Morning Hearing on 17 January 2012

James Harding , Ian Hislop , Thomas Mockridge , Susan Panuccio and Rupert Pennant-Rea gave statements at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(10.00 am) MR JAY Sir, the first witness today is Mr Ian Hislop, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR IAN DAVID HISLOP (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Good morning, Mr Hislop. Your full name, please?
A. Ian David Hislop.
Q. Thank you. There's now a signed version of your witness statement with a statement of truth dated 16 January 2012. Is that your true evidence?
A. It is.
Q. You have been editor of Private Eye since 1986; is that right?
A. That's right.
Q. We're going to take your statement as read, but if I may alight on a number of discrete themes and then weave them together. Paragraph 10, please, first of all. You give us a thumbnail sketch, do you not, of the course of libel actions against Private Eye since the beginning of the year 2000. Is this right: there have been 40 in all, 26 withdrawn. 11 have been settled. There's been one hearing sorry, one hung jury, I should say, and two victories.
A. Two victories, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do claims not pursued represent victories?
A. I haven't counted them as such but they probably are. MR JAY Mr Hislop, sources.
A. Yes.
Q. Without identifying any individuals, are you able, please, to give us an indication of the nature and range of sources who come to Private Eye with information, particularly in the context of your Street of Shame column?
A. Overall, the best sources are our readers. Private Eye operates as a sort of club where people not only buy the magazine, they write a lot of it, which is the principle we work on. Broadly, the sources come from people inside their professions, so the medical column, the column about energy, the pieces in the back, a lot of those are given by people directly involved. A lot of whistle-blowers and again, I've referred to that quite a lot in my evidence, a lot of people inside who feel they have a story to report. Street of Shame, which is, as its title suggests, two pages devoted to the malpractice of journalists in the old Fleet Street and beyond, nearly all those stories are given to us by other journalists, it being a loyal profession.
Q. Thank you. Would you publish a story on the basis of only one source, Mr Hislop?
A. It depends who that one source was. In a lot of the whistle-blowing cases, for example, in the bigger hospital cases and in some of the financial cases, one source is what you have because there's only one person brave enough to tell you anything. That doesn't mean you just put it all in. We do make as thorough and as comprehensive checks as we can. But sometimes you will only have one person telling you something and in those circumstances, I would say it is legitimate to put it in.
Q. You've given us a flavour there of the steps you take to ascertain whether a source is reliable. Can you tell us more about that, please?
A. Yes, well, essentially as editor, you trust your journalists and the people who work for me, I trust them to check out stories, to make sure they are accurate, not to be given stories that are pure grudge, that are not rubbish, that do stand up, and then with any very contentious stories, I'm sure all editors will say you will talk to them, you will talk to your lawyers, and you will say, "This is absolutely right, isn't it? The source is reliable. We will be able to stand this up."
Q. How do you filter out, if that's the right way of putting it, whistle-blowers, for example, who come to you because they have a grudge or a malicious animus towards the person they're whistle-blowing on?
A. That is the skill of the journalist involved, to talk to these people to find out. Just because someone has a grudge doesn't mean it isn't true. They may well give you stories for the worst possible motives but the story may be true. What you have to do is separate the grudge from the story.
Q. Now, Street of Shame. It may be a difficult question but are you able to give us some flavour of the type of stories you've published over the last ten years or so?
A. Street of Shame tends to be full of stories about journalists misbehaving. It tends to be anything from making up stories, drunkenness, stealing stories from each other, printing things that are totally and utterly untrue, promoting each other for reasons that aren't terribly ethical, sucking up to their proprietors, being told what to do by their proprietors, running stories because their proprietors insist on it, marshalling the facts towards a conclusion that they've already decided on. I'm sure I can think of some others, but I mean, that sort of thing.
Q. In relation to such stories, obviously you have what the journalist, the source, might tell you and of course you're able to check that out, very often against what the newspaper has published; is that right?
A. Indeed. A lot of the stories in Street of Shame are simply on the basis of reading what a published story says and thinking: "That can't possibly be true."
Q. So if you're dealing with an issue such as plagiarism, you'll want to see the piece which was plagiarised?
A. Yes.
Q. And then the underlying piece, to satisfy yourself?
A. Absolutely.
Q. Did Private Eye cover the phone hacking story beyond noting what Nick Davies of the Guardian was writing?
A. No, I don't think we can claim that that story was ours. We've covered it a lot since, in terms of the mechanics of the case and how the police have reacted to it and who sued and so I think we've done some good work there, but that story was broken by the Guardian.
Q. The Inquiry has received a fair amount of evidence in relation to the Information Commissioner's investigation, Operation Motorman, into blagging. Has Private Eye covered that issue at all and what position did it take on it?
A. Two points there. Motorman we covered partly because I was involved in it. I was one of the names that someone had paid the detective, Whittamore, to find out all my phone numbers, and they came to see me and they said I mean, it's very, very good, that particular set of detective's notes, because he put who paid for it and what the numbers were. So he got my friend and family and my bank manager, which must have been dull, if they were listening to that, and I think that was it. That was the basic BT there. And they said this is going to be included in the report, but nothing came of it, no one was prosecuted, nothing happened. So I knew about that. In terms of blagging, I don't throw my hands up at blagging. There have been some very effective blags. For example, the Channel 4 programme where someone pretended to be a lobbyist and a number of greedy MPs and members of the House of Lords came and offered to offer their services for free. That was good. The Sunday Times cases with FIFA or with the whaling inquiry I think you can get a bit sot of throwing out the baby with the bathwater in terms of how journalism operates.
Q. Yes, the Data Protection Act, of course, recognises a public interest defence, as you're aware. But blagging I don't think is a practice which Private Eye indulges in; is that right?
A. No. On the whole, we rely on people telling us things straight. That is Paul Foot's view of the secret of investigative journalism, is people ring you up and tell you things.
Q. The practice of binnology, have you covered that?
A. Binnology?
Q. Yes.
A. Yes. Again, partly because Benjy did my bins outside the offices of Private Eye. I wrote quite a stiff note to one of my staff and decided no, I wouldn't send that, that was a bit much, so I threw it away, and then it appeared and I thought: "That's very odd." Then we put a camera up and found out Benjy was going through our bins. Mr Fayed was looking for things to print about Private Eye at the time.
Q. Have you any evidence of that or is that surmise?
A. Oh I think the fact that it appeared in Punch, which he owned, was a give-away.
Q. Thank you. I know that you've written, or Private Eye has written, pieces about the Piers Morgan diaries, about which there's been some evidence.
A. Yes.
Q. Are you able to give us a flavour of some of those pieces, please?
A. I think on the whole the Eye's view is that Piers' memory is quite selective and that he is capable of remembering things that didn't happen and that perhaps his diaries weren't written contemporaneously. There are a number of fairly glaring errors in the diaries. He has tea with the wrong Prime Minister, that sort of thing. As to the overall veracity of them
Q. That may be for the Inquiry to assess.
A. Indeed, absolutely. Not for me.
Q. If we move on to a separate theme, public interest. You make it clear that Private Eye has not signed up on the PCC, is not signed up to the code. But do you, in general terms, apply the principles which we see embedded in the Editors' Code?
A. Yes, I think they should be self-evident, and a lot of the evidence given to this Inquiry by people quibbling about whether it's in the code or not it seems to me all of the things that you have focused on are quite self-evidently against any sort of ethical practice.
Q. One witness told us last week that he didn't understand what the term "ethics" means and you're telling us that ethics is self-evident. There may be some sort of mid-position here where certain things we grasp intuitively but other things in grey areas we need a system of principles and then perhaps a system of rules, always subject to exceptions, to tell us what to do. Would you not accept that?
A. The person who didn't understand what ethics was was Mr Desmond, I gather, which again, I think you shouldn't use that as a rule of thumb for everyone else. It seemed to totally bewilder him, the idea that this could have occurred to anyone. So no, I'm not in that camp, but I do think that statutory regulation is not required, and most of the heinous crimes that came up and have made such a splash in front of this Inquiry have already been illegal. Contempt of court is illegal. Phone tapping is illegal. Taking money from policemen taking money is illegal. All of these things don't need a code. We already have laws for them. The fact that these laws were not rigorously enforced is, again, due to the behaviour of the police, the interaction of the police and News International, and I mean, let's be honest about this the fact that our politicians have been very, very involved, in ways that I think are not sensible, with senior News International people, and I hope you'll be calling the Prime Minister and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to explain how that comes down from the top.
Q. Are you saying, Mr Hislop, that the existence of legal rules, whether it's the criminal law or the civil law, is a reason for there being no need for a better regulatory system?
A. It is possible to have a better regulatory system, but my view is that we have quite a lot of regulation and most of the offences that have come up and have been so shocking the contempt in the murder case, the Milly Dowler, all of these things that the public have felt this is absolutely unacceptable well, it is unacceptable. It's illegal. It's not for me to tell you what to do, but I think any Inquiry needs to find out why none of these things were enforced.
Q. Thank you? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON They're not all criminal, but they may be tortious. They may give rise to civil liabilities.
A. Right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that gives rise to the very interesting question, which I'm sure we'll come onto, about the extent to which people who don't have a lot of money can afford to pursue their remedies if they are traduced or the subject of adverse articles in the press.
A. Yes. Again, I think justice should be cheaper and faster. I think there should be early resolution. I think you should be able to have a judgment on meaning far quicker than you currently get in the court. There are plenty of ways to speed up justice through the courts if you think the courts is the right way. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's itself a question.
A. Indeed. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Because if one had some other arbitral system and we'll come onto it that could deal with those issues perhaps inquisitorially rather than the sort of jousting that we have at the moment, then that might be better for everybody.
A. It might be, but my feeling is that the Leveson Inquiry they didn't appoint a former editor. They didn't appoint an MP. They appointed a judge, and we end up in a courtroom talking about it. You tend to end up in court anyway. MR JAY You've helped us with the public interest issue. There's also the issue of intersection between public interest and private rights, which is neatly summarised if you look at tab 5, Mr Hislop, evidence you gave to a Select Committee on 11 October last year, page 9.
A. Yes.
Q. We can summarise what you're saying there. You want to avoid the situation you perceive to exist in France, with what you describe as a very draconian privacy law.
A. Yes.
Q. Very little about what their rulers were up to was discovered by anyone for about a decade. Then you say: "There are situations where sex does influence how people behave, how contracts are awarded, how promotions are made, and we may not like having to do it very much but it does sometimes have a bearing." So you're carving out exceptions, are you, where there is a genuine public interest in people's private lives, particularly in the realm of intimate relationships?
A. Yes. Not particularly in the realm, but I give that as an example because that's the one that always comes up and makes the most headlines. Finance was the other. The problem in France was that the contents of your own bank account were considered to be private in all situations at all times and there were cases in France where I mean, the minister in charge of raising taxes was paying no taxes, and one of the newspapers I think it was Le Canard Enchaine published details of his bank account and he said, "This is private. How dare you say I don't pay any tax? It's between me and the taxman." That doesn't strike me as being in the public interest. I mean, seriously I mean, the French situation is terrible. They are now catching up with about two decades of news about their "My goodness, he had a flat with his mistress in it." "Did he?" "He was corrupt. Let's put him on trial." "He's nearly dead!" They are incredibly slow because of this extraordinarily reluctance to look at the private lives of the people who ran them. So I think you have to look at other countries.
Q. Yes. It's often difficult to look at the detail of what happens in other countries without knowing precisely what their privacy law is. Plainly, there may need to be research.
A. Well, I'm yes.
Q. It's slightly out of sequence, but there's one other answer you gave to the Select Committee under tab 5 which I wish to ask you about. Page 20. Question 70 at the bottom of the page. Do you see that?
A. Yes.
Q. The chairman asked: "Do you buy the Richard Peppiatt argument at the Leveson seminar last week about newsrooms, particularly in tabloids, with journalists being told: 'Here is the agenda; find the story'?" Mr Rusbridger gave his answer, which was along the lines that it depends, but it's your answer on the next page when you say: "It sounded pretty right to me." Why were you able to give the Select Committee that answer?
A. I think anybody who reads newspapers and a lot of newspapers after a while begins to see that the stories have an agenda and that that agenda must be dictated by someone. Most famously, Private Eye finds that if the Daily Mail runs a story, at some point there will be a reference to house prices in it and whether they're going to collapse spectacularly or rise. That's the joke, but it is an observation that most of the time, if you read papers carefully, you think: "Who decided the headline and the way that story is going to go?" The editor, you would guess. In some cases, the proprietor. That is why the story has been fed in that particular way. Mr Desmond is the worst example, obviously, and he's been in court about this and he's had libel actions with Tom Bower about whether he uses his newspaper in order to pursue certain agendas and certain claims. But the Murdoch press is pretty clear, I think, in a lot of its manifestations, on what the agenda is going to be and the paper follows it.
Q. Might it be said that it could sometimes be a little bit more nuanced than that, that the editor doesn't have to respond to any imposition of agenda from above because the editor intuitively understands what his or her readers want to read. They're plugged in to the mindset and viewpoint, as it were, of the readership, and it's that
A. Yes, they're also plugged in to a phone where the proprietor shouts down it.
Q. Yes, but if I could just complete the thought.
A. Certainly.
Q. It's that, whether you're looking at the Daily Mail or any newspaper, which dictates the way the newspaper is going to formulate and express its story. Is that not a possibility?
A. That's certainly a possibility, but I'm not saying it's you know, every page of every newspaper is constantly following an agenda, but there are certain stories where they will think: "What do we want to read when this story comes up?" Look at the coverage of this Inquiry. If you read it fairly closely, you look at the papers and you think: "Why have they missed out the bits that were critical of them?" Is that being in tune with the readers, or is that because the editor is embarrassed or because the proprietor doesn't want to read it?
Q. I go back to the PCC. Paragraph 11 of your statement, where you say the gist of it that there's no need for the PCC to act as intermediary or mediator. Would you not accept that acting as mediator is something the PCC does rather well?
A. I have no direct knowledge of that at all. I am told by people and people have given evidence that it works well. I haven't seen that. It hasn't worked in our cases. We either settle, think about arbitration through another way or go to court.
Q. Can I just ask you about arbitration through another way.
A. Yes.
Q. How does that work?
A. You agree to if the two parties agree, you can agree to appoint an arbitrator and go through the courts and they decide, and you say you will stick by that decision.
Q. How often does that happen with Private Eye?
A. Never.
Q. Because, you think?
A. Two people have to agree to the settlement, and often I don't.
Q. Because you trust the courts more? Is that it?
A. I would rather end up in the court because I think that's where you end up anyway.
Q. I think your primary reason for not being part of the PCC is paragraph 12, that you don't believe it's an independent and impartial tribunal; is that fair?
A. Yes. I don't think the PCC has been that. I don't think it's been effective, I don't think it's been independent. There are plans to change it and Alan Rusbridger's come up with a lot of suggestions and obviously if it changes then one would have to reconsider, but essentially Private Eye spends two pages a week attacking individuals and newspapers, then to go to the PCC and find all those people are deciding on your case. You tend to think you won't get a particularly fair hearing.
Q. Is it just a question of editors being heavily represented on the PCC or is it a question of editors from particular papers being represented on the PCC?
A. Over the years, Private Eye has had some issues with the number of tabloid editors on there, with particular agenda, and also the amount of influence that News International has had on the PCC.
Q. I ask you this question: what would bring you back into the fold? What would have to happen to the PCC, whether it kept that name or changed its name altogether?
A. Obviously it is quite embarrassing that the only other person not in the PCC is Richard Desmond.
Q. Mm-hm.
A. That's not a position that's obviously very comfortable, but I do stick with there are plenty of other regulatory bodies and codes that could have stopped that particular ownership, and indeed a lot of that conduct, so I'm not wanting to be tarred with the same brush there. I'm not saying it's not possible, and we didn't flounce out of the PCC after we'd lost, you know, vast amounts of damages or had rulings against us. It was a decision I took a long time ago in order to be separate, because I think what Private Eye does is unique and therefore I don't think we are in the same camp as them. Sorry, what was the question? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, that's quite a big word, which I think may be right. One of my concerns I've expressed is that the press will look at doctors, they'll look at lawyers, they'll look at judges, they will keep to account politicians, government, everybody, but is there any organ of the press other than Private Eye that actually has a go at other newspapers?
A. I think it would be arrogant to say no other newspaper there are media sections in other newspapers, they do report about each other, but there has been a tendency LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The Guardian in relation to
A. Indeed, in relation to this, and all credit to them for doing it. But on the whole, the bigger groups have tended to operate a code of: "We don't write about each other and we don't go into that sort of nit-picking detail about what stories came from where." That has tended to be what the Eye has ended up doing. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But doesn't that contain within it a problem, because if nobody is keeping the nose of the press to the grindstone in that way, then people might get away with rather more than they otherwise would?
A. Again, I go back I mean, I believe in a free press and I don't believe in a regulated press, and I think that the press should obey the law, and I think that's what the law is for. So that is where we would disagree. Yes, I think the press should be kept to account. It should be kept to account by the law. It should be kept to account by the people who buy the papers. I do hope you're going to call some members of the public and ask them why the bought the News of the World, what they thought they were getting. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I don't think we'll necessarily do it in quite that way, but there are some ways of looking at that.
A. Right. MR JAY Can I ask you about the future of press regulation and just look at some of the ideas which come through paragraph 16 and following, please, of your witness statement. The last sentence: for you, state regulation is anathema. That is right, isn't it?
A. Yes. I think if the state regulates the press, then the press no longer regulates the state, and that is an unfortunate state of affairs.
Q. You see this as somewhat binary, but
A. Are we on tab 5, sorry?
Q. No, we're back to paragraph 16 of your witness statement. The last four lines: "If a form of voluntary self-regulation is to be contemplated, then it would have to be one to which the major newspaper publishers would be willing to subscribe That in one sense is a tautology, isn't it, Mr Hislop?
A. Um
Q. If it's entirely voluntary, that would have to be the case?
A. Yes.
Q. How do you bring in those who do not wish to subscribe?
A. Again, that is my problem, and that's probably why I've ended up writing a tautology. I don't think you can have mandatory involvement because that becomes difficult. It's like forcing people to apologise or forcing people to arbitrate. You get into areas where you're basically dictating what the press can do and then it no longer becomes free.
Q. But all one may be doing is compelling the press to participate in the system, which, once set up, has all the attributes you would approve of, such as it is independent, it is impartial and it is able to arbitrate speedily and cheaply on the sort of matters which trouble your newspaper. Would you accept that?
A. If that's what happens, then obviously I shall have to either eat my words or go along with it.
Q. It depends what you mean by "statutory regulation" in paragraph 17. Could you define that for us, please?
A. Oh, I think that's when the state decides what you can and can't publish. Then that's dangerous. Which is where we come to prior notification and those other issues, which I don't agree with a lot of the
Q. Let us agree that no one wants a system where the state decides what the press might publish, because that, of course, would put us back in the middle ages or put us back in the position which unfortunately exists in many countries around the world. But you could have a system where a statute sets up a body, which defines what the body can done, but the body, once set up, has complete freedom to lay down standards, arbitrate on complaints, all those matters, without any question of the state entering into the operational activities of that body. Would you see that?
A. I do see that and again, that would have to be voluntary. You could not say, "You must go to arbitration here"; you can say, "You must go to court." I have a problem with that.
Q. Because?
A. Because I think it should be the law. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It may be the law. The problem is in one sense you're right that's not a problem. In one sense you are right: there are critical laws, there are civil remedies. But in the world that we occupy, the police and all the authorities that are responsible for maintaining our regulatory regime, Information Commissioners and everything, are inundated with work and there is an argument that there are rather more egregious breaches of the law that require to be investigated before one gets to the press, and that shouldn't necessarily permit a free run for those that want to table stories unethically, inappropriately, illegally. That's the concern that I have about simply saying, "Well, there's a policeman there and they can prosecute", because there isn't a policeman on every street corner.
A. No, but there were a lot of police involved in the hacking story right the way along the line who didn't do anything, who decided nothing had happened. My view is I mean, we've had, what, four enquiries into press behaviour? Someone thinks it's important and is spending millions of pounds on it. That money could be used to speed things up LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There's absolutely no doubt that now there is a great deal of reaction to what happened last year.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And one of the things that I will have to look at is why it is only now rather than years past.
A. And I don't think that is lack of money. I mean, I think there are reasons the police and you will be looking at this did not investigate, reasons that News International thought it could get away with whatever it liked, because the Murdoch family was deeply embedded in our political top class. Those are the questions. I mean, if you're the editor of a Murdoch paper and you see, oh, the Prime Minister's organising a slumber party for the proprietor's wife at Chequers. Oh! Presumably that gives you unbounded confidence to do whatever you like. Or if the Prime Minister appoints an ex-News of the World editor to be his communications director, you must think: "Well, we're top of the pile. What could stop us?" I mean, that's probably more likely than questions that we don't have enough money to fight this through. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's not a question of money. I think it might be rather more nuanced than that.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Anyway MR JAY I'll just ask you about paragraph 18: "One important question [you say] is whether adjudication by such a regulator would be instead of adjudication through the court process." You take that up three lines from the top of the next page: "However, if the press are to be made subject to a new form of regulator (particularly if it has power to impose sanctions), then there should be a corresponding protection from additional court sanctions." Which court sanctions are you referring to there, the additional court sanctions?
A. I just mean you shouldn't be tried twice, as it were, for the same offence. So if this body is set up and it says, "You must pay this fine, you must do that", then they can't sue you again, and then you go to the other courts and you have to pay another fine and then repeat it. That's all. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You couldn't possibly be fined twice, but any other regulator or profession might very well face disciplinary proceedings within their body and be sued.
A. Right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's what happens to the rest of the world.
A. Right. Well, how very unfair. I hope it won't happen to us. MR JAY Paragraphs 19 to 21, you deal with the challenges to investigative journalism. You point out, as is obvious, in paragraph 20 that investigative journalism is extremely costly of time and money, which is difficult in the current climate. Then you say in paragraph 20: "Though, of course, generally speaking, printing the truth sells newspapers and a big story can result in increased circulation Is it really the case that printing the truth sells newspapers, Mr Hislop?
A. What I mean by that is if you print things that people don't believe or turn out to be lies, then people don't buy you any more because they don't think you're credible.
Q. So it's a question of tarnishing the brand, which is a risk all newspapers will be aware of; is that right?
A. Yes. Tarnishing the brand is putting it a bit low. You want to be the paper that people believe.
Q. But if your thesis is right, many papers have thrived by not following that principle.
A. Yes, and again, you'd have to question the readers very carefully when you invite them in.
Q. In order to do that and get a representative sample, you would obviously have to ask questions of a large number of readers to get any sensible steer on where the problem lies, but why do you think there's a problem here?
A. Um
Q. With the readers in particular?
A. Well, did they think everything they read was true? When they read subsequent reports saying, "Oh, no, this is rubbish", did they feel embarrassed? Did they think: "I shouldn't have bought the News of the World? Why did I read that bit? Did I enjoy that?"
Q. One possible answer I only float this as a possibility is that many people bought the News of the World because it was informative, in the sense of which they might define the term, and entertaining, and that would be sufficient. Would you agree?
A. Well, that may well have been it.
Q. May I move off that theme to is a separate theme, which is paragraph 22, the public interest. I think what you're arguing for here, in line perhaps with what Mr Justice Tugendhat said in one case, is the range of permissible editorial judgments is a broad and flexible public interest test which reflects a range of reasonable permissible views; is that right?
A. Yes. I mean, I know that that isn't law because he lost subsequently, but it's in the appeal court, isn't it? So it may turn out to be that what he said is accepted. Is that right?
Q. Well, we can deal precisely with the state of that particular case on appeal, but my concern is perhaps the more general one, that if you give too much weight to editorial judgment within the framework of what's reasonable and what is not, that might be said to justify the publication of almost anything, because reasonable people might reasonably disagree on a particular issue. Would you accept that?
A. Yes, but I think what he's talking about in a range of definitions what he means is that it shouldn't be so narrow that it's impossible to justify things in grey areas. The classic case, the grey area that keeps coming up is the Sir Fred Goodwin injunction. He was having an affair with someone who was on the board of RBS. Is that his private life or is it permissible to write about that on the grounds that perhaps when you're taking major decisions involving risky financial manoeuvres, someone you're sleeping with doesn't say harshly: "You're mad" at set times. You can see I believe that there is a defence there. Other people would not. But if what he says is the range, it means that would be acceptable. It would be reasonable to make that case; it's not completely wrong. That's what I'm arguing for. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What you're really saying, if I put it into language that fits, is that the judge isn't an editor; the judge should decide whether a reasonable editor could reasonably reach the judgment that he or she did.
A. Yes. And in a lot of the other the contempt and the phone hacking, I mean, a reasonable editor would not have thought: "I must hack into a murdered girl's phone", or: "I must run a story about someone about whom there appears to be no evidence and say he's the murderer before we've started the case." Those things seem to me self-evidently unreasonable. MR JAY The judge, although charged with the decision as to whether it's within the judgment of the editor, can give some deference to the view of the editor in reaching the decision. That's another possibility, would you agree?
A. Yeah.
Q. Can I ask you about 22.5 in your witness statement. You don't think there that the behaviour of the journalist is a relevant consideration. Your concern is more what is being printed, although the behaviour of the journalist may be relevant because of the means the journalist has deployed in order to obtain the information which is then printed. Would you accept that?
A. Yes. I was just trying to argue that saying, "Well, did you ring three times in advance, did you notify him there?" that sort of procedural "letter of" is less important than whether that's printed is true or not.
Q. May I move to a different topic, that of prior notification, which you pick up in particular at paragraph 22.11.
A. Yes.
Q. You give the example here of a practical difficulty which arose, namely you did give prior notification to Mr Napier, he applied for an injunction, the judge refused the application but granted a temporary injunction pending an appeal, and not withstanding that appeal was expedited, it all was extremely expensive and effectively scotched the story; is that right?
A. Well, it would have scotched the story but we went with it. This was a man called Napier, who was president of the Law Society. He was reprimanded by the Law Society, his own society. That seemed to me a reasonable story to put in. He said this was confidential, it was between him and his professional organisation, the fact that he'd been reprimanded while being president. We went to a court, quite expensive, and won. They said: "No, I'm not going to grant the application but he can have a temporary injunction while we appeal." The appeal that was in January and the appeal didn't come on until May, so it was five months delay. We have a story. We're not allowed to run it for five months. The total joint costs of both of the parties were 350,000 by this point. If we'd lost, ?350,000 just to try and put in a story. As it happens, we didn't recover all other costs, because you never do, but we won finally an appeal. So six months later we're allowed to print a story which I thought self-evidently was in the public interest. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Hislop, aren't you there proving the point that I was trying to make to you before: inevitably, there are many, many calls upon the time of the court, and even when something is urgent, there are many, many urgent appeals, too, so it takes a long time.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Therefore, is there not a value in having a mechanism to resolve that sort of issue definitively in other words, binding on everybody but very quickly, so that you don't risk all that money and all that time and run the risk that you've just been talking about?
A. In that case I'm complaining about the privacy injunction in the first place, and I think that created a delay and a racking up of cost that is due to the mechanism of privacy injunctions. So you're what I'm saying is it was slow and it was expensive, but I'm saying the principle in the first place was wrong. He should not have been allowed to get a privacy injunction stopping us printing it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, and the Court of Appeal agreed with you.
A. It did. It did eventually, but we might well have not have got to the Court of Appeal. If you're suggesting a mechanism where that can be decided earlier but I don't see that Mr Napier would have said, "Yes, I'll agree to arbitration." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But it's not necessarily a matter of agreeing. If there is, at the background of a system, a requirement that that is the way you stop that sort of story, if you want to, you can't simply spin out a long set of legal proceedings in the hope that it will just go away
A. Which it might well do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not suggesting Mr Napier was doing that. It's a question of speedy resolution so there it is an arbitral mechanism that people are bound by in other words, people have to do it but that it's inquisitorial and done very quickly.
A. In that case, if it had worked, obviously I'd have been for it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But it's not just this case. It might be every single case where you feel: "Well, you know, I will give a prior notification", but then you run the risk of somebody trying to stop it. You need some mechanism to resolve that very quickly.
A. I can see that's an argument. The lesson I learned from that was not to give prior notification. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, but that runs other potential risks, not perhaps in the case where you were very clear and the Court of Appeal agreed with you, but there may be cases where the balance is perhaps slightly different.
A. But mandatory prior notification, it was thrown out by Europe and it's generally assumed that this is not a runner, this will not LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not suggesting mandatory prior notification, but every single time you have a story, you have to decide: "Am I going to prior notify or not?"
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON One of the issues is purely the delaying factor of potential litigation. There could be good reasons not to prior notify, because the story might be destroyed or something might happen to it, but it's not necessarily the very best reason that: "Well, the court system there just kill it in any event." That's the point I'm making.
A. Yes, and that's quite right. The same would apply to when we had a threatening letter from Schillings immediately we'd put a question to the man who ran the NHS IT system about his next employment, and he'd said, "This is a private matter", then immediately we get a threatening letter. You're saying that's a practical legal reason. The other reason is witnesses get lent on in the ensuing time. With prior notification, they disappear, documents disappear. Alan Rusbridger has given you a lot of that evidence. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, but that's why I am thinking about some sort of mechanism that copes with the problem which you're talking about.
A. Yes, I appreciate that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But, of course, doing that and you may have heard Mr Barber, actually he was quite interested in the concept, not least because of the concern that very, very wealthy people might be able to put a lot of money into undermining a story.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that requires some sort of framework in the background to require people to participate. Otherwise most people would, but those who really have a lot of money and really have a real interest in stopping something won't.
A. No, and they will just fight it on through the court. Yes, okay. MR JAY You gave evidence to a Select Committee, Mr Hislop, about the NHS IT project. That was Mr Granger, wasn't it?
A. Yes.
Q. And Schillings was his solicitors. Can you just remind us what happened there?
A. The journalist in question put a number of questions to Mr Granger, and then, rather than reply to them, we had a threatening letter from his lawyers saying, "These are private and confidential matters", and again, this was the man who under whose on whose watch, under whose directorship, a vast amount of public money had been effectively wasted, something like ?12 billion. You can take whatever the last estimate is on this utterly useless system which we'd been writing about for quite a long time. So we thought it was a reasonable question to find out what he was doing next: is he going back into public employ? Is he a consultant? Where has he ended up? But he said, "This is private, this is none of your business", and his lawyers sent that letter, and when they send that letter, the immediate question is: how much is it worth fighting this? Is it worth going on with this? How much is this going to cost? Do we need this as well as whatever else we're doing?
Q. The letter itself from Schillings I think was put in evidence before the Select Committee.
A. Yes.
Q. What did Private Eye do in response to that letter? Did it publish?
A. Well, I read it out under privilege in that committee, so I didn't have to worry about any further ramifications. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's not actually the purpose of the committee.
A. It's something useful the committee could do for us, I thought. MR JAY Is this a common phenomenon, you receiving letters of this sort which are designed obviously to have either a terrorising or a chilling effect, however you'd like to put it?
A. Yes. Privacy has become more of a problem than libel, or had become more of a problem than libel before the sort of explosion over this the previous summer.
Q. May I ask you some different questions now. Under tab 2, you deal with the problem of the Internet under the page which says, at the top left, "evidence 197". This is the question of the blogosphere, the right-hand column. Are you with me?
A. Sorry, one moment.
Q. A third of the way down.
A. Alan Rusbridger? No.
Q. Right-hand side.
A. 197, yes.
Q. Quarter of the way down, where you say: "My own views on blogs is their stories become useful when they go into what they call dead wood." What do you mean by that?
A. I mean stories tend to get going still in Britain when they hit the newspapers rather than when they've been on the blog, when they're taken from the blogosphere and put in newspapers, because at that point they are tested, supposedly. But I think that's a good principle.
Q. The point you're making is that at the moment when they're just in the blogosphere or elsewhere on the Internet, they're not tested; it's just an assertion?
A. No, it's just stuff.
Q. But the very fact that a story enters a newspaper gives it a level of credence, a level of imprimatur. Would you accept that?
A. Yes.
Q. Can I ask you about your relationship with politicians? I've asked this question of other editors, of course. Do you have social interactions with politicians?
A. Yes, I occasionally meet them.
Q. In a nutshell, what do you think the purpose of such interactions is, apart from social pleasure or however you want to put it?
A. Sorry, I think I've slightly misunderstood the question. I have social interaction in that I go to lunches or I meet them at parties or I see them occasionally.
Q. Is it because the politicians are trying to get one over you in terms of what you might say about them, or do you have some sort of motive towards the politicians or is it simply you're meeting them socially?
A. No. I mean, I'm sure there's an agenda on both sides. I'm hoping to find out information that will be useful to me and a world insight into the world that they're operating in. I think they're trying to the do the same. There are it's a two-way trade. But I think arm's length is what you need with politicians, and that is I mean, they come we invite MPs to Private Eye lunches, I see MPs at events. I haven't been to any slumber parties with any, with my children or wife. I haven't appointed any to be on the staff of the Eye. I think a certain amount of distance is probably a good idea.
Q. Yes. I imagine I know the answer to this question: is the agenda of Private Eye set or do you have any perception that it's set by the wishes of the proprietor?
A. We don't have a proprietor.
Q. So the answer then is self-evident. Can I ask you finally about a couple of points in tab 11 and then tab 13.
A. Yes.
Q. Some pieces about you. The first one is in the Guardian, published in September of last year. The last page, page 5 of 5. He says, two lines down from the top of the page, about you: "He has a strong sense of what constitutes ethical behaviour in a good society and is not slow to castigate those in public life who fall short. It's not that he despises politicians that make him so severe on them but he holds in such high esteem what they can be at their best." I appreciate that's quite flattering of you.
A. It is.
Q. But is it reasonably on point?
A. I'm not likely to say no.
Q. Okay.
A. I think it's an extraordinarily perceptive piece.
Q. Fair enough. The third paragraph, about the future of Private Eye in the context the Internet you don't foresee Private Eye embracing the digital future? At the moment you have a rudimentary website, but you keep your key content for the magazine. Then he says: "He gives me [that's obviously the writer here] a brief lecture on the dangerous culture of free."
A. Yes.
Q. Can you remember what that was about?
A. I think I'd probably said something along the lines of: a generation that wants everything for free has already meant it's very difficult to make films, it's difficult to make records and now it's saying, "I want journalism for free", and I think we should try and resist it. I disagree with a number of my colleagues here, but I cannot see why journalism, which, at its best, is a terrifically noble craft, should be given away, and people who can analyse information, write well, entertainingly, informatively, should have everything they do just taken from them. I mean, if we're looking at other countries, I was hugely heartened to see Le Canard Enchaine has a website which just says literally: "Go and buy the paper." They're doing very well.
Q. For those who don't know, they're your sort of analogue in France?
A. Yes.
Q. The final point, subject to points the chairman might have: in tab 13, the third page, I think there you do accept the mistake, if that's the right way of putting it, in the context of the MMR scare. Is that right, Mr Hislop?
A. Yes. Yes, absolutely. We ran a mea culpa. Phil Hammond, who is our MD, who didn't write any of the MMR material and who I should have listened to earlier, wrote a piece saying, "Private Eye got this wrong and should have stopped running it long before it did."
Q. I haven't been asked to put any questions to you directly by core participants, although I have considered other material that's been put to me and I've decided not to pursue it.
A. Anything else in the bundle? No. MR JAY There's nothing else I'd like to ask you about but there may be some further questions. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There's only one rather general question: the area which is the subject of the Inquiry is clearly one which you, in your capacity as the editor of Private Eye, have been interested in for very many years. Is there anything that has happened in the course of the Inquiry, or indeed in the course of what's been generated over the last six months, that causes you to have any new views or any insights that you would like to share as to what should come out of the Inquiry?
A. My overall feeling after about the first two weeks of the Inquiry, I thought, well, that might be it for the press. The level of distaste from the public for the whole business of journalism seemed to be ratcheting up. The celebrities got a very good coverage, as they would do, but got a very good chance to put their side of the case, and I was very worried that for X weeks there would be nothing to say except, you know: "Why don't you just close down the lot of them? They're all utterly revolting?" And I just wanted to put in a plea for journalism and for the concept of a free press, that it is important, it isn't always very pretty, and there are things that go wrong, but I really hope that this Inquiry doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, well, I hope you'll feel that we've given titles the opportunity to celebrate what is good about each of the titles that have come to give evidence and tried to provide some context for everybody. That is part of the reason for considering it very important that you, who have had the Street of Shame, in other words have been prepared to talk about these stories in ways that others haven't always sometimes have, but haven't always was so important.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right, thank you very much.
A. Thank you. MR JAY May we press on with the next witness. It's Mr Thomas Mockridge. MR THOMAS MOCKRIDGE (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Mr Mockridge, please make yourself comfortable. I am going to ask that you be provided with one file, which I see is not in front of you. It's file 1, which is entitled "Bundle for News International", which will contain your two, if not three, witness statements. They're to your right. Thank you very much. First of all, your full name.
A. Thomas Mockridge.
Q. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Mockridge, I've said this to each of the titles that I visited: I spent some time at News International before the Inquiry started and I saw a number of the editorial floors on which you operate and I'm grateful for the courtesy you've extended to me.
A. Thank you. MR JAY Mr Mockridge, your first statement is dated 14 October of last year and has a statement of truth; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. That's under our tab 6 and it bears the number 07774. Your second statement is dated 16 December of last year and updates the position on two matters. Again, it has a statement of truth. Your third statement, for which you wish to apply in due course for protection under Section 19 of the Inquiries Act, qualifies paragraph 6.6 of your first statement in a way in which I understand you do not wish to raise publicly. Is that so?
A. That is correct.
Q. So we won't go further into that, but subject to that specific matter, this is your truthful evidence?
A. Yes.
Q. Mr Mockridge, we've carefully read your statements. The purpose of your giving evidence is just for me to draw out a number of discrete points in relation to what is currently happening at News International, because you are the chief executive officer of the company. Is that so?
A. I am.
Q. You have been since the departure of Rebekah Brooks in July of last year. Is that so?
A. Yes.
Q. For those who are not fully aware of the relationship between the various companies within News Corporation, there is a helpful family tree which we see under our tab 2 and bears the number 53570.
A. Which I have, yes.
Q. Thank you. This, of course, will be deeply familiar to you but not to all those who are following the Inquiry. The ultimate parent company is incorporated in the US, News Corporation, and there are various regulatory provisions, particularly in 2002, I think, which apply to that. NI Group Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corporation?
A. That's correct.
Q. Then it bifurcates, if I can so describe it: News Group Newspapers Limited, which formerly included the News of the World but now just is the Sun, and then we have Times Newspapers Holdings Limited, which ultimately divide into the Times and the Sunday Times; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. We can see and we'll be hearing evidence of this in a moment the position of the independent national directors who, as it were, are above TNHL. Is that so?
A. That is correct.
Q. You give us your employment history in your statement. I'm not going to cover that in any detail, save to point out that you've been involved with News International for some considerable time now before you became chief executive officer; is that correct?
A. I've been involved with News Corporation and its subsidiaries, but not News International.
Q. Thank you. May I ask you, please, generally about your dealings with Mr Rupert Murdoch. How frequent are those?
A. In this role?
Q. Yes.
A. It will vary week to week. In some weeks, I will speak to simultaneous several times via the phone. In some weeks, I might not speak to him at all.
Q. It may be a difficult question put at this level of generality, but what sort of things is he interested in?
A. I should say first of all it's not necessarily relating to News International, because I continue to have responsibilities in other parts of the company. He is interested fundamentally in the business. Frequently our discussion would be how our advertising revenue is progressing. He's interested in the news in general terms and will be interested in observations about what is current in British society and what issues we might be reporting. He's also interested in the progress of this Inquiry and the progress we're making in the company in updating and changing compliance and these issues. So a broad range of issues.
Q. You tell us in paragraph 2.5 that the NI board is now meeting monthly to accommodate the work being performed in the area of compliance. Again, in general terms, are you able to give us a thumbnail sketch of that work, please, since July of last year in the area of compliance?
A. I think in particular what we have sought to do is to update/refresh the whole range of compliance policies and in particular improve the communications of the compliance policies. My observation has been that even where an existing policy is completely thorough and appropriate, if it's not well communicated, then it's much more difficult to expect people to comply with it. So I think a lot of that just goes to the language, the drafting, the way it is presented to employees. Sometimes that might mean the distribution of a hard copy document, as we did with the News Corporation standards of conduct. The mere device of that reminds people of the issues in that document. Sometimes it might mean using the intranet and the Internet devices to refresh. I think it's a broad-ranging objective to make sure that policies which were generally required before are correctly up-to-date and communicated.
Q. Thank you. At paragraph 2.6, you remind us of the position of the independent national directors following undertakings given to the Secretary of State for trade and industry, as he then was, in 1981. We're going to hear a bit more about that in a moment. As for the policies which, as at the time of writing of this statement, were in the process of being approved and implemented, that's paragraph 2.8(iv), is that right, at page 07777?
A. 2.8(iv) on page 5, as I have it, yes.
Q. We do have those policies in separate bundles. At that stage, some of the policies were in the process of being approved, but am I right in saying that policies (i) to (iv) have been rolled out since the date this statement was signed off?
A. It's correct the first four have been rolled out and the fifth is actually available on the intranet in a draft form, but has to be finalised.
Q. Thank you. The payments policy is going to be covered in some more detail by the next witness. What responsibility, if any, do NI board members have for the ethics of the newspapers?
A. I believe the board members have a general responsibility to contribute to ethics. I would think ethics itself, as other witnesses have described, is a subjective term, not an objective one, but I think the standards that the board sets, the way the board itself behaves, contributes to the overall ethics of any company, equally ours.
Q. In what way, do you think, Mr Mockridge?
A. I think if the board shows an interest to apply itself to, as we are doing now, set clear and well-communicated policies, that itself is a message to the employees of the company of the manner they're expected to behave.
Q. Thank you. I'm going to pass over, if I may, taking them as read, a significant number of paragraphs, and ask you, please, to look at paragraph 12.4, our page 07785. You are careful to define your terms, the difference between a "private investigator" on the one hand and a "search agency" on the other. You're clear about who a private investigator is: someone who holds himself or itself out as being skilled in sourcing information which is not otherwise publicly available, on the one hand, and the search agency only looks at publicly available records. Do you know that from your own knowledge, that that is what a search agency confines itself to?
A. This is what I've been advised by my colleagues, and particularly editorial staff.
Q. Have you asked editorial staff closely about (Alarm sounds) The search agency, what they do, or their modus operandi, was something you've been told about by the editorial department. Is that so?
A. Yes.
Q. Are you aware of evidence in relation to Mr Whittamore, who might have described himself quite accurately as a search agency, but deploying methods which were illegal methods?
A. I'm aware in general terms of that evidence and I'm aware that this was an issue in the past, although I think these definitions are relevant today.
Q. It's not so much the definitions, I think, Mr Mockridge. It's more what goes on by search agents and whether you've undertaken steps to satisfy yourself that the search agents News International employs are deploying lawful as opposed to unlawful methods. What have you done about that?
A. What I'm completely confident that they are. I have required of the editors and the managing editors that as it's stated here, first of all, we don't at this time employ private investigators and secondly that search agents, like other suppliers to the company, are subject to the general governance of the company, so they cannot operate in ways differently from what employees would.
Q. Is that right, necessarily, Mr Mockridge, in relation to an independent contractor? Unless enquiry is made of the independent contractor as to how he or it is operating, you won't know? It is merely aspirational that the search agency is comporting itself legally?
A. I think it requires positive control. I think it's fair to say people are particularly sensitive to this issue at this time, given recent history. I'm confident that at this time there is no leakage in the policy and it would require ongoing attention to ensure that's the case.
Q. In relation to private investigators, as you've defined them, the policy now is that editors need to seek your approval before engaging any private investigators. Up to now, you've never given your approval. Under what circumstances might you give your approval?
A. I would await a request and consider it at the time.
Q. You point out under paragraph 14.1 that you're actively developing a policy in that regard. Is that so?
A. That is correct.
Q. Your second statement now, Mr Mockridge. I'm not going to ask about paragraph 2.4, but you rightly update the Inquiry as to the position and the arrest of one individual. Can I ask you to clarify paragraph 5. This is the access to a computer by a reporter at the Times. Are we talking about an internal computer or are we talking about a third party's computer?
A. I believe it was a third-party computer.
Q. Are there any specific issues which have caused you concern since you took over as chief executive officer outside the ambit of phone hacking, issues which you've discovered which you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention?
A. I don't think there's anything I would draw to the Inquiry's attention separately from the investigations which are progressing and which I think in time results of which will be notified to the authority to the Inquiry.
Q. This is the internal investigation
A. The internal investigation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON This is the one chaired by Lord Grabiner?
A. Correct.
Q. Do you feel that there has been a change in culture since your arrival as regards cash payments in particular, whether to sources, on the one hand, or to staff in relation to their expenses on the other?
A. There's certainly been a change or a more clear definition of policy rather than a change. I think in terms of culture it's a question of I've been there six months. I think any culture in any organisation is something that evolves over time. It will obviously change more quickly with change of personnel, so I think it might be overambitious to say culture entirely has changed in six months, but I think there has been a change in the governing structure. It's well understood through the business, the policies have been rolled out with training and information, and I believe the individuals are rigorously applying the policy.
Q. Do you have a policy for risk management?
A. News Corporation has a risk management policy. NI, as a subdivision of the company, doesn't have a separate risk management policy.
Q. So it applies the news corporation policies; is that how it works?
A. That is correct.
Q. Is catastrophic editorial error, however you like to put it, one such risk?
A. It's not defined as a separate to my knowledge, it's not defined as a separate item in the risk management policy, no.
Q. Of course, you have oversight and this is my final question over two subsidiary companies, one of which, NGN, is responsible for the Sun. The other, TNHL, is responsible for the Times and the Sunday Times. In terms of compliance, is there any difference between those two separate companies and the newspapers they run?
A. In terms of compliance, no. The policies of NI apply equally to all three title or the two companies which encompass the three titles. MR JAY Thank you, Mr Mockridge. Those are all the specific questions I have for you, having taken the rest of your statement as read. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I have a couple. Mr Mockridge, you arrived in this country six months ago. Your work has taken you to various parts of the world. I'm not asking you to foreshadow what Lord Grabiner might say or recommend, but I am asking if you are prepared to share with us, from your bird's eye perspective and experience in the business of journalism over many years, your view of where we've got to in this country and where you believe we should be going.
A. Thank you for a broad question. I would maybe make the caveat that as a newcomer to this country, clearly my observations are relying on a relatively short period of time, and that I've worked in four significant separate markets: firstly, New Zealand and Australia, both of which are broadly derivative of the United Kingdom. I would note in both these countries there are self-regulatory mechanisms for the press which appear to be working effectively. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Although there are reviews, at least in one of the countries, I think possibly both.
A. There's certainly a review in Australia at this time. Again, we'll see how that evolves. I'd be very surprised if it changed the fundamental self-regulation position. I would point out that both Australia and New Zealand share the principle of the United Kingdom that there is no constitutional requirement of free speech, but I think all three societies would regard that as a fundamental element of the way they operate, and I share the view of many of your other witnesses that in this society, where there is not a constitutional guarantee of free speech, for the government to make laws which intervene in the press would contravene that basic principle and undermine the principle of a free press. I think in the other markets I've worked in I don't think there is much to learn from Hong Kong, due to the particular constitutional circumstances of Hong Kong, although I should point out it does have a vibrant press Chinese-language press. In Italy, the press is not directly regulated by the government, but it is subject to influence in several ways, in particular by very extensive state subsidies for newspapers, and also by a requirement that to be a journalist you must pass a state-sponsored exam. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's an exciting proposition.
A. It's an exciting concept. It was actually implemented in the 1930s by a prime minister who was legally appointed in Italy and who was legally removed from office, but I don't know that this structure from Italy is much to learn from. But I think the general lesson is that state intervention in the press diminishes the free press. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But there is a difference, isn't there, between state intervention and the state provision of a mechanism which permits independent regulation?
A. I don't accept that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Why not?
A. Because once the state intervenes, the state intervenes. I think I would go to the principle of the United States, where the congress could not pass a law to have that effect, and LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, but we have to be a bit careful about that, because Parliament can pass a law about anything. It might be said it's the thin end of the wedge but the fact is that if a government were brought into office that wanted to change the system, whether they're amending a statute or passing a new statute makes not the slightest difference.
A. I would argue in the end this gives an extra responsibility to the United Kingdom, without a written constitution, without these guarantees, with guarantees which I find, coming here, are relying on a 1998 European Act there is an even greater responsibility for the state to limit its intervention. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure that's entirely fair. The European Convention, as you probably know, was drafted in large part by British constitution lawyers at the end of the war, and has been part of the law but only enforceable in this country directly since the Human Rights Act.
A. I don't I'm not actually familiar with the full detail. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand. That's why I felt it appropriate. My question, which was deliberately broad, as you say, was also to get your view about what your reaction, coming into this maelstrom, has been of the way in which the press operates in this country.
A. If I can, again, make a general honest remark. I think there are many people outside the United Kingdom who look at the British press with jealousy, due to the extent of competition and choice in this marketplace, and due to the ability of the press in general terms in the United Kingdom to examine stories, issues, to report with a freedom and holding to account that is not evident in other markets, which is a combination of the resources available to the press here, and the fact that and those resources essentially flow from the fact that there is a much greater readership of newspapers in the United Kingdom than certainly other European countries, with the exception of, I think, Germany and due to the history of the free press here. So everything might not be perfect but if we look at the great array of stories published in this country over the last decade, there is only a minute fraction of them which have been of particular interest to this Inquiry. I think that point of balance needs to be considered. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure "minute fraction" is right and I'm not sure I would necessarily agree with the characterisation of the situation that everything may not be perfect, and I wonder whether that's really how you intend to put it, given what you came into and what you must have heard over the last six months.
A. I'm talking about the situation today, not the circumstance, clearly, of five years ago, but I think in general this country enjoys something precious, and something which I say many people in other countries look up to. I think that's a balancing thing that needs to be very seriously considered. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I hope you'll agree that that's something that I've been trying to do, but that doesn't necessarily remove the responsibility of coping with those parts of the way in which the press operate that could not be described as either precious or perfect.
A. Certainly I agree. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. Thank you. Thank you very much.
A. Thank you. MR JAY Sir, Mr Pennant-Rea needs to be away before noon. He'll only be about ten minutes. May we hear from him now and then break? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Certainly. Certainly. MR RUPERT LASCELLES PENNANT-REA (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY First of all, Mr Pennant-Rea, if you would kindly give us your first name.
A. Rupert Lascelles Pennant-Rea.
Q. I'm going to ask that the second of our files be provided to you from the pile to your right, because under tab 6A we will find located there your witness statement. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Pennant-Rea, you provided from the independent national directors of Times Newspaper Holdings Limited a submission which I think was unsolicited and helpful and I'm grateful to you and your colleagues for doing so.
A. Thank you. I should emphasise this isn't my statement so much as on behalf of all of us. MR JAY Thank you. You're one of six independent national directors of the Times, but in terms of your own CV, you describe yourself succinctly as the chairman of the Economist group?
A. Yes.
Q. We can see the qualifications, and they're very distinguished, of your colleagues. Can I ask you about the circumstances in which the independent directors were set up. This was inextricably bound up, was it not, with undertakings given to the Secretary of State in 1981 when Mr Rupert Murdoch took over the Times. Is that so?
A. That's correct. The circumstances at the time were very much focused on editorial protection. The public view certainly the political view as expressed in the debate in the House of Commons was that if Rupert Murdoch got control of these two very important titles, there was a risk that their cherished independence would be lost, and the arrangement which was proposed by the government, accepted by Mr Murdoch, and which calmed the fears of many people in Parliament was the creation of independent national directors, whose specific role is there to protect the independence of the two editors.
Q. Thank you. You have been an independent director since when, Mr Pennant-Rea?
A. 2006, 2005.
Q. So you can tell us about what's happened over the last six or seven years. In your view, have the independent directors been able to accord that measure of protection to the editors from proprietorial influence or not?
A. The specific powers, responsibilities, that we were allocated in 1981 highlight the approval of any candidate for the editorship. So we have had one instance since I've been a director, in the case of the Times, where the editor was leaving to go to New York and a new editor was appointed. The proposal for his appointment was put to us. We interviewed him, we spent a couple of hours satisfying ourselves that he was indeed the person who should take on the responsibility of editing the Times. So that was one very specific occasion. By the same token, if ever there was a proposal to dismiss an editor, that would have to be put to the national directors for their approval, or if they chose, they would say, "No, we don't think that those are reasonable grounds to dismiss them." Beyond that specific occasion, we've had a number of meetings, formal and informal, with the editors. We attend quarterly board meetings of Times newspapers Holdings Limited and we are constantly having to ask ourselves: have the editors got (a) the budget to do the job that they need, and (b) the culture of freedom that gives them the right to edit the newspapers in the way they want? I think the best test of all has been the coverage of the phone hacking scandal, and here I'm not just giving my own view but the views of a lot of people who we have asked. Do they think that the coverage in the Times and the Sunday Times of the phone hacking scandal has been comprehensive and objective and fearless? And people like Anthony Lester have, on the record, said they think it has been.
Q. Can I just ask a number of follow-up questions. I think it's implicit from the first part of your answer that when consideration has been given to a new editor and that was Mr James Harding, in or about December 2007 the proposal was put to you by the proprietor; is that right?
A. It was put to us I mean, we heard about the proposed appointment from Les Hinton, who at the time was the chief executive of News International.
Q. Was there a shortlist or was there one candidate who you would either accept or reject?
A. One candidate.
Q. Did that cause you any concern, that you weren't being offered a choice? That presumably wasn't your expectation under the terms of the Secretary of State's undertaking?
A. It wasn't our expectation, but I should also perhaps add a more personal note here. I was editor of the Economist. The Economist has a system of trustees whose role is not dissimilar to that of the national directors of the Times and the Sunday Times, and in the case of my appointment, there was only one candidate put up by the board to the trustees for their consideration. I was interviewed by the trustees, who followed a very similar process. I found that perfectly satisfactory then and I found it satisfactory in the case of James Harding.
Q. Thank you. Would you expect either of your editors to draw to your attention matters of concern this is outside matters of budgetary stringency by which I mean in particular excessive proprietorial influence?
A. Absolutely.
Q. I think I know the answer to this question: have either of them done so?
A. No, they haven't. But we ask them the question from time to time to make quite sure that on particular issues and more generally there is any sense in which they feel subjected to pressure, and that is a very important part of what we're trying to do.
Q. You make it clear at page 3 on the internal numbering, 23515, you see your presence as the editorial equivalent of a nuclear weapon which you have the button of, on which you haven't been required ever to press.
A. Yes.
Q. Thank you. Further on in this page, you consider whether the Times model is or might be seen as an appropriate model elsewhere. You point to the particular circumstances which gave rise to the creation of independent national directors in 1981; is that right?
A. Yes. To that extent, of course, it's not a model, but the idea of trustees for particular titles, the sort that exist at the Guardian, at the Economist, I think that that could well be a model.
Q. Can I ask you about one particular aspect of this, and this is (d) on page 23516, level with the lower hole punch, where you say and I paraphrase: "Financial constraints are already restricting the freedom of editors." I just wanted to explore with you why you say that.
A. Well, I think all editorial budgets are under some pressure, at the same time as the world is becoming a more interesting and complicated place, and if you asked any editor what their ideal configuration of their editorial staff and particularly of their overseas offices would be, they would probably give you an answer that added up to rather more than the budgets they are actually having to operate under.
Q. Mm.
A. And that is ever thus, I'm afraid.
Q. The last page, two lines from the top: "Without wishing to exaggerate the importance of our role, we suspect that editors welcome protection against arbitrary pressure, whether that pressure comes from a powerful proprietor [well, that possibility you've already told us about], the commercial interests of advertisers, an overheated public, disgruntled colleagues or a knee-jerk government." I'm just wondering how, in practical terms, you're able to furnish any degree of protection to your editors from the last four factors you list there.
A. Well, in our case the answer is that's not our job, and I think it's quite important that we stick to what we were asked to do by the Secretary of State and I don't think anybody would welcome it if we were to extend or hope to try to extend our role. But I can see, in circumstances where you started from a different clean sheet of paper, how you could write the role of a trustee that would cover some of these points.
Q. In relation to the Economist, can you just help us with that? The role of the trustees, do they cover these areas or not?
A. Well, they are there to ensure that the editor has complete independence over his recruitment policy, promotion policy and, above all then, what is put in the paper week after week. And the editor can go to the trustees on any point if he felt that there was some undue pressure being exercised on him, and not purely a proprietorial pressure. In that sense, they are a sort of sounding board, a comfort. MR JAY Thank you very much, Mr Pennant-Rea for your evidence. We've read the rest of your statement, of course. I just wanted to alight, as I have done, on a number of specific matters. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much indeed.
A. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We'll take just seven minutes. (11.39 am) (A short break) MR JAY Sir, the next witness is Susan Panuccio. MS SUSAN LEE PANUCCIO (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY First of all, make your comfortable and your full name.
A. Susan Lee Panuccio.
Q. In file 1, under tab 8, you'll find a copy of your witness statement from 14 October last year.
A. That's correct.
Q. There's a statement of truth and your signature at the end. Is this your truthful evidence?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. Most of this, Ms Panuccio, we're taking as read. I'm just going to alight on a few points. You identify yourself as the chief finance officer of News International, in which post you were appointed in late June, 2008; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. You obviously had a career as an accountant and you started working for News International in 2004; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. Can I ask you about the payment system to third parties, which is clause 5.1 of your statement, at our page 07794. The editorial commissioning system which requires authorisation by the relevant desk head and by the managing editor's office, is that up to a threshold of ?50,000?
A. Yes. I think you'll note in here the only exception was on News of the World where certain desk heads could approve up to ?2,000 without the managing editor's approval, but yes, up to ?50,000.
Q. Thank you. Is this a system which was in place or has been in place at all material times since 2008?
A. Yes.
Q. I'm going to ask you next about cash payments. 5.1.3 on the next page: "Interim policy came into effect on 5 September 2011. I believe from documents I've seen that that policy is now in force." Is that right?
A. Yes, correct.
Q. What, in a nutshell, are the differences if any between this policy and the previous policy?
A. I think essentially there's a couple of differences. One, we now require the journalist to sign when they collect the cash. So before, we did allow administrative members of the team or runners to come and collect the cash. So the journalist actually has to collect the cash and sign. It also requires the editor's signature editor or deputy editor, as well as the managing editor or deputy managing editor's signature. It also covers elements of the Bribery Act, so it goes into a few more examples than it did before.
Q. So is this right: you've considerably tightened up on the controls and protections within this system?
A. We had the fundamental controls in place previously, and my understanding was that the editors were aware of the majority of cash payments that were made, but we didn't physically get them to sign, so there was no evidence that they had done that review.
Q. Is there an audit trail as to why the cash payment is being made and for what?
A. It depends on the type of cash payment. So we would expect that there is paperwork, obviously, in relation to any of the cash payments, but exactly what it is being used for depends on whether it's confidential or non-confidential. So for the non-confidential ones, we would have the name and the details on there. For the confidential ones, they wouldn't name the source but there may be a generic description about what the payment relates to.
Q. So would it just say "confidential enquiry" or would it say more about the story to which it related?
A. It could say "football story" or "showbiz story", something like that.
Q. How often does the source insist on a cash payment? Is this frequent or rare?
A. No, I think it's probably useful to have a bit of context on the Times and the Sunday Times, I think you know, the Times has not made any confidential cash payments since I've been there as CFO. I think the Sunday Times less than 10 in three and a half years. So it predominantly relates to the tabloid model. I think in relation to overall cash payments, they would make up certainly less than 1 per cent of the editorial budget.
Q. You say at the very end of 5.1.3, three-quarters of the way down page 7796, Ms Panuccio: "There are no limits on the amount of cash that can be requested, providing the request is appropriately authorised in line with the approved signatory list and so there's a threshold of ?50,000."
A. That's correct. If any payments came to light that were above that, then I would expect they would either be approved by the CEO or myself. The Pakistani cricket story would be a good example.
Q. I think the amount was ?150,000?
A. That's correct.
Q. Have there been other examples that high, or is that an exception?
A. That it is an exception. Certainly whilst I've been CFO there's been no other cash payments in excess of ?50,000. There have been a couple that sort of are in the 30 to 40,000 range and we would pick them up via finance, because obviously we have to facilitate the cash, but it gets approved within editorial.
Q. In relation to the Pakistani cricket story, what steps, if any, did you taking to satisfy yourself that (a) the payment was appropriate, and (b) you were getting value for money?
A. So the way it would typically work, obviously a story of that nature is very confidential and very sensitive, and the editor would have a conversation with the CEO in relation to that story. I then had a courtesy call from the editor to say that he required the cash. We obviously had to facilitate the cash payment. I spoke to the CEO to ensure that they were comfortable with the story and the provenance of it and we facilitated the cash payment following that.
Q. You cover staff expenses, paragraph 5.2.2, page 07798.
A. Yes.
Q. Has there been any change of practice or policy in relation to these expenses?
A. In March 2010, or around that time, we automated our expense system, so we it used to be a paper-based system and it went online and in conjunction with that, we did do a tightening up of the editorial expense policy. That was more in relation to the fact that we were doing cost cuts across the titles and the managing editors, together with my finance team, worked on a new policy just outlining what was appropriate and what was not in relation to claiming expenses.
Q. Since the demise of the News of the World in July of last year, and the media and other explosions which attended that, have you detected any change in attitude or culture or practice in the Sun in particular, I think I can ask the question, in the context of either staff expenses on the one hand or payment to sources on the other hand?
A. So we have definitely seen that the usage of cash payments has gone down considerably. So I think up until December so we run over a financial year ending 30 June, so up until December, so six months, our cash payments were less than ?50,000, which was significantly less than what they had been in the past. So I think, you know, the journalists, certainly within that first six months, were very nervous in relation to cash payments and obviously we were doing a lot of training and reinforcing a lot of policies. So I think there's just a lot more awareness of cash payments and the fact that we always have stipulated that where possible, we should use non-cash payments as a general practice. So I would say that yes, we have seen a reduction to that. In relation to staff expenses, I think staff expenses, certainly over the last few years and since we implemented the new policy in March 2010, have been pretty consistent. MR JAY Yes, thank you very much. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you take a story like the cricket scandal, presumably there's a lot more money involved in that than the cash payment for the story?
A. That's correct. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And all that money is paid through with an audit trail associated with it?
A. Yes. So there would be expenses incurred in getting the story travel expenses, accommodation expenses, depending on where the story is, and yes, all of that would be auditable, have an audit trail. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY Thank you very much, Ms Panuccio. The next witness is Mr James Harding. MR JAMES PAUL HARDING (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Please make yourself comfortable, Mr Harding. Your full name.
A. Is James Paul Harding.
Q. Thank you. Might I ask you to bring to hand file 2, entitled, "Bundle for News International, the Times and Sunday Times". You're under tab 1. That is a witness statement you gave and it is signed under a statement of truth on 14 October of last year. Is that your truthful evidence?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. You probably want to incorporate into that statement I don't know whether you have it to hand a leader in the Times this morning. I have a spare copy for you.
A. Thank you.
Q. Which, it's fair to say, gives us advance notice of some of the issues your evidence covers, but there are just some isolated questions, if I may, on your witness statement before I delve into the leader. You, of course, are the editor of the Times and have been, is this right, since December of 2007. Before then, you had a career primarily at the Financial Times for 11 years, between 1994 and 2005; is that correct?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Thank you very much. Some specific points on your statement, which of course we've looked at carefully. Page 2 this is 7822 where you explain you don't have a readers' editor as such, but of course you have a Letters to the Editor column which has probably been there for a couple of hundred years, and a feedback editor who serves as an ombudsman. How does he or she operate?
A. She is I suppose she serves much as a readers' editor does in other newspapers. We happen to call her the feedback editor. She receives letters and emails and comments about the papers and the papers online, and she will respond to those either directly but she also runs a weekly column that we run in Saturday's paper alongside our leading columnist.
Q. Is she expected to operate in a quasi-independent manner?
A. Yes, she is. So if there is concern about a piece of reporting or a question from a reader, she will regularly go and speak to the relevant journalist or the relevant head of department to understand our thinking and our processes in that reporting.
Q. Presumably, her remit is to provide a balanced response to any opinion piece or perhaps even a factual piece which is in the paper, so that we get a sense of the calibration of readers' views in reaction to anything you might have printed; is that right?
A. Yes, that's right, and one of the other things we've done is we introduced a few years ago just a little column called "You the editor", which runs beneath the daily letters page, and the purpose of that is to allow people not just to comment on what they think is right or wrong with the paper in a factual sense, but in terms of emphasis, in terms of the way in which the paper's been edited, precisely, as you say, to make sure the readers feel as though they can comment on the paper they get every day. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And that's not the subject of editorial modification?
A. No. MR JAY Thank you. Your evidence also covers the position of the Times independent directors. Obviously we've just heard from one of them. Is there anything you'd like to add or subtract from the evidence Mr Pennant-Rea gave us, particularly in his dealings with you?
A. I thought he gave a very good account of the role of the independent national directors, and clearly within the context of this Inquiry and thinking about the potential role of trustees, I'd endorse what he said.
Q. Thank you. On the next page, 07823, under paragraph 3, you say in the middle of that paragraph you seek to set the culture of the paper. First of all, what do you mean by that, and secondly, how do you seek to set the culture of the paper?
A. Can I answer both in a sort of practical and a principle sense? The practical fact is that a newspaper's day is quite clearly structured. We have a news conference mid-morning and a leader conference that follows that, then an afternoon conference and then we're on the back bench reviewing the paper that we're putting out. The most important job of the editor is to make sure that he or she has an eye on creating the best possible getting the best possible paper out the following day, and that's with a view to breaking news on the front page, serving the readers in terms of the full range of news coverage, and providing, again, a range of opinions on the opinion pages and a strong view in the editorial column, in the leader column of the paper. So that's, in the very practical sense, the way in which you set the culture of the paper and the way in which you direct it on a daily basis. Of course, it's also set in terms of what you choose to do and what you choose not to do, and in that news conference, which generally is attended by heads of department or their deputies, that's where you discuss what stories you're looking into and sometimes it will also be the way you're looking into those stories. So the culture of the paper is set through those meetings, as well as, of course, the private conversations and the other conversations that happen through the day.
Q. Since your arrival in December 2007, what changes, if any, have you perceived in the culture of the paper?
A. Well, of course, the largest by far has been: how do you take a newspaper which, for 225 years, was printed entirely on paper, and say how do you produce editions of the Times that live up to what our readers expect of the Times but not in print but on screen? So one of the very big changes has been moving to a 24-hour newsroom, moving to a whole range of different devices and journalistically that, of course, has meant that we can do things very differently, the incorporation of videos and interactive graphics and all that. So that means that our journalism is changing very rapidly, as is the way that our readers are consuming the Times.
Q. Thank you. The question of sources you cover in paragraph 6 in a manner which I think is now quite familiar to us, but one straightforward question: do you ever print stories on the basis of one source alone?
A. Very, very rarely. But, yes, you would if that source was most likely if that source was pivotal in the story. There are, of course, stories where there is only one source. So you will try to get multiple sourcing for any story but you wouldn't close the door on a story simply because it only had one source. You would just have to interrogate properly what the motives of that person were and what their role in that story was.
Q. The key to the reputation and, as you say, the commercial viability of the Times is your relationship with your readers, both current readers and, you hope, prospective readers. But how do you, as it were, log in to the aspirations, reactions and view points of your readers to what you're producing so as better to improve your product?
A. Firstly, as you say, I think there's long been a view held by the readers of the Times, and certainly by editors of the Times, that the most important page in the paper is the letters page, that you understand the range of interests, the depths of the passions and also the extent of the knowledge of the people that you're writing for, that at the root of the paper is a respect for the intelligence of our readers. In the modern world, of course, that comes at you every which way, so I will receive not just those letters every day, but emails directly to me, or I'll get telephone calls directly to the office. There's a running commentary, of course, on what the paper does and says on Twitter, not to mention in the pages of other papers or on other blogs, so I do feel as though we're keenly aware of what is being said about the paper, good and bad.
Q. On the issue of sources, paragraph 17 I think this chimes with the evidence of the previous witnesses, that aside from freelancers, it isn't the practice of the Times to pay sources for stories; is that right?
A. That's right.
Q. On the issue of collision between private rights and public interest, again, it may not be an issue which often affects what the Times is writing about, but how do you weigh up in general terms the public interest in publishing a story against the private rights of individuals? Where do you see the line falling?
A. Well, this is at the heart of the work of this Inquiry, I suppose. There is clearly no absolute right of privacy and there's no absolute right of freedom of expression, and I think that what you're always doing is addressing what is a sliding scale. The question you have to ask yourself is, when you authorise a level of intrusion or when a story is going to have a certain impact as a consequence of the exposure of the person or the institution involved: what is the merit of that story? What is the nature and the importance of the public interest? And it is a judgment, and it is a judgment that editors make. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Can you give any example of your having to make that sort of judgment? I appreciate you're not doing certain types of the stories that we've particularly focused on.
A. Well, I guess I'll give a recent example. In the pursuit of the story about the nature of the former defence secretary's relationship with his friend Adam Werritty, clearly we were seeking to understand how it was that Dr Liam Fox was finding himself in foreign capitals accompanied by this person who had no official role, and there was a line of inquiry which seemed to be pursued which was about the nature of that personal relationship. You could have held off reporting on the grounds that you were concerned about treading on those toes. It seemed clear to us that there was a public interest in understanding the nature of that relationship, and the line that we pursued was to understand how Adam Werritty's travels were financed. We then were it then was made available to the paper the bank accounts of Adam Werritty's company, which exposed not only the way in which he spent that money but the people who had funded him and his work. Clearly, that was an intrusion in terms of his life and in terms of the individuals that had funded him. I took the judgment that this was clearly in the public interest and the nature of external influence on the Secretary of State for defence was something the public should know about. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So the greater the public interest, the higher the potential level of legitimate intrusion can become?
A. I think so, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And it works the other way around?
A. I would have thought so, yes. MR JAY Thank you. Before I get to your ideas for the future, which you've set out in detail and in writing, a miscellany of questions. Was the Times offered the MPs' expenses story?
A. Yes, I think we were one of a number of papers that was approached about that story.
Q. By implication well, it's not a necessary implication the Times turned it down. Why was that?
A. We generally don't, as I mentioned, pay for stories, and on that occasion we took the view that we shouldn't be in the business of paying for stolen goods, that there would not necessarily be a public interest defence for that. If you remember, sir, in this case, what you had to pay for was the right to look at what you could look at. So there was a fee, as I remember it, for looking at the at a selection of the disks before you actually acquired them. It may be the case you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. You look back there may have been a public interest defence in that case. There was undoubtedly a public interest in the publication of that story, and going back to the point you just made, if there's a lesson there and I certainly this is certainly the lesson that I drew, it was that you have to have a set of rules in a newsroom, you have to have a set of standards and a culture, but you also have to be willing to break them in the event that you're presented with a story that is overwhelmingly in the public interest. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's quite a hard call before you've got to the four corners of the story.
A. It is. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Does that require some structure around it for you or you're happy to say, "Well, that's my call, that's what I get paid for and I don't need any help to do that; I just need to be able to think about it"?
A. Well, it I think there are two issues there. How do you pursue a story when you don't know exactly where it's going? That was the point about the Liam Fox/Adam Werritty example. You didn't know where you would end up. In that, I think the issue is you should be able to pursue a shareholder when you're acting in the reasonable belief that it is in the public interest. I think that's very important. And the question about the responsibility of the editor, I do think it's absolutely right that the responsibility lies with the editor. As soon as you try to farm that out, you either compromise the independence and the freedom of journalists to investigate, and you also compromise the commercial organisation or the individuals who oversee the paper. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON To take your first point first, then I'll allow Mr Jay to continue, I entirely agree that you don't know where the story is going before you've done the story. Isn't that a very good reason for saying that you need to have some sort of audit trail I'm not talking about anything overly complex to demonstrate that at the time you were making your decision, these were the features of the information you had which led you to reach the conclusion that it was in the public interest to do what you were going to do, so that even if nothing came of it and then there was a complaint, you could say, "This isn't retrospective thinking; this is actually what I was thinking about at the time and there it is"?
A. Yes. I think one of the things that we've learnt watching this Inquiry is that there is a real value in having an audit trail at the very simple at the simplest level is to show that there is a process, because sometimes it's unclear to people outside the paper that we have run a very thorough process in that investigation. This comes with one caveat: I don't want a newsroom to spend more time reporting on its own activities than what's happening elsewhere, so I think our view is that and what we're putting in place is an audit trail which is clear that when there are issues of concern, that we log those meetings and we can trace back that LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There must be a level below which it becomes unduly bureaucratic but above which it is appropriate to do something. The trick is going to be to find out where the level is, and that's a judgment call in itself.
A. I think so. I think actually, I'm not sure that the issue is at much the level as the mechanism. So in our because sometimes it can be a very small issue that actually grows into something much bigger. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. So I think the simplest mechanism, at least in terms of the newsroom of the Times, is to be clear that when one of our journalists is consulting a lawyer, that we log the fact that that meeting has happened, because the reality is that whenever there is an issue of concern to a journalist is this going to raise concerns about bribery, blagging, is this going to be a data protection issue any of those, not to mention the big privacy issues, the first instinct is to say, "Let's consult our lawyers." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You have to be a bit careful about that, because if you're ever called upon to justify it, you would want to know what somebody was thinking, and the great snag about that, as I've seen in connection with many of the statements that I've received, is people say, "Hang on, this is legal advice and I'm not prepared to waive privilege."
A. You won't be surprised that that's what our lawyers also have told me. I think the issue here is to figure out a way that you log the fact of these meetings without necessarily, as I say, getting into a situation where you're endlessly reporting on yourselves. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. MR JAY Move off expenses onto a different story. There is a conception I'm not saying a preconception that the Times and perhaps even the Sunday Times but I'm only asking you about the Times was rather slow to pick up the phone hacking story, possibly because of external pressures. Is that fair, Mr Harding?
A. If you look back at the coverage of phone hacking, look, it's clearly the case that the Guardian broke that original story in the summer of 2009. We followed that story immediately the following day. We had a story up online by lunchtime, another story in the paper the following day. Through the course of the months that followed, we covered it too, and occasionally on the front page. What changed, of course, was when it emerged that the News of the World appeared to have hacked into the voicemails of Milly Dowler. Then the way in which we thought about what was happening or what had happened at the News of the World fundamentally changed, and that was not just about how widespread it was, but about the nature of the journalistic inquiry there. And after that, what you saw is that we covered that story on the front page every day, day in and day out, for the better part of three weeks. We not only did that in the pages of the paper; we also ran leaders that criticised the News of the World for not just its methods but whether or not it had lost its moral bearings. We criticised News International for its catastrophic handling of it and we criticised Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch for overseeing an inadequate corporate culture that allowed this to happen. So I guess behind your question there is always a question of whether or not we really address the stories, whether we call it as we see it. I think in this case what you saw was we did exactly that, and I should say to the credit of the proprietors that they never raised a finger to stop us doing so.
Q. Might it not be said that you were a bit slow here? I appreciate I think the timing of the Milly Dowler story was 4 July of last year, but certainly for 18 months before that, the Guardian was saying, "Look, this isn't confined to one rogue reporter; it was widespread." Wasn't it at that moment that the Times ought to have had an interest in the importance of the story, it might be argued?
A. Yes, looking back I certainly wish that we'd got on the story harder earlier. The reality, of course, is that both News International and the police poured cold water on it at the time, and we went to the sources that we had to try and chase it up and ran off those. It was only later that we could fully get to grips with it, but of course it was and has proved a very important and significant story.
Q. I can't expect you to start identifying the sources you went to. Were they journalistic sources?
A. Sorry, I don't understand what you mean.
Q. You said that you went to the sources you had in order to find out whether the News International/News of the World line was correct: one rogue reporter. My query was: did you go to journalistic stories? What sort of source did you go to?
A. I think the point that I'm making is that, looking back on it, if you're trying to understand why was the Guardian better sourced on this story than the Times, I think the answer to that is self-evident: if you wanted to bring this story, you would probably not immediately bring it to a newspaper that was owned by Rupert Murdoch, precisely because you had that suspicion, even though I would take the view that that suspicion is wrongly held.
Q. Thank you. Can I ask about the question of proprietorial influence, if any. I suspect I know the answer to this, but do you feel under any influence under pressure from the proprietor?
A. When I joined the paper I joined the paper just after the Times had endorsed Labour at the general election and the Sunday Times had endorsed the tories, and it seemed quite clear to me that these were papers that were free to express themselves, politically and in all things, as they saw fit. In my experience, I should say, Rupert Murdoch had a number of undertakings when he bought the papers in 1981 and they are quite expressly made that there should be no interference in the opinion of the paper, in the political commentary of the paper, and my experience of that is that he's always respected that.
Q. Thank you. In terms of his contact with you, presumably most of the time by phone, how frequent is it?
A. It varies a great deal. So sometimes you won't hear from him for weeks, then occasionally there will be things that are happening and you'll get a couple of calls in a week. And usually that is driven by the news. So in the run-up to Christmas, we spoke quite often because he was very interested, as was I, in what was happening in the eurozone. He'd heard certain things he wanted to talk about. He wanted to know how I saw things. So in that context, he'll call and we'll discuss that, as well as other things.
Q. Can I ask you please about your dealings, if any, with politicians, socially or semi-socially. I've asked similar questions of other editors. How often do you meet politicians in the highest office or shadowing those in the highest office?
A. I try to meet with them pretty regularly, by which I mean once every few months, once every six months, and I've noticed the fact that this has been an issue that has come up regularly in the Inquiry and I think I'd like to make the point that for journalists, access is very important. It's important to speak to the people that you write about to find out what's going on. Sometimes it will be to make the case to them when it comes to your criticisms of them, your questions of them, your complaints about the way in which they're handling things, and to give them a forum to answer to. I have no doubt they have their own agenda when they see us. I think I do, and I hope my journalists regularly speak to politicians and people of power and influence and do so to pursue journalistic lines of inquiry.
Q. How often since May 2010 have you met with Mr Cameron?
A. Um I don't have the number to hand, but he will now because do you remember since the summer they announced a log of every time we'd met? Do you have the number?
Q. No, I think all we need is a broad sense of the number?
A. Since May 2010, so in the last year and a half? I would have thought around half a dozen times, maybe a bit more, but I'm happy to go back and check and give you the exact number. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I don't know that that's important, but I just don't want you to miss the point that I think is behind Mr Jay's question. It's entirely understandable that journalists will want to pursue stories with politicians, with generals, with bishops, with judges, with whomsoever you like in our society on a general level. The real question is whether, because of the extent of the contact, it is possible for newspapers overly to influence government policy. An example could be the decision not to implement the amendments to the 1998 Act.
A. Oh, I see. (Pause) All I can say to that is that's not been my experience. My experience is that the subject of the conversations that we've had are always the matters of the day, that actually when we get in the room, the conversation that you have with the prime minister or the chancellor or the leader of the opposition is: what direction are they taking the economy, what do they think they should or shouldn't be doing on issues of policy. It's I'm just racking my brains, but I think it's safe to say that that's never been the subject of conversations that I've had with politicians. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not suggesting that it isn't sometimes appropriate for people to be able to lobby their causes.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But if journalists have particular access and a particular megaphone, namely their newspapers, I'm sure you understand the risk of the perception that they may be used in some way that suits the pair of them, both the journalists and the politicians.
A. But actually, Lord Justice Leveson, I am concerned that journalists would be able to walk into the offices of a politician or a minister and be able to lobby their own commercial causes, or their own interests. I think that when people like me go into the offices of walk down Downing Street or walk into the palace of Westminster, we are there representing our readers, and we should be there pursuing politicians to justify what they're doing, to question them, not to be making the case in the best interests of our newspaper. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I happen to entirely agree with you, which is why I said I'm not suggesting that it isn't sometimes appropriate for people, and I did not necessarily say journalists
A. Oh, I see, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON to be able to lobby their causes.
A. Yes. But I guess one of the reasons why we are and I realise we're jumping ahead of ourselves, but one of the reasons why I take and I think the paper takes such a strong view on the issue of statutory regulation is the one set of people that you want to trust to walk into the offices of state and have nothing to gain or lose by the nature of the conversation they have is journalists. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If one could.
A. If one could. MR JAY Do you ever get a sense, though, Mr Harding, that politicians are seeking to manipulate either you or, equally importantly, your journalists, who are providing so-called exclusives?
A. Of course. There is a process in which politicians seek to use the pages of the press to make their case, to win their arguments, to secure reelection, and the job of journalists and the job of reporters is to distinguish between what is the official reality or the preferred political reality and what's really going on.
Q. It's been put to me by those who have been observing the Times very closely that you don't like to splash on a story that's been on the television the night before. That's understandable these days. You therefore want exclusives, very often from politicians, and therefore that exposes the risk that you might be manipulated by politicians, often at short notice perhaps, to put in a particular story or spin on a story.
A. That's an interesting I think quite a convoluted observation. It's an interesting one. I would say that my experience is that Downing Street and politicians in general build programmes, build announcements, with a view to landing them on the 6 o'clock news, on the 10 o'clock news. Actually, that is quite a managed and choreographed way of dealing with the news. Actually going out and trying to, as I say, report what's really going on, find out what's possibly off the Downing Street diary but nonetheless of sufficient significance to our readers to be on the front page of the Times is a serious way to conduct our journalism.
Q. We've heard a lot about agenda-driven journalism. How, if at all, does the Times seek to avoid that phenomenon?
A. First, can I make a small defence of agenda-driven journalism?
Q. Please do.
A. Sometimes, a journalist or an editor will be gripped by a particular issue or idea and will make a point of going after a particular line of reporting. So in the last year, the Times has reported again and again on, you might say, a campaigning footing about the scandal of adoption in this country and the failures of our adoption system. And similarly, we have sought, over a period of more than two years, to draw attention to the plight of a woman, Sakineh Ashtiani, who has been imprisoned and threatened with the death sentence and threatened with stoning, and you would say our coverage of that has been disproportionate. It has been in the service of an agenda. Of course it has, and that's what newspapers should do. So I make that small defence. I think that when people talk about agenda-driven reporting in terms of more broad news coverage and the service to our readers that we provide in telling them what's happening in their communities and countries, the point I'd make is that that really misunderstands the nature of a newsroom and the nature of journalists. We are a pretty independent-minded bunch of people, and we want to pursue the story and pursue it where it leads us. If you try to constrain journalists, what you'll often find is that you don't get the best people working for you and you don't land the best stories, and actually, more broadly, when it comes to issues of opinion, certainly in the case of the Times, if you're not providing a broad range of opinion and you're not surprising, sometimes challenging your readers, too, you're disappointing them. So I don't feel as though that's the nature of the Times.
Q. Does this have something to do with your perception of what your readers want, that they want to be challenged, that they don't want to be fed a particular line on a particular issue or a range?
A. Yes, I guess that gets back to the initial point you made about: how do you go get a sense of where your readers are? What's the nature of your contact with them? You only need to read the letters page of the Times to get a flavour of that, and as I say, I get much more of that simply through emails and other forms of communication.
Q. To take a non-political subject such as religion or the conflict between religion and science, it might be said: well, the Times is very even-handed here. It publishes the Dawkins line and it has a range of religious opinions which it is careful to give equal prominence to over the course of a year. Is that right?
A. I think that absolutely is right. I remember when we published Steven Hawkings' latest work, an excerpt from his latest book, there was a phenomenal response. We also then heard the following day from the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Westminster, the chief rabbi, the leading imam in the country. I think it's important that a newspaper like the Times is the place where people come to debate some of the most strongly felt issues that are alive in society.
Q. Thank you. May I come now, please, to your leader of today.
A. Yes.
Q. Which I'm probably right in saying is largely, if not wholly, your own work, is it?
A. I'm afraid to say it is largely my own work, but I am lucky at the Times to have very clever people who I consulted with. But all thoughts are mine. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I certainly agree with the first sentence.
A. Yes, and I could well understand if you couldn't get further. I realise it's quite long. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I've read it. MR JAY Standing back from it and before looking at the detail, this general question: to what extent is the leader a response to the evidence the Inquiry has heard? In other words, would you have written the same thing on 14 November of last year, or expressed the same opinions, rather?
A. It's been significantly influenced by what's been happening here in this room. If you believe deeply in a free press and free expression, what is happening here is of enormous importance, and of course you've been affected both emotionally by some of the evidence that was given right at the beginning of this Inquiry but also forced to think technically about some of the possible responses that you will make to it.
Q. In terms of the evidence the Inquiry received and of course, Lord Justice Leveson will form his own view about it was that evidence a revelation to you or did it merely chime with your own perception of where we were with the press generally or certain quarters of it in particular?
A. Both. At times, you were surprised and at times people said things that you were familiar with. I think if you talk about this leader and the way in which what's been happening here has shaped it, some of the issues that we wouldn't that I wouldn't previously have been quite so exercised about I've become much more exercised about, and some of the small not smaller but some of the more technical questions have seemed to me have loomed much larger. So I don't know whether you want to go into it in any detail?
Q. Yes. Yes, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Let me make it abundantly clear this is very valuable, because instead of using the time we have to elicit these views from you, we can use the views and move it on a stage, so
A. Good. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON to that extent, it's very helpful. MR JAY It's clear that you're keen on independent regulation, but you draw a bright line really between that and statutory regulation, which you are entirely opposed to. May we just understand why you are opposed to statutory regulation and perhaps define your terms again?
A. There has been a great deal of discussion about how this Inquiry could respond to the task that it's been given, and I think it's been very clear from Lord Justice Leveson and from everyone involved that we don't want a country in which the government, the state, regulates the press, that we don't want to be in a position where the prime minister decides what goes in newspapers and what doesn't, and everyone agrees with that. Then there's a second order of conversation which is: what happens if you introduced an independent regulator but it had some kind of statutory backstop, that there was something in law and that the state had the capacity to oversee that independent regulator? And actually, the more I thought about that, the more deeply opposed I was to that, because either that backstop would have been meaningless, ineffectual, or what you have is actual state regulation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Now let me change the word "oversee", and let me say "provides only a framework".
A. Right, this is, I guess, the third element of it. I have to confess in the recent weeks I was coming around to the idea that what could happen at the end of this Inquiry would be that Lord Justice Leveson, you would outline a new framework for regulation and it would be recognised in an Act of Parliament, and the more I thought about that, the more uncomfortable I was with it, and it's for this reason: instead of looking back at what's happened in terms of phone hacking over the recent years, if you look forward ten years' time, and a Leveson Act was in place, my concern is that you would be a journalist walking down Downing Street or walking into the Commons and be aware that if you were potentially too critical or possibly if you sought to curry favour, that could play out in terms of politicians using the Leveson Act and using making an easy amendment to the Leveson Act to take that out on you. So I know there is some people take the view: well, actually, if the press behaved very badly in ten years' time, Parliament could anyway legislate against you. But I think that the creation of a I call it a Leveson Act would give a mechanism to politicians to loom over future coverage, to respond to the bad press they're getting by making an easy amendment to that legislation and that would have a chilling effect on press freedom. So I end up in a very, very strong position, which is: I would not like to see any form of statutory regulation of the press. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. You carry on and I'll bring it up again. MR JAY Can I just test this a little bit, Mr Harding? First of all, let's imagine that we want to create a regulator, properly so-called, we want to give it a name and we want to decide how it's going to be comprised. We could have an Act of Parliament which establishes the framework, but then does two things: one, sets up an independent body to decide who's going to comprise the regulator, and secondly then, the regulator will, by definition, have, one would hope, an independent and impartial group of people who could start regulating the press. Is there any principled objection you would have to that, notwithstanding that that system has its genesis in an Act of Parliament?
A. So the system that you talk about, ie having an independent regulator which the press funds and the press respects but does not appoint, does not set the rules, does not manage the adjudications, that seems to me to be entirely right. As we say in the leader, we have to move away from a system where we're seen to be marking our own homework. So an independent regulator is essential. What I don't like is the prospect of that being enacted by Parliament, because my concern is that once you have that legislation on the statute book, any future infringements by the press, any future failings by the press and there will be there will be whatever we come up with here, there will be shortcomings it gives politicians the opportunity to say, "Well, Lord Justice Leveson's work was good but we're going to just ratchet it up a little bit through this amendment or through that small act of legislation", and that's something I'd like to I hope that this Inquiry will think about. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, we're thinking about everything but the whole point that Mr Jay is getting at is that all one is doing is enabling the work of an independent regulator, the difficulty with it being: if you don't do that (a) you don't need to join the club, and that's a real issue, and (b) you can't have a mechanism, which has certainly attracted some of your colleagues, that provides for a swifter, more expeditious and cheaper resolution of the types of issues that bring members of the public into conflict with the press.
A. But, sir, what are you saying there? Because if you're saying that it's only through recognition and an Act of Parliament that you're going to be able to bind people into that regulator, what does that mean? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, the question is I'll put it quite bluntly: how do you solve the problem of a substantial publisher of newspapers saying, "I'm not prepared to participate in your independent regulator, either (a) because I don't like any of them, or (b) because I spend all my time criticising them and I don't particularly want to give them a chance to have a go at me; they wouldn't be very supportive"?
A. But does that mean that you think that you have to, in the end, have a system whereby you have where you have compulsory compliance? Because then you have a system of licensing of newspapers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not thinking anything yet.
A. I yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And I have to continually say this: I haven't made up my mind about anything. Watch my lips: I haven't. I am simply trying to tease out what are the real issues and how best to create a mechanism or recommend a mechanism it will be for others, in part the press and in part others, to decide what will happen that will work.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The absolute priority I have is that it should work, because I am struck by the history of this sort of exercise not quite, an Inquiry under this legislation the number of times it has happened since the war. I don't think it's very good for the country, I don't think it's very good for the press, but whatever one does, then there's another Inquiry, last-chance saloon, "We'll be better", then another one. This is why I have postulated this graph of immediate improvement after some disaster and gradual drift until the next disaster, and then a big story will happen, and you've said it yourself: there will be trouble. So the system has to be sufficiently robust to cope with the trouble, so that in ten years' time we don't have to do the whole thing again.
A. And I would say that it has to be sufficiently robust, but in the event that in a decade's time you had an incident along the lines of the BBC's reporting of the run-up to war in Iraq but it happened not to be the BBC but a bunch of newspapers, I would be very concerned that politicians would react to that reporting by saying, "We have the Leveson Act on statute and we're now going to make a number of amendments to make sure that this kind of thing can't happen again." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But what I really can't grasp, and I'd like to, is what the difference is. Because it's not very difficult for a parliamentary draftsman to start on a blank piece of paper with an Act or to amend another Act. So if you've really wound up the government by what you've done, then we all know of examples where immediate reaction leads to swift legislation, normally which has all sorts of problems associated with it. Certainly, wearing a different hat, I'm only too conscious of legislation that's been speedy and ill-sufficiently planned.
A. But, sir, there is a big political difference between amending an existing piece of legislation and putting new legislation on the statute book, particularly when it is going to be the first piece of legislation that articulates regulation of the press. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But it won't
A. There is a political hurdle there that is different from amendment. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that, but it won't do that. This model that we're talking about isn't intended to identify standards, isn't intended to identify who should decide whether there's been a breach of standards. It is merely to give some authority to independent regulation; in other words to allow it to work across the piece on the basis that otherwise it won't work across the piece because you can't make it. Now, I'm not requiring you to the advantage of your leader is we've moved the debate on, and I'm not asking you instantly to respond to any of this because I'm not responding to it myself.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm asking the questions I repeat something I've said before: the reason I'm asking these questions is because this is a problem for the press. They have to solve it in a way which works for them but it does have to be work for the public as well, and it's therefore not sufficient to say, "Actually, it will be better because in some way we'll get everybody into a club today because we have to respond today, and things will be happier in the future" for the very reason that you identify: that actually it's not all going to work forever. So that's the problem. MR JAY May I try, Mr Harding, one more attempt, if I may, to distill the principal basis of your objection to state regulation, to give you examples where your objection could well be seen to be well-founded. Imagine a system under which the executive or an organ of the executive was able to determine who should sit on the regulatory body; would we agree that that system would be objectionable because the executive would be able to manipulate the outcome by deciding: "We're going to have X but not Y"? Are we agreed about that?
A. Yes, I'd be very concerned about that.
Q. Would we also be agreed that if the executive were able to determine the standards which the regulator should apply with any degree of precision, that itself would have the tendency either to determine the outcome or at least make particular outcomes more probable, and therefore that would be objectionable? Are we agreed about that?
A. Yes, I would be concerned about that.
Q. Are we also agreed that if journalists were required by the state to meet certain licensing criteria or qualifications which the state itself imposed and we've heard about one continental example which may or may not be objectionable; we don't know enough about it, perhaps then you could begin to see the makings of an objection because the state again would be determining who would be doing the reporting?
A. Yes, you would have ripped up the principle of free speech, yes.
Q. But if we fall short of doing any of that and we keep to a framework under which, although the state sets up the regulatory body, the regulatory body itself or via a different body whether we call it a press commission, it doesn't matter decides who's going to sit on the regulator but the state has no influence over who sits on the regulator do you follow me?
A. Yes.
Q. then your principal objection falls away, because the state has merely set up the framework, has put the baton down and then allowed the regulatory body to get on with it. Do you accept that?
A. I do. I guess my point was I was coming around to seeing that as, if you like, the least-worst objection, and when I thought about it with an eye to the future, I thought: my concern here is that I do not want journalists at the Times, years from now, walking into the offices of politicians talking about ourselves, rather than the issues that face the country, and that we have an interest in behaving in a certain way in those offices rather than behaving in the way that journalists should, which is in pursuit of the story.
Q. The other key point I'd like to make is that: provided that the state has absolutely no role in the standards which the regulatory body sets itself and those standards are purely for the body to decide, either in consultation with the press or wholly independently, but there's likely to be a consultation process then again, the principled objection falls away because the state has no hold over what journalists can do. Do you accept that?
A. Actually, the practical objection falls away. I think the principled objection stands and the concern would be over time, again, that in the event that politicians were unhappy with the press they were getting, they would say, "You know what? We should just tighten one thing up, and the thing we should tighten up is the oversight of standards. It will be easy to do; we'll just make an amendment to the Leveson Act." That's my concern, and I'm sorry we're labouring the point. Obviously, as you know, before the war, the Times endorsed appeasement. There was a real concern that a newspaper of influence and importance had got too close to government. I think it's really important that we avoid that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sure that's right, and one may be looking at the least-worst possibility. That may be so. But if I just pick up a couple of the other points you suggested in your leader: have you done any work on whether the VAT legislation would permit an exception to be made, given that VAT tends not to be attracted on printed matter, whether it be newspapers or book, but on other matter? That's not just a question of national law; it's a question of European law.
A. European law. As you noticed, at the start of the leader we said it's an unenviable task. The answer that we've had when we've looked into this issue has been quite contradictory. Some people said it is possible to do; others have said it's very difficult to deal with similar products in different ways for tax purposes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Discriminatory.
A. But as I say, unfortunately we've had contradictory responses to that from the same place, so we're as we said in the leader, we realise that you need to have a muscular and independent regulator and it needs to bind in newspaper publishers and to do that we think it needs to sound in the pocket of proprietors, and what I hope we've listed here are a few ideas that are worth exploring. I'm sure these may be good; there may certainly be better ones out there. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's what you and your fellow editors can carry on thinking about. Yes, Mr Jay. MR JAY If we move on now to the Internet. Those who publish on the Internet are subject to the general law and to the law of tort. May there not be a difference between what journalists do in your paper and more generally and what happens on the Internet? The Internet is merely an expression of an opinion by a blogger or whoever. It carries no more or no less weight than that. But that which appears in your paper and we'd like to think everybody else's paper carries with it a specific imprimatur, that an editor has approved it, it has been carefully sourced, et cetera, et cetera, and therefore that we see in the press is, by definition or as a matter of practice, much more weighty than that we read on the Internet and it's because of that that it requires a measure of regulation. Do you accept that?
A. I think that certainly was true. I think that may even hold to be true now. I'm not sure that that view of things will endure. If you look at the speed with which individuals are gaining really huge followings on Twitter, for example, or through Facebook or through their blogs, you're seeing individuals have huge readership, sometimes bigger than national newspapers, and I think it will feel we'll very quickly feel as though we're in a strange world, where there are significant constraints on publishing in a newspaper or beneath the masthead of a newspaper but those can easily be circumvented through any digital means of communication.
Q. The issue of prior notification, a separate issue. One puts this forward not as an absolute requirement there is unlikely in this area to be any requirement which is absolute but, as it were, a presumptive requirement that generally speaking one should follow the principle of prior notification unless you can demonstrate exceptions to it. After all, you've heard the Pandora's box point, that once privacy is invaded, privacy is lost forever. With that refinement, would you accept the good sense of prior notification?
A. Yes. I think I do. I hope what we've laid out here on prior notification is essentially two points. One is: of course it's right, where possible, to contact people in advance and it's right for reasons of decency that you mention it. For reasons of accuracy, you want to make sure you hear their side of the story. The concern that I have is simply: how do you recognise that in the future? And I think there is understandable concern amongst journalists that any significant requirement or any significant obligation to for prior notification will result in a surge of injunctions, which even if they are if they go through the courts and we take the time and the money to deal with them, the correct outcome is one that we see at the end. I'd be very concerned about that. But there was a practical point I really wanted to make about prior notification. I remember a fair few years ago I was reporting a story for the FT. I was covering media, and I got a tip-off that one big media company was about to launch a bid for the other, and I called the person I knew of that company and someone picked up the phone and said it was late in the evening by now "I'm the cleaner, I can't help you." So I called another number there; turned out I got the cleaner. And I called a third and again I got another cleaner. And it later emerged, many years later I discovered that the person who ran the company had heard that I'd been tipped off about it and informed every single person in the office that if they picked up the phone, they should say they were the cleaner. This is a rather elaborate way of saying: if you make a requirement of prior notification, you could very quickly get yourself in a situation where, because the journalist cannot deliver that notification, they cannot publish. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It can't work that way.
A. That's my one hope. I hope there's a simple way of dealing with this, which is: if you look in the PCC code, as things currently stand, editors have to justify intrusion without consent. I think editors should have to justify intrusion without consent or prior notification. MR JAY Yes. The slightly odd feature about this is that virtually all the editors we've heard from have said in fact it is their practice, but not an invariable one, to give prior notification to their targets.
A. It is.
Q. It's a bit of theoretical argument. May I turn to the issue of public interest on the right-hand column. I think what you're arguing for there is a public interest defence which applies to all laws that affect information-gathering, and I suppose that would also cover logically the laws which relate to phone hacking, which are laid out in the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Have I correctly understood where you're coming from?
A. It would. We touched on this right at the beginning, which is to say that if a story is of significant enough public interest, you should be able to justify the intrusion. The world we live in now is very odd, because I fear that the public interest defence we have is currently too narrow and not sufficiently robust, but more than that, it's very uneven, so it applies to some laws and not to others. So we're in the odd situation that blagging you can impersonate your way to securing a document, but you could not buy that document, say, from the knowledge that you had a public interest defence. And I would say that if we are going to move to a world, which I expect we will do, where we will have a more muscular regulator and there will be expectations that the press treat people better, press freedom will be best defended by having a very strong and widely enforceable public interest defence. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Possibly we could come back to that at 2 o'clock, but let's just think about this on the way: the effect of your leader, which is the response to all that has happened and has led to the Inquiry, is this right, is to recommend legislation to allow the press to publish more?
A. The response is this, is to say: we recognise, the Times recognise, that this Inquiry has a very difficult task, that it will want to, and rightly should, ensure that the press treats people better in the future, and that it does so by giving them meaningful terms of redress in terms of their corrections, by giving a greater expectation of prior notification and a regulator that has the power to investigate and to punish. But at the same time, if you are going to ensure that there is press freedom in this country, you should look to or I hope this Inquiry will look to a more robust and more widely enforceable public interest defence. That's our conclusion. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'd like to test some ideas on that with you, but we'll do it at 2 o'clock. Thank you very much. (1.02 pm)


Gave statements at the hearings on 17 January 2012 (AM) and 07 February 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 6 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 17 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 3 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 17 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 3 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 17 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 1 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 17 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 1 pieces of evidence


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