A calculated freak show: BBC3's "Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents"
One question haunts me about the Leveson inquiry: what has happened to public interest journalism? The tabloids ran stories the public were "interested" in, no doubt about it: voyeuristic accounts, illegally obtained, of the private life of Hugh Grant, Charlotte Church and murdered schoolgirls. To date, however, Lord Justice Leveson has not heard about one story that the public needed to know rather than wanted to know; one investigation that might have made Britain a slightly better place.
Think of the opportunities the press had. In the early years of the last decade, technology gave reporters the power to behave as if they were spies in a secret police force. Yet as far as we know, no one hacked the phones of the powerful to expose the abuse of state power, corruption in the public or private sectors, the mistreatment of the elderly in old people's homes, the rape of teenagers in children's homes, the madness in the banks or the neglect of hospital patients.
Worthwhile journalism is not the only item going for a song in Fleet Street's closing-down sale. Hacks' old, almost sacred, principle that journalists must protect their sources come what may is as hard to find as a decent story. Almost unnoticed in the furore, Times Newspapers, publishers of the Sunday Times, handed over information to prosecutors that allowed them to charge Vicky Pryce and her ex-husband, Chris Huhne, with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Huhne had suggested that the hacking scandal showed Rupert Murdoch was unfit to run his company. I do not know if his criticism made it easier for Times Newspapers to rat. But I know for sure that journalists would once have ostracised anybody doing so. Now they don't care what has been done, and are surprised that anyone else does.
I could go on, but I can hear a tabloid editor sneering at the precious values of the "unpopular press". No one worries about the "public interest" anymore or revealing a source rather than going to jail. Readers want sport, sex, celebrity and casual cruelty, and you are naive if you think otherwise.