The Chairman of the Press Inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson, is no newcomer to the issue of press standards. In fact he has echoed Full Fact’s campaign for greater press accuracy on more than one occasion over the last year:
Addressing the Criminal Bar Association in his capacity as Chairman of the Sentencing Council, he said: “It is only by undertaking analysis and research that we can increase the quality of debate on sentencing, ensuring it is based on evidence rather than media anecdote. Addressing media coverage is one of the areas that the [Sentencing] Council will be seeking to tackle in its work to increase public confidence in sentencing.” (8 May 2010)
Similarly, he complained in last year’s Conkerton Lecture: “A consultation on the draft assault guideline started last week, accompanied by the usual flurry of media reporting. From the headlines, you might think that different documents were being discussed.” (21 October 2010)
As recently as last November, Lord Leveson was still raising the issue of media inaccuracy, telling the audience at the Roscoe Lecture that: “my 40 year experience… means that I know not to believe the headlines in the press consistently suggesting that judges sentence too leniently or that the guilty ‘get away with it.” (29 November 2010)
Addressing the issue of public understanding of the legal system has been a consistent theme in Lord Justice Leveson’s talks and he has also aired his views on BBC radio. His comments align with Full Fact’s call for the Inquiry to focus on accuracy, not just criminality, in the press.
The examples cited by Lord Justice Leveson also chime with Full Fact’s experience. In his Roscoe Lecture last year he responded to confusion surrounding rape convictions and sentencing, confirming the outcome Full Fact’s recent investigation into misreporting on Radio 5 Live.
Similarly, in his Conkerton Lecture he cited wayward claims by the Independent, The Evening Standard and the Daily Mirror about a draft assault guideline published by the Sentencing Council at the time. He commented that, while it did not make for “exciting headlines”, his Council’s approach was for consistent and proportional sentencing, unhindered by media rhetoric.
Full Fact hopes that Lord Justice Leveson will continue to push for more accuracy in the press during his chairmanship of the Press Inquiry.