A Guardian crime correspondent expressed fears about how the result of the Leveson enquiry could undermine the role of journalists; particularly crime correspondents, during a lecture at University College Falmouth today.
Sandra Laville, who recently gave evidence at the Leveson enquiry, stressed the importance of journalists to be “the peoples eyes and ears” and “to hold the authorities to account” and suggested that the result of the Leveson enquiry is likely to be a “mish-mash which is going to stop journalists doing their job”.
“It’s ironic that the scandal of phone hacking and alleged bribes to police officers came about as a result of what was seen to be overly close contact between very senior officers and the top media executives. If they’re the ones auditing my detective inspectors meetings with me you’re handing them the power and it’s wrong,” she said in reference to Leveson’s proposed strategy of auditing journalists meetings with the police sources.
Laville is currently senior crime-writer for the Guardian.
“When police officers are seen to leak unauthorised information to journalists there will be an immediate criminal investigation into that officer and a disciplinary investigation into that officer,” she further described Leveson’s strategy.
She suggested that this amounted to “criminalising the contact between a police officer and a journalist” which she regards as “legitimate contact”.
“My argument against Leveson over regulation is that we already have laws in place. We have the contempt of court act, we have the bribery act, and we have misconduct in a public office…and what they need to do is start using the laws we have rather than regulate journalists.”
She described Leveson as “totally hung up” on what she called the “hospitality issue”.
“He thinks it’s unethical in some way for me to have a drink with a police officer…you need to meet outside of work in a relaxed situation…there’s fundamentally nothing wrong with journalists having dinner and a bottle of wine with a police officer.
“The official sources won’t necessarily give you the information…the press officers are of limited value to me because they don’t give me the full picture.
“I have to rely on informal contacts with police officers to do my job properly and to fulfil my role in a democracy I believe…to hold Scotland Yard, the metropolitan police and other police forces to account.
“I’m hoping the contacts I have will keep talking to me, but that’s a huge question because some of them their jobs are at risk if they are seen drinking with me even if it’s just half a pint of bitter. If there’s a ban on it they could be sacked for it.
“Police forces are very hierarchical organisations and I fear that that kind of register will be abused potentially. If a senior officer is auditing it it could be open to abuse. It’s also going to deter a younger officer potentially from feeling comfortable about talking to a journalist.”