Smokewash, Liberty and The Risks to PR: Reflections on Leveson

So what was Leveson all about? Reflection suggests we witnessed an adroit and troubling playbook update, a ‘smokewash’. While a bonfire of wicked hacks creates a massive smokescreen, politicians, owners and, perhaps most egregiously, the police are exonerated and whitewashed. Ergo: smokewash.

Next, lest we notice and that smokewash subsides, cue a far from inconsequential debate over ‘statutory underpinning’. Cameron and friends seek to protect the ‘status quo’ while Milliband jumps on a very public pro-legislation bandwagon – joined (shockingly, sadly) by Clegg. Will the last so called ‘liberal’ with a shred of 1688-vintage whig intellectual integrity please turn out the red, blue and white SDP lights as he leaves please!

Smokewash Phase Two, of course, threatens liberty. Casually, almost carelessly. It also neatly steers us, to the advantage of all interested parties, into heavy legal smog. And, in accustomed ‘Bleak House’ mode, boredom will probably overcome us all long in advance of any conclusion.

Yet before we succumb and yawn, this scenario presents major, and truly troubling, ‘rule of law’ issues.

First, if applied exclusively and disproportionately to one media group, the rule is not upheld. Guilty: yes clearly. Under huge pressure to deliver appropriately sensational copy to keep their jobs: mostly. But fall guys: definitely. This is, to use the legal term, inequitable.

Second, the rule is not applied if the legal redress of future victims is not advanced practically in any way. Allow the Daily RedTop, totally without substance or justification, to shred your life in a morning and you need a fast-track route to exoneration. One measured in days/weeks not months/years and hundreds not hundreds of thousands of pounds of fees. Some new post-PCC forum of the ‘great and the not so good’ will not suffice. Likewise totally inequitable.

Third, and not least, the very concept of the ‘rule’ appears broken. If smokewashing or the social media ‘feeding frenzy’ which consumed BBC Director-General George Entwhistle and engulfed Lord McAlpine are examples of the new normal, then crude power alone rules. All is relative.

And PR folks, beware. In numbers (5:1) and range of publishing, you have all but superseded traditional media. As ‘sources close to’ or ‘persons familiar with’ you are regularly on the scene. Next time the establishment or the social media mob is looking for a fall guy, it could be – likely will be – you.

Time to get the house in order.

By Dt. Bill. Nichols