Leveson: How not to write a report

I’ve struggled with the Leveson report; there are 1817 pages of text without the appendices, and it’s a model of how not to write. The problems include:

  • an executive summary that weighs in at 46 pages – the length of a report in itself – but which mainly summarises evidence instead of summarising the arguments and the options
  • lengthy, unstructured repetition of evidence
  • wordy, self-indulgent prose
  • judgments divorced from the sections which they refer to – for example, the evidence for the failure of previous enquiries comes more than a thousand pages before a firm statement that giving the press one more chance will not be acceptable, by which time readers will probably have forgotten how strong the case is
  • lack of an adequate cross-referencing system
  • the lack of clear, concise statements of arguments, options and intermediate conclusions, and
  • lack of prioritisation – the reader cannot tell where the important points are without ploughing through the lot.

This is a pity, because there are lots of good things buried in there somewhere. The objection that this could all be done by using the criminal law is squarely tackled in volume 4. The position of new media, which Leveson has been accused of ignoring, is considered in several places. There are short but effective arguments for treating press regulation differently from other professional regulation, explaining why that redress for privacy cannot be effectively protected in the same way as redress for defamation, or making a distinction between statutory underpinning and statutory regulation. Leveson, as a judge, seems to think that his main brief was to establish the true facts – which often he cannot do – rather than identifying options for action. He does recognise the advantages and disadvantages of different options, intelligently and often well – but he smothers the critical arguments under the weight of too many words with too little shape. He needed an editor.

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