Leveson Inquiry – “Module One, the Press and the Public”: Round Up – Natalie Peck

21 02 2012

After forty days of module one, the Leveson Inquiry is taking a short break before the second module into the relationship between the press and the police begins on February 27. From victims of press intrusion to newspaper editors, regulators and pressure groups, there has been a lot of food for thought for the industry and the chairman himself. A few key points from the inquiry so far have been rounded up below.

Dacre v Grant

Despite Steve Coogan’s claim that “This is not, in case the press try to portray it that way, the Steve and Hugh show”, the dispute between Hugh Grant and Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre bookended module one. After Mr Grant speculated that the Mail on Sunday may have hacked his phone, when giving evidence in November 2011, and Associated Newspapers issued a statement accusing the actor of “mendacious smears” against the group, Mr Dacre took to the stand in the last week of the inquiry to further defend his newspapers [read more on this here]. The editor was recalled as the final witness to answer questions on the matter by barrister David Sherborne.  Mr Dacre told the lawyer:

I already explained that Mr Grant shared with this Inquiry his speculation, because he was asked to do so by Mr Jay … I’ve said what I will do.  I’m very happy to withdraw it if Mr Grant withdraws his – not allegations, not suggestions, but his repeated statements about the Daily Mail.

Piers Morgan and the McCartney voicemail

In a 2006 article for the Daily Mail, former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan claimed to have listened to a voicemail message from Sir Paul McCartney to then-wife Heather Mills. He was questioned over the allegation when appearing at the inquiry via video link and refused to reveal the source that played him a recording of the message:

Lord Justice Leveson:  Let’s think about it this way, Mr Morgan. Without identifying your source, the only person who would lawfully be able to listen to the message is the lady in question or somebody authorised on her behalf to listen to it.  Isn’t that right?

Morgan:  Possibly…What we know for a fact about Lady Heather Mills McCartney is that in their divorce case Paul McCartney stated as a fact that she had recorded their conversations and given them to the media.

Ms Mills was called to give evidence in the final week of the inquiry and denied ever allowing Mr Morgan access to her messages. She added:

“I can’t quite believe that he would even try and insinuate [it]. A man that’s written nothing but awful things about me for years would absolutely relish in telling the court if I had personally played a voicemail message to him.

Victims’ stories

The inquiry heard from a variety of phone hacking victims and those that had suffered at the hands of intrusive media coverage.

Famous faces, along with Mr Grant and Mr Coogan, made an appearance including actress Sienna Miller and singer Charlotte Church. They both described being the focus of inaccurate reporting and intense scrutiny in the press. Max Mosley, the former FIA boss and subject of a News of the World expose, put forward his views on prior notification and the private lives of those in the public eye. Harry Potter author JK Rowling told a shocking story, claiming a journalist had somehow slipped a note in one of her children’s’ schoolbags.

Chris Jefferies, former landlord of murder victim Joanna Yeates, and Gerry and Kate McCann, parents of Madeleine McCann, described being at the centre of media witch-hunts. Lord Justice Leveson also heard from Bob and Sally Dowler, parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who told the inquiry how the hacking of their daughter’s phone by the News of the World had affected the investigation into her disappearance. Broadcaster Anne Diamond, Baroness Shelia Hollins, mother of Abigail Witchalls who was brutally attacked in 2005, and Jim and Margaret Watson, parents of murdered schoolgirl Diana Watson, described the effect of press intrusion into personal family grief.

Editors emerge

A long list of national newspaper editors took their turn in the witness box, some more comfortable than others. They, aside from Mr Dacre, were James Harding (Times), John Witherow (Sunday Times), Richard Wallace (Daily Mirror), Tina Weaver (Sunday Mirror), Dominic Mohan (Sun), Hugh Whittow (Express), Dawn Neesom (Daily Star), Lloyd Embley (People), Alan Rusbridger (Guardian) and Lionel Barber (Financial Times), whose evidence is worth reading in full.

Mr Harding and Mr Mohan made two appearances each; the Times editor to answer further questions into email hacking by a journalist in 2009, and the Sun editor on the sexualisation of women and portrayal of transgender individuals in his paper.

The inquiry did not forget about regional editors, who had their turn albeit in “hot-tub” form. The editors of Heat, OK and Hello magazines defended celebrity journalism, as did Camilla Long, editor of Popbitch, who told the inquiry the current public interest definition “is not fit for purpose in the world we live in now”.

The showmen

A long-awaited appearance from Northern & Shell proprietor Richard Desmond went much as expected. When asked about ethics he said: “I don’t quite know what the word means… We don’t talk about ethics or morals because it is a very fine line and everybody’s ethics are different.” Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie told the unimpressed chairman: “My view was that if it sounded right, it was probably right, and therefore we should lob it in”.

Max Clifford revealed he was as good at negotiating deals for himself as for his clients when he explained how he had settled his own phone hacking claim against the News of the World over a “quiet lunch” in Mayfair with Rebekah Brooks. It was agreed he would receive £220,000 a year for three years plus legal costs and, as part of the arrangement, provide the paper with tips for stories. Former tabloid journalist Paul McMullan unwittingly provided one of the most memorable moments of the inquiry by uttering the infamous line “privacy is for paedos”.  He added: “The only people I think need privacy are people who do bad things.  Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in…It brings out the worst qualities in people. It brings out hypocrisy.

Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes used his time to make a series of allegations, including that News of the World had bought up pictures of William Hague’s special advisor in a gay bar and Tina Weaver had authorised staff to hack phones. Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, told the inquiry he does not believe in a regulated press and said papers should obey the law and be accountable to the public and said as his magazine published “two pages a week attacking individuals and newspapers” he he would not expect to get a “fair hearing” from fellow editors in a regulatory system.

Regulation, regulation, regulation

One particular issue on Lord Justice Leveson’s mind is the future of press regulation. While keen to point out he has not yet made up his mind on the direction this will take, he has given a few hints as to his own thinking (a statutory backstop, possible system of arbitration for libel and privacy claim and a strong standards arm with investigatory powers) and has encouraged witnesses to put forward their own views.

The penultimate week of module one was given over to the Press Complaints Commission as the inquiry heard from the former (Tim Toulmin) and current (Stephen Abell) directors, current chairman Lord Hunt and former chairman Sir Christopher Meyer. Representatives from the Press Board of Finance, Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority gave evidence on differing regulatory systems.

Sir Meyer gave lengthy evidence on his time at the PCC and called it a public service regulator, unlike other representatives who had conceded the commission did not provide a regulatory function. He defended the decision not to launch an investigation into phone hacking and said journalists had been under huge pressure to produce fresh stories on the McCann family. Lord Hunt put forward an altogether different view, agreeing “tinkering around the edges” of the PCC will not work. He added: “This new structure is sorely needed. We do need a fresh start and a totally new body with substantially increased powers … all backed by commercial contracts.”

In the name of diversity, the inquiry heard from online companies – Twitter, Facebook and Google – as well as private investigators associations and photographers agencies. Journalism academics from several institutions appeared to give their views on education and ethics. Organisations including the Media Standards Trust, Full Fact, Trans Media Watch and the End Violence Against Women Coalition submitted evidence to the inquiry.

Read all about it

Several witnesses from News International gave evidence, the newspaper at the centre of the scandal arguably kick-starting the inquiry, including former editor Colin Myler, former news editor Ian Edmondson, reporter Neville Thurlbeck, deputy editor Neil Wallis, former legal affairs manager Tom Crone and solicitor Julian Pike.

Mr Crone told the inquiry he was “pretty certain” he had held up the infamous “for Neville” email (attaching intercepted voicemail transcripts) to James Murdoch and said the News of the World had urged private investigator Derek Webb to get an NUJ card validating him as a journalist. Mr Edmondson contradicted evidence from Mr Myler, saying he had been instructed to tell a spokesman for the McCann family that an story would be run without divulging the fact the newspaper had obtained the diaries of Kate McCann. He added: “I was frightened that if Clarence [Mitchell] knew what we had, he might take action”.

News of the World aside, the Mirror also came under scrutiny for possible phone hacking. Former city reporter James Hipwell claimed the practice had been “entirely accepted” by senior editors. Piers Morgan denied knowledge that it had gone on at the paper under his watch by current editor Richard Wallace said it “might well” have taken place at the paper without his knowledge.

A full list of evidence heard by the Leveson Inquiry can be found here. Inforrm has compiled in-depth summaries of weeks one and two, three and four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten of the inquiry.

This round up was compiled for Inforrm by Natalie Peck, web reporter for Hacked Off and PhD researcher examining privacy law and public figures. She is@nataliepeck on Twitter.


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27 02 2012
Law and Media Round Up – 27 February 2012 « Inforrm's Blog

[...] Leveson Inquiry – “Module One, the Press and the Public”: Round Up – Natalie Peck [...]

3 01 2013
Media and Law Review of the Year, 2012: Part 3, September to December – Judith Townend « Inforrm's Blog

[...] Leveson Inquiry – “Module One, the Press and the Public”: Round Up [...]

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