Press freedom is under grave threat in the UK, if the first of my two assessments is correct. And Britain will not actually care a great deal about it, if I am right with the second.
Forgive the cynicism but I am far from convinced that the vaunted national commitment to such a principle is much more than a squalid charade.
And what better suits the agenda of those who despise the trade of journalism than to have a host of its practitioners facing prosecution? They face it in the near certainty that the prospect of truly fair trials, in the current climate (leaving aside the one before, which was also quite hostile), is remote.
People whose alleged misconduct should more appropriately be dealt with by corporate sanctions including civil compensation, and by internal discipline, or a mixture of those remedies, are being accused of criminal offences citing the disproportionate and emotive word "conspiracy".
One senior Tory has felt able to speculate that some may well be going to prison, his hope being that the world can be persuaded to believe this would be for good reasons and not because they are journalists. I am sure he is right on the first bit, less sure that his hope deserves fulfilment.
I have very little sympathy for any culpable figure in the more grotesque cases we have heard about - Milly Dowler being the most obvious one - but feel a shiver of disgust at the general trawl that has led to the targeting of ordinary staff members whose work may well have been guided by executive direction and/or in-house legal advice.
But for this reporter who has never even thought of hacking a phone or bribing a cop or press officer, the most disturbing present conspiracy is of judges, police chiefs, politicians, administrators and celebs whose claims to believe in press freedom actually ring quite hollow.
And that is before we reach a spectacular piece of hypocrisy in the assault on journalism that has now been exposed. Just to annoy a few people, in authority or not, let me quote this introduction from a UK Press Gazette news item:
Then remember what I wrote here in March (and doubtless on other occasions): You will have to look hard for any defence from me of media excesses and idiocy even if I continue to believe there is not a trade or profession that would have survived Leveson-style scrutiny without appearing in need of sweeping reform.Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz has asked Lord Justice Leveson to explain why he ignored a confidential report revealing the extent of information hacking and blagging in other industries outside the media.The Independent revealed that the eight-page report from the Serious Organised Crime Agency was submitted in evidence to the inquiry in March last year by Ian Hurst, a former British army intelligence officer who claims he was hacked by the News of the World. But it has only now come to light.The report reveals the extent to which blue chip companies have hired criminals to “hack, blag and steal sensitive information on business rivals and members of the public”, The Independent reports. The paper says that "law firms, telecoms giants, high-profile celebrities and insurance companies were also employing private investigators to break the law and obtain private data – often to further their commercial interest".The Soca report apprently suggests that hacking and information blagging had been more widespread in other industries than it was in the media.
It really took no great insight to be able to predict what, it now transpires, may well be the case ...
And while we are on the subject of rank hypocrisy, let me mention that I watched a French TV documentary last night on media treatment of Kate Middleton, as much of the world still knows her, or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is now.
I was suitably appalled by the scenes of paparazzi mobbing her outside her then home. No great cause of press freedom was served by these activities; the great cause of self-enrichment was undoubtedly served for those involved. Their work brings shame on the trade and leads the public to tar good, honest news photographers with the same brush.
But how was M6, the French TV station showing the documentary, able to illustrate its work? By copious use of press images, albeit pixelated in some cases, and with television footage. In other words, telly was there too. As it generally is.
Not for the first time I urge people to remember the excesses of doorstepping amount to an industry-wide issue - electronic sections included - and are not restricted to print.
In almost all the contentious examples of harassment of royals and others, TV footage exists - and it rarely shies away from showing the target of attention in all his/her responses. If it was wrong for the snappers to be there, there can be no justification for the presence of camera crews either.
Yet TV and radio, which at least has more cause for objectivity given its obvious handicap in such affairs, maintain the sanctimonious mantra that this is the wicked printed press at work.
And Kate's husband reportedly harbours venomous thoughts about photographers when he reflects on his mother's death.
That is understandable, though it should never be forgotten that Princess Diana died principally because a drunken chauffeur drove at reckless speed into a dangerous Parisian tunnel, the princess and her friend Dodi Fayed wishing to escape the monumental affront of having pictures taken.
As a working reporter, I feel no more responsibility for the odious practices of paparazzi - it is surely up to image-buyers, from publishers to public, to refuse to buy - than the TV reporter who was among William and Kate's wedding guests should assume reflected guilt because television cameras have self-evidently been present and active at some of the most despicable instances of doorstep intrusion.
Back to where I began: the cries in favour of a free press could hardly, in contemporary UK history, have been louder. Politicians promise to safeguard it, churchmen preach its virtues, judges and police chiefs loudly applaud the principle. Even Hacked Off declares itself a believer.
And it is, I am afraid, utter humbug.
Unless expressed in the form of the Tom Stoppard's one-liner from his play Night and Day, “I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand”, the first thing about Press vs Authority to remember is that the latter despises the former and dearly wants to shackle it.
There is no need to be a champion of the worst activities of the media, and that includes the electronic forms, to feel authority is winning the battle. And that much of the public heartily approves of that ascendancy.
* To read my earlier articles on Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry and related matters, copy the following - leveson site:https://www.francesalut.com/ - and put it into a Google search box.