News: Leveson Inquiry, Week 7 – Times, Guardian, Ian Hislop, magazine and regional editors – Natalie Peck

22 01 2012

In Week 7 of the Leveson Inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson continued to hear evidence from editors and executives of the press. Editors of the “Times”, the “Sunday Times”, and the “Guardian” took to the stand, along with those from “Hello!”, “OK!” and “Heat” magazines. The inquiry also heard from regional and nations editors from across Britain.  The most entertaining evidence of the week was perhaps that given by Ian Hislop, editor of “Private Eye”.

Monday 16 January 2012, when Trinity Mirror employees took to the stand, began as Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, read out a letter sent by Reed Smith LLP on behalf of the Rt Hon. Gordon Brown MP.  The letter responded to evidence given on Monday 9 January 2012 when Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor of the Sun, said the then prime minister had called Rupert Murdoch and “roared at [him] for 20 minutes” during the Labour Party conference in 2009. Murdoch allegedly told McKenzie that Brown had said: “You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company”.  The letter said

“This story is completely untrue. It is important that it does not become accepted as a fact…Mr Brown has a clear recollection of the calls he had with Mr Murdoch when he was prime minister. He had no such conversation with Mr Murdoch at any time during the conference. The account is not an accurate reflection of events. Mr MacKenzie’s hearsay statement was not tested as to its credibility or reliability in the Inquiry, yet the press reported it and that evidence substantially as fact.”

Leveson LJ said Mr Brown had “been right” to send the letter, as he is not a core participant and unable to ‘make comment to provide balance during the course of the Inquiry”.

The morning hearing began with evidence from Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror. He told the inquiry that the paper’s defamatory coverage of Chris Jefferies, following the murder of his tenant Joanna Yeates, was a “black mark” on his editing record. The Mirror was one of eight papers to pay damages to Jefferies last year, and was also fined £50,000 for contempt of court over the coverage. The paper is currently appealing the decision. Wallace added: “I think Mr Jefferies’ name will be imprinted on my brain forever more”.

He said an off-the-record police source had told the paper they were sure they had “got their man” when Jefferies was arrested. He said information was “at the front and centre of my thoughts” when making editorial decisions at the time, and had “greatly coloured” his judgement.

He answered questions on the evidence given by actress Sienna Miller last year, He said it was a mistake to use a single source for a story which misleadingly portrayed her as being drunk a charity event. Wallace said he could not recall the source of a story revealing a relationship between Ulrika Johnson and Sven Goran Erikson. He added that there “might well have been phone-hacking at the Mirror, although not to his knowledge. (The second witness statement of Richard Wallace can be found here).

The editor of the Sunday Mirror, Tina Weaver, rebutted claims made by the BBC’s Newsnight programme in 2011 that hacking took place at her paper. She discussed a story on the private life of footballer Rio Ferdinand published in the Sunday Mirror last year. She discussed a case brought against the paper by Rio Ferdinand for misuse of private information ([2011] EWHC 2454 (QB)), which the footballer lost on the grounds of public interest. She added that a “series of injunctions rained down on us like confetti about a year ago” and the public interest and what interests the public often overlap. (The second witness statement of Tina Weaver can be found here).

Andrew Penman, the Mirror’s investigations editor, was questioned on prior notification. He told the inquiry that compulsory notification could alert “crooks and fraudsters” to his journalistic work.

The afternoon hearing featured the editor of the People, Lloyd Embley. He told the inquiry that he saw two to five sets of pictures a week that are not published “simply on the grounds of intrusion”. He as said he had turned down pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge n after palace sources expressed concern that she was being stalked by the press. He was asked about a 2011 story claiming Charlotte Church had proposed to a boyfriend in a karaoke bar. The People published an apology in the paper in November 2011. The singer is currently seeking damages for defamation. (The second witness statement of Lloyd Embley can be found here).

Sly Bailey, CEO of Trinity Mirror said there had not been a detailed investigation into phone-hacking at TMG as there was “no evidence” to suggest it had taken place in the company and had taken a “forward-thinking approach”.  She was questioned over the Chris Atkins documentary Starsuckers, which showed the filmmaker offering celebrity stories he had fabricated to newspapers, and replied she “took comfort” from the fact her journalists had not paid for or published the information.  Bailey told Leveson LJ that she agreed with the “three pillar” model of regulation emerging from the inquiry, referring to elements of compliance, standards and arbitration.

Written statement from Vincent Moss (political editor, Sunday Mirror), Kevin O’Sullivan (TV critic, Sunday Mirror) Vijay Vaghela (group finance director, Trinity Mirror) and Paul Vickers (group legal director, Trinity Mirror) were taken as read.

On Tuesday 17 January 2011, the morning hearing began with Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. He told the inquiry he does not believe in a regulated press and said papers should obey the law and be accountable to the public.

He admitted it was “embarrassing” that Richard Desmond’s publications were the only other papers not in the PCC and said he would “reconsider” joining regulation if it were significantly changed. He said Private Eye published “two pages a week attacking individuals and newspapers” and he would not expect to get a “fair hearing” from fellow editors. He made it clear Private Eye worked in line with the PCC code, and the principles and ethics of journalism should be “self evident”.  Hislop said press coverage of the inquiry had been selective, and journalists had not reported “critical” information about their publications.

Tom Mockridge, chief executive of News International, told Leveson LJ that state intervention “diminishes a free press” and did not accept a distinction between direct regulation and independent regulation. He described self-regulation in New Zealand and Australia as effective, adding many international journalists are “jealous” of the competition and choice of media within the UK.

He said: “Everything might not be perfect, but if we look at the great array of the newspaper stories published in this country in last decade there’s only a minute fraction that are of interest to this inquiry”. (The second witness statement of Tom Mockridge can be found here).

Rupert Pennant-Rea, chairman of Times Newspapers Limited, called the Times and Sunday Times coverage of the phone-hacking scandal “comprehensive, objective and fearless” and said a board of trustees could form an effective part of regulation.

Susan Panuccio, finance director at News International, took to the stand briefly. She said a “couple” of payments made by her titles had been the in range of £30,000 to £40,000, but there had been a general reduction in cash payments since summer 2011.

James Harding, editor of the Times, said he was he was uncomfortable with the idea of statutory regulation having a “chilling effect” on press freedom. He said a statutory backdrop for independent regulation would either be “meaningless” or equivocal to state regulation.

The Times published a leader article on the inquiry on Tuesday morning. The piece said the paper was an “an implacable opponent of government oversight — direct or indirect — of the press”.

The editor said he wished the Times had reported the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone sooner, but he wanted to “get to grips” with the story before publishing any material. He said the Murdochs “never raised a finger” to stop stories being printed but admitted: “The reality is that both the police and News International poured cold water on the story”.

The afternoon hearing began with evidence from John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times. He cited a report by Reporters Without Borders, which showed 21 of the top 25 countries with a free press were self-regulated, and offered “tougher” self-regulation as an option. Witherow said he was concerned about an unregulated media “based offshore” circumventing regulation.  Witherow was asked about blagging at the Sunday Times, and admitted a party working on behalf of the paper had impersonated Gordon Brown on the phone to obtain information his mortgage. He said the story had been in the public interest.

The inquiry turned its attention to the Guardian, and heard evidence from Guardian readers’ editor Chris Elliott.  He said the Guardian received 26,700 emailed complaints and queries in 2011, and three to four corrections and clarifications are printed in the paper six days a week. He said the corrections and “Open door” column demonstrated a “culture of discussing journalism and what goes wrong” at the paper.

Last to the stand was Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. He told the inquiry he could not think of an example under his editorship where the paper had set out to expose someone’s private life. His witness statement said:

“It is a matter of fact that the Guardian and The Observer carry little by way of celebrity ’private life’ journalism beyond interviews where celebrities may choose to disclose private material about themselves or coverage of what is already publicly known”.

Rusbridger said the use of subterfuge “was a serious matter” that would only be justified in exceptional cases. He was asked about his decision to resign from the PCC code committee and said its investigation into phone hacking was “worse than a whitewash”. He added: “The blunt truth of our industry is we’ve been under-regulated and over-legislated”. (The supplementary statement of Alan Rusbridger can be found here).

Written statements from Pia Sarma (editorial legal director, Times Newspapers Limited), Andrew Miller (chief executive officer, Guardian Media Group), Darren Singer (chief financial officer, Guaridian Media Group), James Robinson (former media correspondent, Guardian), Gillian Phillips (editorial legal director, Guardian News and Media), John Mulholland (editor, Observer), Dame Elizabeth Forgan (chair, Scott Trust) and Phil Boardman (company secretary, Guardian Media Group) were taken as read.

On Wednesday 18 January 2011 the inquiry heard from magazine editors for the first time. The morning hearing began with Lucie Cave, editor of Heat, Rosie Nixon, co-editor of Hello! and Lisa Byrne, editor of OK!, giving evidence.

The three editors were jointly questioned. They surprisingly agreed that private lives were not “open season” even if a celebrity has previously agreed to be in a magazine. Nixon went further, and told the inquiry she would not publish information about a celebrity if they claimed it was untrue and “trusting relationships” were key to the running of her magazine.

Cave was asked about a PCC complaint made by Katie Price after Heat published a sticker set including a picture of her son with a caption attached, which she claimed mocked his disability. Cave was not editor at the time but said: “Everyone is mortified by that incident”.

Byrne was asked by inquiry counsel about an apology offered to Sienna Miller by OK!, over interviews with the actress claiming to be “exclusive” but in fact taken from other sources.

On corrections, Cave said Heat had only received eight complaints in 14 years. Byrne revealed that OK! only had a “handful” of readers’ complaints and published approximately two apologies a year. Nixon said she was not aware any complaints under her editorship.

Leveson LJ suggested that a register of celebrities could be an option, ensuring the privacy of publicity-shy figures. Byrne said it could be overused while Nixon said it could be “useful for future reference”.

The inquiry then heard from four regional and nations editors. John McLellan, editor of the Scotsman, Spencer Feeney, editor of the South Wales Evening Post, Jonathan Russell, editor of the Glasgow Herald and Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph.

When asked about corrections, Russell said there was a “vast difference” between factual inaccuracies and stories people “don’t like”. Gilson said that the practice of “same place, same prominence” was disproportionate. Feeney said all corrections at South Wales Evening Post went on page three, but he had printed a front-page apology on one occasion. McLellan said: “I think we have to accept that the greatest transgressions have to be rectified in a suitable and proportionate manner”.

He also told the inquiry: “For us to limit who we can and can’t talk to would be counter to everything we are about”, when asked about relationships with politicians.

He also wanted a “guarantee” that Scotland would have a voice in new regulation, and was in favour of a single body to make sure Scottish papers would not have to deal with two sets of rules in the future. Feeney said regulation should apply to all publications in the same way to make sure the regional press was not seen as a “second division”. He said local press was in a “fragile financial state” and said the PCC should not be replaced with something “vastly more expensive”.

The afternoon hearing saw Maria McGeoghan, editor of the Manchester Evening News, Peter Charlton, editor of the Yorkshire Post, Nigel Pickover, editor of the Ipswich Evening Star and Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News, take to the stand.

Charlton told the inquiry “honesty fairness and balance are the principles which guide the majority of regional papers”. Doran added: “No one has come to me and said they have ethically a problem with a story we were undertaking”. McGeoghan said the Manchester Evening News insisted on “treating people with courtesy and decency”. Pickover told the inquiry that all journalists at the Evening Star carried a pocket-sized copy of the PCC code.

The editors gave examples specific to their newspapers. Pickover told the inquiry about tabloid interest in the 2006 Ipswich serial killings. He said national newspapers and television crews arrived in “great numbers” and were “desperate to beat each other to the latest angles”. Doran said the Irish News had been sued over restaurant review and ordered to pay damages of £25,000. The case was later appealed and overturned but the paper was left with extensive legal fees.

Charlton described the “annoyance and shock” felt in the regional press following the phone-hacking revelations. Doran said it was “clearly a problem for the image and the reputation of journalism”.

McGeoghan added: “I think there has been a backlash. I’ve lost count now of the number of times I’ve been asked how you hack a phone or what the going rate for paying off a policeman is and it’s not funny anymore”.

The editors praised the Press Complaints Commission in dealing with regional press. McGeoghan called the body “very effective”, Pickover said the PCC needed to “beef things up” but that any change “shouldn’t throw out the good things” and Doran called it an “exemplary body”.

All eight regional editors said they had not come across phone hacking at their publications. Doran told the inquiry he had heard about hacking on “anecdotal basis” in Belfast, but not at his paper.

Written statements from Peter McCall (company secretary, The Scotsman Publications), Paul Connolly (group managing editor, Independent News & Media NI) and Tim Blott (regional managing director, Herald & Times) were taken as read.

There was no hearing at the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday 19 January 2012 but the ethics of the press were still fresh in everyone’s minds as several high profile phone hacking cases against News International were settled in the High Court.  The 18 claimants received more that £645,000 altogether, not including payments to footballer Ashley Cole, Christopher Shipman, son of Harold Shipman, and former MP Claire Ward which were kept private. The actor Jude Law, one of the claimants, released a statement after the hearing. He received £130,000 damages plus legal costs.

The damages awarded went to Ciara Parkes, former PR representative to Law and Sienna Miller (£35,000), Ben Jackson, assistant to Law (£40,000), Sadie Frost, previously married to Law (£50,000), lawyer Graham Shear (£25,000), Lord Prescott (£40,000), rugby player Gavin Henson (£40,000), Guy Pelly, a friend of Prince William (£40,000), Chris Bryant MP (£30,000), HJK, an anonymous individual who appeared before the Leveson Inquiry last year (£60,000 damages), Steve Coogan’s former partner Lisa Gower (£30,000), Prescott’s former assistant Joan Hammell, (£40,000), Denis MacShane MP (£32,500), writer Tom Rowland (£25,000), and journalist Joan Smith (£27,500).

On Friday 20 January 2011, Associated Newspapers were refused an application to prevent journalists giving anonymous evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. The judgment was handed down by Lord Justice Toulson ([2012] EWHC 57 (Admin)).  Toulson LJ said Leveson LJ would scrutinise carefully what witnesses say about personal and professional circumstances when considering individual applications for anonymity, and not hearing such evidence would leave the chairman “open to the criticism of not having heard the full story”.  There was an Inforrm case comment published yesterday. Legal representatives for Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, were not present as the judgment was handed down. Cathryn McGahey, acting for the inquiry, asked for a limited time of appeal on the ruling.

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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3 08 2012
Inforrm Summer Break « Inforrm's Blog

[…] regular round ups of the evidence from Natalie Peck (Weeks 1 and 2, Weeks 3 and 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, Week 15, Week 16, Week 17, Week 18, […]

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