journalist in the country, then you need something different. I’d not really thought about it.
A. The point is they don’t even send it to every journalist in the country; they send it to every member of the public.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Yes.
A. So if you like, the traditional way that a lot of people started out in the print media of sort of rewriting press releases and making a phone call, you can’t do that any more because it’s already out there.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: So it’s critical that the press look for some other way of adding value to the story.
A. Exactly, yes. And that — I think in some areas, perhaps some pertinent to this Inquiry, that’s led to a degree of desperation in the pursuit of getting something different.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: That’s interesting.