A former Daily Mail and Daily Express journalist says the prospect of Lord Justice Leveson’s report is intimidating and frightening journalists out of covering stories.
Kirsty Walker, who worked for the Daily Mail for seven years, revealed in a Spectator article that the “menacing post-Leveson culture in which journalists are already forced to operate” was one reason for her recent departure from the paper.
She says the UK already favours the rich and famous over the journalists, and expects Leveson to undermine press freedom further.
“The chilling effects of Lord Leveson are already being felt in every newsroom in the country – and it is the rich, powerful and influential who are reaping the benefit,” she wrote.
“Few journalists will talk about it, but the rules of the game have changed. If you inquire about certain establishment figures or MPs, they make use of the tools they possess to intimidate you.
“Our political elite are using these tools all the time and appear worryingly confident that the £5.6m Leveson inquiry will hand them even more.”
She said that before the Leveson Inquiry she personally had received “less than a dozen” PCC complaints – with none upheld – but that in recent times it had been “at least one a month”, all of which required “mini-investigations”.
She also blasted the UK’s libel laws and said it is clear why London is known internationally as “a ‘town named sue’”.
Citing the case where the Daily Mail was taken to court for harassment by Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham, she said: “I was lucky to work for a newspaper with the time and money to fight such cases: not all journalists are so lucky.
“Britain has become a place where the rich, famous and well-connected can take the newspapers to court (with the help of no-win, no-fee lawyers) for writing the truth.”
She added: “How do we know that Lord Leveson’s report will encourage the rich, the powerful, the venal and the pompous to intimidate journalists and frighten papers into not covering stories? Because the prospect of it has already done so.
“How do we know that an elite will attempt to decide what it is appropriate for the rest of us to read about over our cornflakes? Because Leveson is already doing exactly that.
“This is the judge who read a 200-word article in the Times about how The Thick of It was planning to satirise him in one episode — and promptly asked the editor of that paper whether it was ‘appropriate’ for him to run the piece.
“It is all too easy to guess what a judge with such an attitude to newspapers will do for press freedom.”