Submitted in response to written requests from the Inquiry, usually providing lists of questions to be answered. In most cases these formed the basis of questioning in public sessions, but in some cases they were read into the record (or taken as read) and the witness did not appear in person.
Given by witnesses invited by the Inquiry, normally after they have made written statements. These sessions could be viewed live online and sometimes on television news services, and the video recordings are part of the archive. The statements were usually released to the public after the public sessions.
The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press was the most public and wide-ranging inquiry of its kind in British history – a reflection of the central role of news and journalism in modern society. Witnesses included five prime ministers, leading proprietors and editors, journalists, celebrities, judges and victims of wrongdoing, and their testimony was seen live by large audiences online and on television.
The rise of ‘fake news’ and the accelerating decline of print have ensured that the Inquiry’s important work on press freedom, responsible media and safeguarding remains as topical as ever – yet the archive content has remained inaccessible to many. It had been structured according to a logic that made sense for a live inquiry, but that logic no longer applied and the site became increasingly bewildering. It did not help that for some time there was no search tool at all.
This precious resource was crying out for new thinking, new signposting and new explanatory material to guide the reader impartially through the issues – and for the best search tools. Discover Leveson delivers those.
Two years in the making, Discover Leveson is a new, fully searchable and freshly curated online public archive, ensuring that any reader, from the professional to the casual, can now tap into this rich resource easily and even enjoyably. In this way, the efforts of the Inquiry and of those who gave evidence will not be wasted, and there is a greater chance that its primary mission – learning lessons for the future regulation of journalism – will be fulfilled.
The archive is of great historical significance, capturing a picture of Britain’s 300-year-old print press industry in the final period of its power. But the main task of the Inquiry was forward-looking, addressing questions that remain pressing today and will do so into the future. How can the public interest be defined, and by whom? When might journalists be justified in intruding into someone’s privacy? When does partisanship compromise accuracy? Can regulators be truly independent? Can journalists be compelled to accept a regulator’s authority without creating a form of censorship? What is the proper role of politicians in the regulation of journalism and how far are they subject to improper influence from by editors and proprietors?
Working with the National Archives and partners the SDS Group, the David & Elaine Potter Foundation and the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, Kingston University has designed a free, fully searchable, intuitively curated resource, putting this rich archive of material in easy reach of the general public, and also of researchers and professionals across journalism, communications, law, history, politics, criminology and other fields.
Understanding the role of journalism in society has never been more important than today, that was the underlying mission of the Leveson Inquiry. In a world of ‘fake news’ and of sharply divided opinion, journalism can struggle to understand its mission and to carry it out. The Leveson Inquiry heard evidence from a remarkable variety of sources on what should be expected from journalists, how journalists contribute to society, what freedoms they require and when they may be constrained.
When should journalists simply report what they hear, and when should they challenge it? In what circumstances is it right that they should campaign and take sides, and if they do so what are their obligations? Do they need to give the whole picture, or can they pick and choose what to tell people? Should they ever break the law? These are pressing questions for today and there is no better place than Discover Leveson to find the answers.
It may be some years since the Leveson Inquiry ended its sessions and reported, but it remains a live issue, frequently referenced in debates about the press and journalism. It surfaced in the controversy about Sir Cliff Richard’s case against the BBC, and its recommendations and its second base were debated in Parliament in May 2018. Arguments about journalism and its relationship to society is nothing new, and they will continue as long as there are journalists to challenge the way people think. Those arguments have never been explored as they were at the Leveson Inquiry.
A model archive could change the future. If there is one Inquiry archive that will make a difference once digitised and re-curated we believe this is it. We also think our project could be a pilot for the treatment of other Inquiry archives in the future, transforming access and providing a template for future Inquiries to share long-term lessons of their work.
This project is led by the Journalism Department at Kingston University, one of the highest-rated in the UK. Professor Brian Cathcart is the project sponsor and has provided oversight of all work. Brian founded Kingston’s journalism department in 2003, was a specialist advisor to the Commons media select committee, co-founded the Hacked Off campaign and twice gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
Working with the National Archives and alongside partners the SDS Group, the David & Elaine Potter Foundation (who funded our pilot project) and the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, we also have the support of journalism departments at 12 other universities (see below). Sir Brian Leveson, who as Lord Justice Leveson presided over the Inquiry and who set great store by the accessibility of its work, has formally endorsed the project.
There is enthusiastic support for this project from academics at many UK universities, among them the following:
Birmingham City University: Professor Diane Kemp
Brunel University: Professor Julian Petley
Goldsmiths University: Professor Natalie Fenton
Leeds University: Dr Adrian Quinn
Westminster University: Professor Steven Barnett
London Metropolitan University: Victoria Neumark-Jones, Associate Professor
London School of Economics: Dr Damian Tambini
St Margaret Hall, Oxford: Alan Rusbridger, Warden
University of Cardiff: Professor Richard Sambrook
King’s College London: Dr Martin Moore
University of Ulster: Professor Maire Messenger Davies FRSA
Liverpool John Moores: Professor Chris Frost
Here are comments from some of them.
Dr Damian Tambini, London School of Economics: “The Leveson Inquiry was the most thorough investigation ever of the most fundamental and least understood aspect of our fragile democracy: the relationship between the media and politicians. The archive of the Inquiry is hugely important to the development of this field of academic research and it is essential that it is preserved and curated in the most accessible way possible.”
Professor Diane Kemp FRSA, Birmingham City University: “Our ability to access the wealth of information which lies within the Leveson Inquiry archive is vital. There are few areas of discussion within current journalism discourse which don’t require some reference to it, so the sooner it becomes available, the better.”
Professor Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths University: “The Leveson Inquiry provides the most comprehensive material we have ever had on the relationship between politicians and press and the potential damage that can be wrought on democracy when such relations go awry. It also reveals the pain and injustice an unaccountable press can bring to bear on individuals. It will remain a key research and teaching resource for many years to come.”
Professor Julian Petley, Brunel University: “The importance of the Leveson Inquiry to debates about the role of the press in UK society, and in particular the relationship between newspapers, their proprietors and politicians, simply cannot be overstated. It is thus vital that the great wealth of material in the Inquiry archive is made available in as easily accessible form as possible. In this way, people will be able to read for themselves the evidence given to the Inquiry, and its subsequent conclusions, in the process discovering the vast gulf between what the Inquiry actually said and what most newspapers alleged that it said.”
Dr Adrian Quinn, Leeds University: “Cynics said of the Leveson Inquiry: ‘It didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.’ Not so. I learned new something every day from Leveson. It was my generation’s Watergate Senate Hearings. The creation of a user-friendly, online version of the Leveson Inquiry archive is a hugely worthwhile endeavour and I hope it happens.”
Professor Steven Barnett, Westminster University: “Probably the most important inquiry in British democratic life for decades, which provided a huge volume of unique and invaluable first-hand information. To make such a rich database easily accessible to students, scholars and historians would be an immensely important contribution to knowledge and understanding.”
Victoria Neumark Jones, Associate Professor, London Metropolitan University: “The Leveson Inquiry may be regarded as one of the great turning points in the history of British journalism. As such, curation of its archive must be of the first importance, so that its database can inform debates on the future of journalism, just as it records those recently past.”