Pro-Europeans like the Liberal Democrats will welcome this recognition of a chronic irritant.
Editors of the offending papers rarely if ever give the opportunity to correct errors. Now, although the anti-Europe campaigns will continue, we will be able to use Leveson to point the finger at malevolent editors. That is not press censorship. It is simply warning readers not to be taken in by campaigns of nonsense.
Lord Justice Leveson, in the second volume of his report (pages 687-688), states:
There is certainly clear evidence of misreporting of European issues. The Daily Mail reported an apparent EU ban on plastic bags.
Leveson’s judgment? It
…was based on a deliberate or careless misrepresentation of EU proposals.
He widens his concern citing the evidence given by by Tony Blair:
The cumulative impact can have serious consequences. Mr Blair explained that the misinformation published about Europe by some parts of the press made it difficult for him to adopt particular policies or to achieve certain political ends in Europe that he might otherwise have done.
Leveson agrees with Blair and his press spokesman Alistair Campbell when they gave evidence about manufactured stories. Newspapers are entitled to be Eurosceptic but they shouldn’t make up nonsense about Europe and report it as fact.
Leveson’s conclusion goes wider:
There can be no objection to agenda journalism (which necessarily involves the fusion of fact and comment) but that cannot trump a requirement to report stories accurately. Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code explicitly, and in my view rightly, recognises the right of a free press to be patinas; strong, even very strong opinions can legitimately influence the choice of story, placement of story and angle from which a story is reported. But that must not lead to fabrication, or deliberate or careless misrepresentation of the facts.
Alistair Campbell listed bans or intended bans imposed by “Brussels” or “Europe” on kilts, curries, mushy peas, paper rounds, Caerphilly cheese, charity shops, bulldogs, bent sausages and cucumbers, the British Army, lollipop ladies, British loaves, British-made lavatories, the passport crest, lorry drivers who wear glasses…
It will always be hard to get a fair hearing for the pro-Europe message. But Leveson has exposed the persistent malevolence of the Daily Mail, Express, Sun, Star and even the supposedly quality Daily Telegraph. So let’s expose nonsense when it is published. That will become even more important if Britain moves toward an in-out EU referendum.
* Scottish Liberal Democrat and former newspaper editor Willis Pickard is a member of the committee of the European Movement in Scotland