There is just one proper subject for a public inquiry: the cashless corruption Rupert Murdoch perfected. He did not behave like a common criminal. Instead of giving the ruling party money to spend on political propaganda and demanding business favours in return, Murdoch instructed his editors to provide propaganda free of charge. No money changed hands. But the briber still received business favours and the bribed politicians still got puff pieces. Now the hacking racket has been exposed, we need an inquiry to ask if the law should make it an offence for media conglomerates to use threats and inducements to enrich themselves.
One only has to raise the question to know why David Cameron does not want it answered. A genuine inquiry would investigate how quickly and comprehensively he and Jeremy Hunt prostituted their government. It would look at whether their appointment of a former News of the World editor to the prime minister’s office gave the police the impression that they should please the government’s friends. A competent inquiry would then go back through the sweetheart deals between Murdoch and Britain’s rulers that began with the Broadcasting Act 1990.
No one can hold today’s prime minister and culture secretary liable for the privileges Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair granted Murdoch. But the Conservatives would no longer be News Corporation’s friends if they accepted a public inquiry’s recommendation to withdraw Sky’s privileges. News Corporation still controls three national newspapers and Britain’s richest television station. I can assure you that Messrs Cameron and Hunt have not forgotten that and want to keep Murdoch “on side”.
So instead of allowing an inquiry that might harm them, the Conservatives are diverting attention and threatening more restrictions on free speech. The inquiry they have established under Lord Justice Leveson is a minor scandal in itself. “We will focus primarily on the relationship between the press and the public and the related issue of press regulation,” Leveson declares. Not, I hope you notice, the specific relationship between ministers and News Corporation, or on the specific charges now heading to the courts, but on the dangerously nebulous subject of press freedom.