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Credit: Screenshot of discoverleveson.com

Remember the Leveson Inquiry? This landmark public inquiry into the ethics and practices of the press saw five prime ministers, newspaper editors, police chiefs, journalists and celebrities testifying live on television.

Six years on, it seems a distant memory that people have stopped talking about. So Kingston University released a new online resource, Discover Leveson, that contains nearly all of the audio and visual content from the inquiry, as well as transcripts. All materials are freely accessible.

Journalism.co.uk caught up with professor Brian Cathcart who spearheaded the project, to talk about why it is important to keep Leveson testimonies alive.

Credit: Mark Hakansson/Mousetrap Media

Brian Cathcart speaking at Newsrewired (November 2018)

What is Discover Leveson?

The Leveson Inquiry was probably the biggest investigation of the work of journalists and their role in democratic society ever conducted. It left us with a tremendous resource: the testimonies and submissions of everybody with a significant experience or opinion, from prime ministers and editors to local newspaper journalists and ordinary people who had got caught up in the news. Discover Leveson puts all that information at the fingertips of everybody who might want it in an easily searchable, helpfully signposted, state-of-the-art format. 

How does it benefit journalists?

Almost all of the main issues that affect journalists can be found there, set out by the leading authorities in the field. How close should you get to politicians? What do the police have to tell you and what can they keep back? How should you report suicides? Is it ever right to pay someone for information? What can you do if your boss puts pressure on you to do something you disagree with? Is libel law too strict? What can you do about 'chilling'? They're all there. Also, if you want to know what really happened at the inquiry and you do not believe what somebody claims about it, now you can check easily. And if you happen to be reporting about someone who gave evidence you can find what they said in seconds, on video as well as in transcript.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

As a journalist I would like our profession or trade to be more aware of what happened in the inquiry. As a university academic, I want students, teachers and researchers to have easy access to a fantastic learning resource. And I do not just mean those studying journalism, but also law, history, politics and much more. As a citizen I hope it will contribute to media literacy generally: the public can learn a huge amount here about what makes journalists tick and why we do what we do.

How is the project funded?

The Kingston University contributed, but the main funders were two foundations, first the David and Elaine Potter Foundation and then the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust. Our principal collaborator, SDS Group, also went far beyond their contracted brief in seeing this to completion so it is only fair to give them credit as well.

What would you say are the most important issues journalism is facing today? How can this resource help journalists solve them?

The crisis of trust is the biggest problem, especially for non-broadcast national news organisations. Public trust is essential, but it is at very low levels by any standard. One important way of addressing this is greater transparency – editors and journalists need to be more open about how they do the job, where they get their information and why stories are presented as they are. National newspaper editors in particular are far too reclusive. Discover Leveson is a gold mine of information abut these things, and a lot of editors gave evidence. Improved accountability is another way of building trust and Discover Leveson shows all the background to the recommendations of the Leveson Report.

What would you like to add?

Besides its general usefulness and value to society, DiscoverLeveson.com is also fascinating, at times funny, at times outrageous and at times heartbreaking. The witnesses and submissions come from an extraordinary range of people, some of whom have amazing stories to tell. I recommend that people just dip in, browse some of the paperwork, watch some video. It is like a very good podcast or box set, and there is so much to see.

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