Leveson – why it is bound to fail

Leveson inquiry: man reading newspaperPress freedom vs regulation

There is perhaps little doubt that the issues Leveson attempted to address in his report, published in 2012,1 are extremely difficult.  There are some fundamental clashes of values, e.g. between freedom of the press and individual human rights, which are compounded by other factors, such as the rising tides of the internet and alternative forms of publishing.

The issues are of fundamental importance to all of us, even those who are not involved in public life or journalism.  As C.G. Jung once pointed out, “politicians and journalists [can] unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world” (Jung 1929, p. 37).  Although such power/responsibility is now more widely shared, through globalisation and social media, the manner in which Leveson’s findings are being pursued may ultimately have a big impact on our social and cultural well-being and cohesion.  However, from the perspective of analytical psychology, things are not heading in a good direction.

In his inquiry, Leveson heard evidence from both the press and the victims of press intrusion, and then produced a set of proposals.  Whilst welcomed by many (particularly the victims) the proposals were not accepted by the press nor by the government, who subsequently produced their own proposals.  These have been referred to the Privy Council who, later this year, will consider which to accept.2  This does not bode well because, no matter what decision they make, the process being followed means history will likely repeat itself at some point in the future.

Conflict Resolution, Jung-style

If analytical psychology were called upon to help resolve these issues, the approach would be somewhat different.  When conflicts are decided in a judicial manner (i.e. by choosing between viewpoints) the fundamental division remains and will be repeated later – albeit on a “higher plane” (Jung 1921, p. 480).  This is what has been happening since the first attempts to regulate the press in the 17th century.3  In analytical psychology, influenced by Hegellian thinking, permanent resolutions to conflicts such as these tend to emerge only from a certain type of process.

A fundamental premise of Jung’s process is that any resolution to a difficult conflict has to be a “mediatory product” (Ibid).  That is, the solution has to emerge from dialectic exchange between opposing viewpoints.  Also, the mediatory product has to be “superior to both” (Ibid).  Leveson tried to achieve the latter, i.e. produce proposals that transcended the needs of both the press and the victims, but his proposals seemed to fall short of the needs of the press.  Also, the proposals were Leveson’s and not a mediatory product.

To illustrate how such a mediatory product can be found, Jung used the metaphor of alchemy.  His process is based on establishing a container in which a dialectic can take place, i.e. a forum that is safe, secure and free from outside interference.  Also, the process has to be controlled by an independent facilitator (the equivalent of the alchemist) who can ensure that discussions progress in the right way and at the right pace.

A good example of this, from the world of diplomacy, is the Northern Ireland Peace Process.  The Mitchell principles and initial proximity talks established a dialectic between the two sides which eventually led to a collaborative position.  The outcome was symbolised by the working relationship that developed between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.4  Although there remain many divisions in Northern Ireland yet to be overcome, the ‘alchemical’ peace process enabled the two sides to produce a new mediated position that overcame some of their seemingly irreconcilable differences.

Applying this to Leveson

So long as each side presents their own proposals for someone else to decide, the problem of press (and internet) regulation will never be fully resolved.  What is needed is a process – akin to the Northern Ireland peace process – that establishes dialectic exchange between the interested parties and enables them, through negotiation, to produce a mediatory solution. This is the opposite of what Leveson has done (and was asked to do).  He listened to the arguments on all sides, came up with his own solution (as a judicial pronouncement) and then stood back.

The government has the potential to facilitate a process in which the main parties engage in a constructive search for a solution, as the Northern Ireland peace process has demonstrated. However, the referral of the decision to the Privy Council is more likely to lead to a judicial approach, which will fail to resolve the fundamental division. What is needed is a transformative process rather than a decision, led by a Mitchell who can be a modern-day alchemist, rather than a Leveson who can make judicial pronouncements.


1 http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/

2 http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/jul/23/press-regulation-government-press-industry

3 See http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/features/press-regulation-history/ for a history of press regulation

4 http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/may/08/northernireland.northernireland


Jung, C.G. (1921), Psychological Types, (London: Routledge, 1991)

Jung, C.G. (1929), Commentary on “The Secret of the Golden Flower”, in Alchemical Studies, Collected Works 13, (Princeton: Bollingen Paperbacks, 1983)

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