The new establishment: Leveson, hacking and the public voice

A full-page apology ad published in British ne...

A full-page apology ad published in British newspapers by News International. The letter, signed by Rupert Murdoch, begins: “The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself.” Sweney, Mark (14 July 2011). “Phone hacking: NI plans full page apology in national press”. The Guardian (UK) . . Retrieved 15 July 2011 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the Leveson inquiry, the public face of the establishment had three interconnected parts: the press, the police, and the politicians. They had a complicated relationship. Each reinforced the other’s power even as they sought to exploit the relationship. However, Leveson fractured that relationship. It along with the Hillsborough inquiry showed that neither the press nor the police could be trusted to fulfil the public interest at their own expense. Both pursued their corporate interest at the public’s expense. In some cases, they used the public interest to justify criminal acts. As the public have become aware of these betrayals, they have sought to take control over what is done in their name or in their interest. The public, through social media, have laid claim to the public interest mantle. They are using social media’s to have their voice heard.

How does the establishment calculate the public’s voice through social media?

The other actors are trying to calculate the public’s social media influence. The uncertainty created by that influence fuels the establishment infighting. In the past, the power of the press benefitted the police and the politicians. The Plebgate scandal exemplifies the infighting and the changes. Even as the establishment jostles for advantage, they have sought to restrain social media’s influence. The tabloids have tried to maintain their ability to “monster” people to protect their claim to the public interest. However, social media dilutes this power.[1] In the past, they kept people from speaking in the public domain by filtering stories or even undermining those who challenged the establishment.[2] However, social media has undermined that press’s institutional power and unsettled the other actors.[3] Social media gives the public a voice that cannot be predicted or controlled.

What is at stake is the public interest.

For the first time, someone outside the establishment can shape the public interest. The public can creates an alternative view of the public interest that the establishment cannot ignore, compromise, or coerce. The public do not need to rely as much on the press or the politicians and they can challenge the police on their claim to the public interest. The change in the establishment is not cosmetic or ephemeral. The change reflects a process that has been gathering momentum, as the establishment can no longer claim sole guardianship of the public interest. What has changed is that the establishment’s use of the public interest to protect its interests, it has created an aura of illegitimacy.[4] If it is to re-establish, its legitimacy, the establishment must respond to the public. The question remains “What does the public want?” Whatever, the answer, the public will have their voice heard. Perhaps, democracy is finally coming to the United Kingdom where the public interest serves the public and not private interests.

[1] Consider this article on Rupert Murdoch’s power

[2] Consider the way the papers went after the Thatcher Death Party organisers and the response on social media.

View on social media was mostly negative, which shows how the media defend the establishment line on the issue.

[3] Most editors and journalists rarely have as large of following as their papers. Most people who had to court the media for attention, like politicians or celebrities have huge followings, which allows them to bypass or ignore the press. Consider this response by Stephen Fry to some criticism.  See also

[4] For a similar discussion of the weakened legitimacy of the political establishment see Nat le Roux


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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2 Responses to  The new establishment: Leveson, hacking and the public voice

  1. Pingback: The UK’s Praetorian Guards and Daniel Morgan’s Murder | Philosophical Politics

  2. Pingback: Understanding Rupert Murdoch and the establishment | Philosophical Politics

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