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Privacy and Libel - Transcript, 10 March 2009
Transcript www.parliament.co.uk UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be
published as HC 275-iii House of COMMONS MINUTES
OF EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE CULTURE, MEDIA AND
PRESS STANDARDS, PRIVACY AND LIBEL
Tuesday 10 March 2009
MR GERRY McCANN, MR CLARENCE MITCHELL and
MR ADAM TUDOR
Evidence heard in Public Questions
168 - 226
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Transcribed by the Official Shorthand Writers to the Houses of Parliament:
B Gurney & Sons LLP, Hope House, 45 Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 3LT Telephone Number: 020 7233 1935
Oral Evidence Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday 10 March 2009
Members present Mr John Whittingdale, in the Chair Janet Anderson Mr Nigel Evans Paul Farrelly Mr Mike Hall Alan Keen Rosemary McKenna Adam Price Mr Adrian Sanders ________________
Witnesses: Mr Gerry McCann, Mr Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns' Media Adviser and Spokesman,
and Mr Adam Tudor, Carter Ruck, Solicitors, gave evidence. Q168
Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody. This is the third session of the Committee's inquiry into press standards,
privacy and libel. I would like to welcome as our witnesses this afternoon Gerry McCann, his media spokesman, Clarence Mitchell,
and Adam Tudor of Carter Ruck. Obviously we are going to be focusing this afternoon specifically on media issues but perhaps
I could just start off by expressing, I think on behalf of all of the Committee, our sympathy to Gerry McCann for the ordeal
that he and his family have had to undergo and also to express the hope still that Madeleine might one day be found. Before
we come to questions, I know that you would like to make a short statement.
Mr McCann: Thank
you. I am Gerald McCann, the father of Madeleine, who was abducted in Praia da Luz on 3 May 2007. Although elements of the
media coverage have undoubtedly been helpful in the ongoing search for Madeleine, our family has been the focus of some of
the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting in the history of the press. If it were not for
the love and tremendous support of our family, friends and the general public, this disgraceful conduct, particularly in the
tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves, may have resulted in the complete disruption of our family. Q169 Chairman: Can I ask you to say a little bit more about your impression of the reporting
of the case and how it changed over time?
Mr McCann: The first impressions really started
on day one when we came back to Praia da Luz having spent the day in Portimao at the police station. Clearly, there was a
huge media presence there already. My natural instinct was to appeal for information, for people to come forward. At that
point we were desperate for information and desperate, as we still are, that our daughter could be found and we wanted people
to help in that. That is why we spoke to the media and did our appeals. Particularly early on, there was a general willingness
of the media, an engagement and a real desire to try and help get information leading to Madeleine's whereabouts. Fairly
quickly though both Kate and myself, certainly when we were in the apartment watching the broadcasting, particularly on the
news channels, and subsequently when we looked at the newspapers, saw that much of the content of the material, even within
the first few days - possibly particularly in the first few days - was highly speculative. It was not at all helpful to us
and we fairly quickly decided, for our own benefit, not to watch the broadcasting or indeed to read the newspapers in detail.
Of course the speculation aspects are still ongoing in many respects until we all know where Madeleine is and who took her.
There were elements as we went along where clearly we wanted to get the message out there and particularly the fact that,
when it became apparent to us that Madeleine could quite easily have been transferred out of Portugal quickly, added a completely
different dimension to us as parents and what we were trying to achieve. As you know, the Spanish border is only about 90
minutes away and we felt, if Madeleine had been moved quickly, our chances of finding her with a local investigation only
would be quite slim. Therefore we wanted an international campaign as much as possible and for people to be aware of her being
missing. We were put in a very difficult situation in that we are used to coming from a society where there is quite open
engagement between law enforcement and the public in terms of high profile crimes, compared to the circumstances that we found
ourselves in, in Portugal, where as a rule there is not any open dialogue between law enforcement and the public. That was
difficult, particularly when we were being fed and researching the experience from North America where in cases of missing
children there is a very strong belief that the public can help. There was undoubtedly a desire to help. As the weeks went
on, particularly after we had finished our trips to countries where we felt there was potentially relevant information that
may be got for the investigation, by staying on in Portugal we were surprised that the media interest did not die down, to
be quite frank. We saw pressure, particularly on journalists, to produce stories when really there was not anything new to
report. Probably that was the point where things became what I would call irrelevancies or half truths or suggestions were
making front page news. Q170 Chairman: Your impression was that the newspapers
wanted to go on reporting stories about Madeleine's disappearance and, if there were no new facts to report, they started
to resort to making up things?
Mr McCann: I totally agree with that. Prior to becoming involved
in this experience, I always believed that, although there might be quite marked exaggeration to some front page headline
stories, I never really believed that many of them could be absolutely blatantly made up. I believe that was the case with
Madeleine. Q171 Chairman: Did you feel that once that point had been reached
the majority of press coverage then become negative and unhelpful to you or were there specific worst offenders?
Mr McCann: Obviously there were fictitious stories which were not necessarily libellous or defamatory and clearly
there was another turn when we were declared arguido and it was a free for all really. A different process went on before
that which was largely where Madeleine, I believe, was made a commodity and profits were to be made. As far as I could see,
having front page news stories or indeed any stories in newspapers on a daily basis was not helpful to the search. There was
that element, but that was not particularly damaging at that point other than that there was a lot of misinformation and we
would have been spending all of our time if we were trying to correct it. There was something very early on which I was uneasy
with and that was in terms of the confidentiality of the investigation, whether it be in this country or in a foreign country.
I think there is information related to a crime that you do not want to be made public because only the witnesses who were
there will know that information. It concerned me greatly that elements of the time line were becoming increasingly apparent
through leaks and a desire to have every single bit of information known; whereas at the time I remember speaking to Kate
and her other friends and saying, "In some ways, judicial secrecy is good because the abductor will not be able to get
access to information that only we know." That was pretty quickly eroded and was disappointing. That is very different
to the senior investigating officer, as would happen in a serious case in this country, providing information to the public
to try and get further intelligence. That aspect of it was concerning even quite early on. Q172 Chairman: Do you believe that in the majority of cases the negative stories that appeared were completely
fabricated or were there some people in the police who might have given them information which led them to write the stories
Mr McCann: Do you mean the stories arising in Portugal? Q173 Chairman: Yes.
Mr McCann: The worst stories that were printed in this country
were based on articles that had been directly published within Portugal. Often what we found was that they had been embellished
and a single line that was very deep in an article within a Portuguese newspaper, usually from an unsourced source, was front
page and exaggerated to the extent where we had ridiculous headlines and stories. I think the most damning thing of all of
this and the most damaging aspect of all the coverage which Kate and I cannot forgive is the presentation that there is a
substantial body of evidence that suggests that Madeleine is dead when there is no evidence in fact to suggest she has been
seriously harmed. Q174 Mr Sanders: Are you saying that the media impeded
your campaigning and the search for Madeleine?
Mr McCann: I have made it clear that elements
of the media were helpful in terms of the campaign. In terms of distribution of her image, it is incredibly powerful. There
is absolutely no doubt about that. Subsequently the media were used by C-OP in terms of an appeal asking for tourists to come
forward and there was a huge number of photographs uplifted and other information given. Elements of the appeal nature and
awareness are there and are helpful but if you portray a missing child as dead and people believe she is dead without due
evidence then people stop looking. Q175 Mr Sanders: Did you feel the need
to appoint media help to raise awareness through the press or did you feel the need to do that to deal with unwanted media
Mr McCann: There are two elements. Right at the very beginning, Mark Warner had
a media specialist, a crisis management specialist from Bell Pottinger called Alex Wilful, who was incredibly helpful to us
and, in those early days, gave us quite simple guidance which we found particularly helpful. It was very much along the lines
of: what are your objectives? What are you hoping to achieve by speaking to the media? Be very clear about what you want.
That was very, very good because there is an element that they are there on your doorstep. Having never been exposed to media
in any substantial amount previously, you are not quite sure where the boundaries are and what is expected. Having that protection
and guidance in terms of dealing with it was very important. The government sent out a media adviser who had expertise in
campaign management, Cherie Dodd, who previously worked at the DTI and started talking about planning for us, how we could
utilise the media in terms of achieving objectives and then subsequently Clarence came out. That was very important, one,
to assist us in trying to get information to help find our missing daughter and, secondly, in protecting us from the media
because the demands were unbelievable. To be thrust from being on holiday one minute into the middle of an international media
storm and knowing how to cope with that is very difficult. What we wanted and still want is a partnership with the media when
we have information which we think may be relevant and can assist the search, obviously drawing the lines between the search
for Madeleine and the Kate and Gerry Show, which the media were much more interested as most of the facts came out. Drawing
the line between those two things was much harder. Q176 Mr Sanders: It seems
to prove almost impossible when you have that level of media attention to control it. It just becomes an uncontrollable vortex.
Mr McCann: Obviously the circumstances around this story are fairly unique but we were never
under the impression that we were controlling the media. We did not set the media agenda. Q177 Mr Sanders: I do not think you gave that impression.
Mr McCann: For the record,
I have to be categorically clear about this. The media decide what they publish and what they broadcast. Obviously we were
asking for help and we got a lot of exposure and, even early on, unwanted exposure. It was more about influencing the content
and being clear about when we were engaging about what we were hoping to get out of it. Q178 Adam Price: You mentioned a moment ago the pressures that you felt some journalists were facing in terms of
having to deliver stories 24/7. Did any of the journalists that you would have met on a face to face basis ever express any
sense of regret or remorse at some of the stories that they were printing or were they fairly brazen?
Mr McCann: At the time the most damaging stories were published, we were not really speaking to many journalists face to
face. Kate and I, despite the coverage, particularly after the first five weeks or so, have been in front of the media very
periodically. Very rarely have we come face to face with a journalist whose name was by the byline or the story. We have had
Clarence with us during most of this so he has dealt with it more. I know that Clarence has had apologies from journalists
and there has been, "I wrote this but the headline was done by the news desk." There is clearly pressure on the
journalists on the ground who are being funded on expenses and are under pressure to produce copy. There is pressure from
the news desk to write a headline which does not necessarily reflect the factual content available for the story.
Mr Mitchell: Gerry is absolutely right. The reporters on the ground were only doing their job. We are not critical
of them in that sense, but they were under intense pressure from their news desks and within themselves as well. We had a
pack - this is just UK press I am talking about - of UK reporters based in Praia da Luz who were looking the front page that
day. We also had another, smaller pack in Leicestershire trying to talk to relatives and people back here who knew Kate and
Gerry at that end. We also had columnists writing legal pieces and all of them were competing on a daily basis to get their
version of the story into the paper. I sometimes had the most ridiculous situation where I had reporters coming to me saying,
"I have got to get a front page splash out of this by four o'clock this afternoon or my job is on the line."
If I said, "Well, sorry, we do not have anything substantially new today" or the authorities either in Portugal
or Britain did not want us to say anything, they would say, "We are going to have to write it anyway." They were
apologetic in that sense but as a former journalist myself I understood the pressures they were under. Later in the evening
I would get calls from Leicestershire or the London news desks saying, "We have got a better angle from the UK on this.
What do you think about that?" It was like a one story news room in itself generating all these different pressures and,
regardless of what we would say or do, sure enough the story would be on the front page the next day anyway. We had anecdotal
evidence as well that was putting on massive sales for certain titles and that was undoubtedly one of the reasons why Madeleine
stayed on the front page as long as she did, although there were lots of other factors within the story that, in pure journalistic
parlance, made it a big story and kept that momentum going. We were credited with keeping that momentum going. A lot of the
time we were not doing anything. It was the media feeding on it itself. Q179 Mr Evans:
Do you think you got better treatment from the television news than you did from the printed press?
Mr McCann: By and large the broadcasters have been more responsible. I would not say they have been without
fault, particularly around the arguido time. There are elements that were too accepting of information that was becoming available
from sources and we still are not sure where they are. Whether the coverage was all entirely appropriate I am not the best
person to decide because obviously we are biased. Q180 Mr Evans: At any
time was any journalist in a face to face with you - although you just said that was rather contained - abusive to either
you or Kate?
Mr McCann: Not so much directly. I did speak to Christopher Meyer about this
in the summer of 2007. "Reverence" is the wrong word but amongst the UK press there did seem to be an empathy and
they did not want, at least initially, to unduly upset. That wore off fairly quickly but generally I felt we were treated
quite well. When we came back from the police station on the first night and I saw the press pack and the frenzy there, I
had the most horrible visions of complete intrusion, invasion of privacy, and in those first days and weeks while we stayed
on the Ocean Club complex there was an order about it. We agreed that we did not mind being filmed going about our normal
activity but we were not going to be engaging in giving stories on a day to day basis. That seemed to work quite well. Both
sides seemed to be quite happy. What we envisaged was that demand would rapidly tail off which it never quite did really and
that certainly took me by surprise. Q181 Mr Evans: Did any of them have
your mobile numbers for instance and phone you at odd times or pester you all the time?
McCann: I have to say it was remarkably few. My mobile number was known to a proportion of the journalists. The vast majority
called through the media liaison, whether it be Bell Pottinger with Alex Wilful first of all or Clarence and his predecessors.
I had a few calls. One of them was phoning to say, "I think what is happening right now is getting out of hand and you
need to try and do something." It was advice as much as tapping us up. That happened on one or two occasions and we just
directed it back to the media.
Mr Mitchell: One of the problems was on the ground. Because
of judicial secrecy and the police not being able or willing to say anything publicly, certainly the British journalists and
the Americans to a certain extent had come to expect a very open attitude from the authorities and, when they did not get
that, they had nowhere to fall back on. They were not able to do any real investigative digging of their own or they did not
seem particularly inclined to. As a practical illustration of that, they tended to congregate at one particular bar which
had a pretty lethal combination of free Wi-Fi and alcohol and that became the news room for the duration of the trip, I am
afraid. They would get the Portuguese press each morning translated for them with mistranslations occasionally occurring in
that as well. Then, no matter what rubbish, frankly, was appearing in the Portuguese press from whatever source, they would
then come to me and I would either deny it or try and correct it or say, "We are just not talking about this today."
That was effectively a balancing of the story and there was no further effort to pursue any independent journalism as we might
recognise it. Q182 Mr Evans: Are you suggesting that some of the stuff that
we read in the newspapers was fuelled by alcohol?
Mr Mitchell: I am not suggesting anything
was written in that particular state. I am just trying to illustrate the point that it was a convivial atmosphere. The journalists
found it easy to work there and I had to go down to brief them there. Broadcasters tend to hunt in a different pack from print,
so I would have to go down to where the broadcasters were and talk to them for the day on any agreed messages that I had agreed
with Kate and Gerry. Then the print press would have different agendas and different deadlines and they tended to congregate
at the bar. I am not saying that in a pejorative sense. I am just illustrating that as an example of where they were, but
that is what they had to do because they had no other traditional sources that would normally be available to them. Frankly,
because of that, they did not really push any further. Q183 Mr Evans: I
want to touch on the distinction, when the information that the media managed to get one way or another was useful and when
it was not, which is the suggestion almost that information that could only be made available to the police - only the police
would know it and yourselves - somehow got out into the media world. Do you believe therefore that this information was directly
leaked to certain newspapers? Is there any suggestion - Clarence, maybe this is one for you - that any British journalists
were paying the police for information that they later used which went against your best interests?
Mr Mitchell: I have no proof of that. I cannot prove where any of the leaks came from but you only have to look at the nature
of the stories and the content within them to make certain presumptions. My situation was dealing with those leaks once they
appeared. Something that was even often just a suggestion or an allegation, unsourced in the Portuguese press, by the time
it found its way across the Channel, had become hardened up into fact with an extra scare headline or whatever on top of it.
That is where the real problems started because these things would end up in the cuttings file and would become an accepted
fact in the story when in fact they were complete distortions in many cases or entirely untrue in others. Q184 Mr Evans: In those instances where the information was true, was the source originally
Portuguese newspaper and then transferred after translation into British papers or did now and again some stuff that only
the police and yourselves knew get into British newspapers first?
Mr McCann: As far as I
could see, almost all of the information available had arisen within Portugal first. Without knowing the intricate dealings
of what happens around the police station and what is on and off the record, clearly someone else within Portugal has been
quoted as saying that judicial secrecy is a bit like the speeding law. Everyone knows there is a law but no one sticks to
it. It was not me who said it but there is that element. There is a cultural difference and obviously we do not speak the
language. With hindsight, we only really started paying attention more to the Portuguese press when we realised what was happening.
I know in your submissions there are a lot of elements about the digitisation of media and also the globalisation of it. Clearly,
this is a very strong example of where you have media very quickly feeding off each other and the day after it would be front
page headlines and in the UK press there would be a front page headline of what was a tiny little story. There was this positive
reinforcement: The Times of London has carried it; that means it is true. That was quoted on more than one occasion.
Mr Mitchell: We would see things appearing in the Portuguese press get misreported in Britain
and get misreported again back in Portugal. It was just this circle of lunacy at times.
Tudor: In order to be sure about that you would have to do a line by line comparison of all of the Portuguese articles and
all of the UK articles. We do not know the answer directly but I am pretty sure that the overwhelming majority of the allegations
that appeared here had been sourced from the Portuguese media, first and foremost, rather than direct sources. Q185 Paul Farrelly: I want to move to the Press Complaints Commission but before that I want
to establish what the legal situation of the reporting was in Portugal. Irrespective of press standards and libel, when a
potential criminal investigation is run in the UK there are laws of contempt. The Portuguese police leaking is clearly reprehensible
but they are not the only police force to do it. When it came to the case of the care home in Jersey recently, it went to
a different level where police were making statements that could be reported with impunity but the press was not sceptical
about them. We do not have this arguido category here. Often we have people helping the police with their inquiries. In Portugal
were both the UK and the Portuguese press in any way breaking Portuguese laws of contempt in any of the reporting? This is
perhaps one for Mr Tudor.
Mr Tudor: I would not bank on it. I am not a Portuguese lawyer
and I am not a criminal lawyer. I do not know is the short answer. So far as I am aware, there was no intervention by the
Portuguese authorities along the lines of contempt in the way that you might expect to have seen here.
Mr McCann: This is my first hand knowledge from discussions rather than knowledge of Portuguese law but clearly within Portugal
there has been a balance going on between laws, many of which date back to them being a Fascist government and subsequently
a Communist one. Freedom of speech is perhaps more freely enshrined there and yet we have this judicial secrecy which, in
many cases, does not function the way it should. There is this element where the press there is potentially much less well
regulated, to use that in the loosest context, than it is in the UK. I believe in terms of the legal situation, if a police
officer gave information which was known to be on the file and only on the file relevant to it then technically I believe
that is probably correct. Q186 Paul Farrelly: Have you ever speculated as
to how this might have developed had Madeleine disappeared in Britain and what the difference might have been in the press
Mr McCann: Speaking to law enforcement over here and in the US, obviously in Portugal
and other organisations involved in child welfare and missing children, usually, certainly within this country, the senior
investigating officer and the police force responsible have a media strategy. They give information which they want out there
and that takes away the vacuum to some extent. In many countries that is the way it works. Q187 Paul Farrelly: Have you had any sense from talking to law enforcement officers here that, had the media started
on the trail that they followed leading to the completely made up and damaging stories, the police here might have stepped
in and warned the media to calm it down?
Mr Tudor: Or the Attorney General even, yes. I have
always taken the view from a non-criminal, legal perspective that if this "incident" had happened here there is
no way you would have had this nature of coverage. It would have been substantially different and the newspapers would have
been considerably more careful. Incidentally, even though this did take place in Portugal, it is important that you know if
you did not know already that at the very least in October 2007 Leicestershire Police did indeed issue a missive to the media
asking them to be a bit more careful about how they were going about this. Even though it was overseas, the nature of the
reporting was obviously an issue which as I understand it was of concern to Leicestershire Police as well. Q188 Paul Farrelly: This brings us neatly to press standards. There has been criticism of
the Press Complaints Commission that they were not proactive. They stood by and did not invoke their own inquiry. They have
said in evidence to us, defending that position, that to have done so would have been an impertinence to the McCanns. Would
you have felt it an impertinence to you had the Press Complaints Commission in respect of press standards been more proactive
and said, "Hold on, this is not the way a responsible press behaves"?
No, I would not have found it impertinent. I certainly would have been open to dialogue if it was felt to be within the remit
of the PCC. Having also read their evidence, they are claiming it is not within their remit. Aspects with the PCC have been
helpful in terms of protecting privacy particularly for our twins, which was a major concern for us. They were continuing
to be photographed and we wanted that stopped. Very quickly that was taken up by the press and broadcasters within the UK.
We are thankful for that. There was also help in removing photographers from outside our drive after what we felt was a very
over long period, when news had really gone quite quiet and we were still being subjected to camera lenses up against our
car with the twins in the back, which was inappropriate. In terms of the defamatory and libellous stories, clearly the advice
from both the PCC and our legal advisers was that the PCC was not the route. Q189
Paul Farrelly: You have described some of the interaction you had with the PCC. Did you consider making an official
complaint to the PCC that they were publishing stories about you on the basis of no evidence at all and indeed about Mr Murat
as well whose life was also destroyed?
Mr McCann: In terms of the defamatory stories on that
specific point, we were advised that legal redress was the way to address that issue. Q190 Paul Farrelly: You were advised by the PCC?
Mr McCann: I had an informal
conversation that was directed to me, yes. Q191 Paul Farrelly: Can you tell
us who you had the conversation with?
Mr McCann: It was with the then chairman, Sir Christopher
Meyer. Q192 Paul Farrelly: There was no willingness to take up the issues
around you therefore as a matter of press standards?
Mr McCann: At the time and on reading
their submission, they say it is a very clear division between libel, for which there is legal redress, and when we spoke
to Adam for Carter Ruck he also strongly advised us that if we wanted a stop put to it then legal redress was the way to go. Q193 Paul Farrelly: There are wider issues: your personal safety and the ability
to try and find your daughter. It was much wider than libel behaviour.
Mr McCann: Absolutely.
From Kate's and my point of view, taking the legal route was a last resort. You are right. I think there is a gap there
currently in the regulation. A complaint for example about stories which are about an invasion of privacy is always retrospective
and the damage has often been done. There has to be some degree of control, I believe, or deterrent to publishing untrue and
particularly damaging stories where they have the potential to ruin people's lives. Q194 Paul Farrelly: The fact that newspaper editors, including The Daily Express editor, Peter Hill, were
on the board of the PCC at the time - what sort of view did that leave with you as to how the Press Complaints Commission
Mr McCann: It did cause me concern. We were in a dispute with them. Although ultimately
they thankfully decided to settle before taking it on to court, they did not just roll over and say, "Oh, sorry."
There was quite a bit of correspondence and we had to produce quite a bit of evidence. I did think it was surprising that
an editor of a paper which had so flagrantly libelled us with the most devastating stories could hold a position on the board
of the PCC. Q195 Paul Farrelly: The newspaper industry of course is adamant
that self-regulation works. I would be interested in your view of that but furthermore it has been remarked that in any other
sphere of life, in any other profession, in business or in government, if something like this had happened there would have
been an inquiry. Somebody, somewhere, would have launched an inquiry. We are mounting an inquiry here but we are not part
of the media profession. What does the failure of any inquiry or any toughening of a code because of what you have been through
say about not only the standards of the press in this country in your view but also the role of the regulator in upholding
these standards of the media?
Mr McCann: Obviously speaking from our own experience, we have
probably been the most high profile case or extreme case there has been. I think we do see almost on a daily basis information
published that is damaging, possibly untruthful and defamatory to people. My own view is that there has to be some more stringent
regulation of that. I will very much defend freedom of speech but when people's lives are put in jeopardy by different
mechanisms there has to be redress.
Mr Tudor: We had a conversation about the PCC when Kate
and Gerry first came to Carter Ruck. It was quite a short conversation. The PCC is perceived, to a considerable extent still
correctly, as being wholly media friendly. It lacks teeth. It cannot award damages. It cannot force apologies. As soon as
there is any dispute of fact between the newspaper and the victim of the libel, the PCC backs off and says, "This needs
to go to law." To be fair to the PCC, I think they have accepted and said that the McCanns' case was never going
to be appropriate for the PCC but should have gone to law and so on. How one views the PCC in this kind of scenario, extreme
or otherwise, is that it can be summed up by the fact that if you were to ask me how I think The Express would have
reacted if Kate and Gerry McCann had brought a PCC complaint rather than a Carter Ruck letter, you could probably have felt
the sigh of relief all the way down Fleet Street. Perhaps that gives you a feel for how it would be perceived. First of all,
I am afraid it would have led The Express to think that relatively speaking they were off the hook because of the
lack of teeth that the PCC has. Secondly, almost by definition, by going to the PCC Kate and Gerry would have been tacitly
sending out a signal, not only to The Express, but to the rest of Fleet Street that they had no appetite to see this
through and therefore perhaps could be fobbed off, as it were. Time and again one comes across this being the reality of PCC
complaints. I am not here to put the boot into the PCC. I think they have a very important role to perform. From my experience
indirectly of how the McCanns have dealt with the PCC in relation to the children, harassment and so on, it certainly has
a role to perform, but it is not the sort of role it is cut out for because of the inherent contradictions of self-regulation.
Mr Mitchell: On the practical aspects of dealing with the press, they were a very substantial
help. Kate and Gerry had photographers outside their driveway for six months, every day, after they came from Portugal. It
was on the basis that, "We need a today picture", which was exactly identical to the one six months before. Utter
nonsense. When the PCC made representations formally and at the right levels, that presence dissipated very quickly. They
were a substantial help on certain practical aspects, but we all knew and the PCC themselves knew that, given the gravity
of the defamations that were occurring and the sheer volume and scale of it and the unique nature of this particular situation,
really the legal route was then the only option. With self-regulation, I echo Gerry. Free speech in a democracy has to stand.
Of course it does. With the changing media landscape now, in the new multi-connected, multi-layered, multi-platform world
we live in, self-regulation is an issue the press need to address themselves in terms of improving it and widening it. The
whole aspect of the social networking that occurs now, the readers' comments, their own websites - many newspaper groups
are now almost broadcasters in their own right and look like that when you walk into the news room. I am not sure personally
whether self-regulation is keeping up with that advance in technology. It is something that they really will need to address
in the coming months and years. It has been said that information travels these days beyond the speed of thought and I think
that does happen more and more frequently. If the press do not keep their own house in order, they may run the risk of some
other regulatory body coming in. Q196 Janet Anderson: Would it be fair to
say to all three of you that there is an important, valuable role for the PCC to play but it is very limited? There is a gap
in all of this that needs filling. You said, Gerry, that some of this irresponsible media coverage has the potential to ruin
people's lives and that is exactly what it can and does do. You also made the point - Max Mosley in front of us this morning
made a similar point - about, once this has happened, the damage has been done. I wanted to ask you two things really. To
what extent were you given advance warning of the kinds of stories that were going to appear? When you talk about the need
for more stringent regulation, would you favour a privacy law of the kind that exists in other countries? Do you think the
press would be more responsible if we had that?
Mr McCann: In terms of privacy, I was certainly
concerned about privacy but I do not think in general we had gross violation of our privacy. We had irritant elements of it
but generally I feel it was respected. Any views I have on privacy are therefore very personal and I do not think I should
be giving them in front of this Committee as having a specific experience. In terms of advance notice, I would often hear
Clarence on the phone to journalists expressly telling them that the information they had was rubbish. It would not stop it
being published. Q197 Janet Anderson: It would still be published?
Mr McCann: Yes.
Mr Mitchell: We expected it to be published after a while.
We just knew it was coming. Normally, we had a few hours' notice.
Mr McCann: We were
talking about this again this morning. We possibly could have forgiven the furore around the arguido status at that time.
Clearly that is going to be newsworthy, but when it became abundantly clear to newspapers that there was not any evidence
to back up any allegations then they were warned. We wrote to them. Two newspapers, The Express and The London
Evening Standard, were put on express notice that the stories they were running were defamatory. The editors were all
visited personally by our spokesperson, Clarence, and Justine McGuinness before that, with a criminal lawyer, who told them
that there was no evidence. It did not stop. It was the rehashing and this ad infinitum aspect that they could reproduce
headlines at will that had no substance that forced us to take action. Q198 Janet
Anderson: The PCC was absolutely no help in that at all?
Mr McCann: It was again
never offered in any way. Secondly, in the discussions, we were advised that they were not the correct vehicle for such complaints.
Mr Tudor: One can only speculate about what witness statement going on in that regard. The PCC
in many respects, certainly when it comes to libel, is a passive body rather than a proactive body. That is just a fact, rightly
or wrongly. If, let us say in another world, the PCC had decided to get involved in Kate and Gerry's predicament at a
relatively early stage and contacted for example the editor or the journalists at The Express and any other newspapers
that were reporting this stuff, tried to warn them off and said they understood that there was a danger that this could be
a breach of the factual accuracy provisions in the PCC code, for example, I anticipate that the answer to the PCC would have
been, "Well, these stories have all been well sourced. We are standing by our sources. It is a story of the most colossal
public interest. Therefore, we are carrying on." The result would have been they would have carried on publishing. You
would have ended up exactly back at square one. I am not saying there should be but there would have been no interventionist
power on the part of the PCC to wade in and say, "You cannot publish that. You cannot publish this. You have to redraft
that so it does not say this." That is obviously not what they do and probably not what they are there for. That would
have been the reality of that kind of situation.
Mr Mitchell: When I visited Peter Hill with
Angus McBride from Kingsley Napley, it was really an informal discussion to say, "Look, this is beginning to get out
of hand. Can we rein it back in before it becomes necessary to take any action?" There was an acceptance by him on that
day that "some of their headlines had overstepped the mark" and that they would be more cognisant of that in the
future. For a week or two things did get better but I am afraid there was the competition and the urge for the front page.
Off we went again and it led to the complaint that was lodged. Q199 Chairman: The
PCC has told us that on 5 May, two days after Madeleine's disappearance, they contacted the British Embassy to remind
them that the PCC's jurisdiction extended to journalists working overseas and also to suggest that the embassy pass on
the PCC's details to you. Did that happen and did you then have any contact with the PCC?
Mr McCann: If it did, it certainly was lost in the furore of the other information I was bombarded with at the time. I was
not aware of that until I read the submission. Q200 Alan Keen: Did you get
the impression a lot of the time that the headlines were selling newspapers and the stuff following the articles was disconnected
with the headline? Was the content as well as much rubbish as the headlines that were put out to sell the papers?
Mr McCann: On many occasions, yes. I can only assume that the stories were being published on a commercial
decision. Q201 Alan Keen: Have you tried to calculate roughly how much profit
The Express made after deducting their costs?
Mr McCann: I have no idea.
Mr Mitchell: I heard from reporters on the ground that it was putting on upwards of 40,000 or 50,000 copies
a day when Madeleine was on the front page. I have no way of knowing whether that figure is accurate but it certainly was
putting on tens of thousands of paper sales at the height of it on a daily basis. Q202
Alan Keen: In the same way as the photographs of Princess Di have appeared by the hundred.
Mr Mitchell: The ExpressGroup, for whatever reasons, decided that Madeleine was a front page story come what may
in the same way that they had treated the princess for the previous decade many times. We could only but draw the conclusion
that there was a commercial imperative at work here. Q203 Alan Keen: Has
anyone tried to calculate the profit from this to The Express alone? Has any other newspaper criticised The Express?
Have there been any articles saying that The Express went too far?
As one would expect, the usual broadsheets from memory ran some articles on it, The Guardian being the classic example.
It has a good media section that tends to run a lot of articles commenting on other things. It has the Roy Greenslade blog
and all that sort of thing. There was an element of coverage but of course the results against The Express, the front
page apologies, the damages and so on, prompted a huge amount of coverage, not so much in the printed media perhaps unsurprisingly
but certainly in the broadcast media, which was of course one of the reasons for having it in terms of the vindication that
the McCanns were seeking and indeed the deterrent for that matter. If I may turn to your question, Mr Keen, yes, the headlines
in many cases were appalling. I do not know if you have had the misfortune of having read them. A large number of them were
appalling. A large number of them were on the front page. Almost all of them were big. Obviously they all appeared online
as well. Leaving aside the legal aspects of how much an ordinary reader is assumed to have read the whole of the article,
the House of Lords decided some time ago that the ordinary reader is assumed perhaps artificially to have read the whole article.
In this case, I think we complained against The Express. I think there were about 110 articles. So far as I am concerned,
every single one of those articles themselves, including the headlines, were actionable, very serious libels in their own
right. Q204 Alan Keen: Should there be a law to ensure that headlines do
not exaggerate what is in the body of the article? It was so bad in your case that it is hardly relevant even but it is something
that happens on a daily basis in the press. Should there not be a law to ensure that the headline does not imply more than
is in the actual article?
Mr Tudor: It can be a big problem with websites even more so because
they often have just the opening line plus the headline and you have to click on something to go over the whole article. From
a legal perspective, you would probably expect me to say this but, yes, I think there is a lot to be said. If you go into
a filling station or a newsagent and read the headline about Kate and Gerry McCann, you do not bother to buy the newspaper.
You just absorb the headline and the subhead and go about your every day business without spending the money and reading the
whole of the article. The assumption that people read the whole article is completely artificial. In practical terms, I would
love the law to move in that direction but I would be surprised if it were ever to happen because of the practical difficulties. Q205 Alan Keen: Would you like us to recommend that?
Mr Tudor: Yes. I think there is a huge amount to be said for it. To be fair to the newspapers, I do anticipate that it would
lead to difficulties. Sometimes, to be fair, the headline by definition has to be attention grabbing within the realms of
Mr McCann: Your point is well made. It does not just apply to newspapers.
If you watch any news channel, some of the banner strips that run there, often we would see headlines directly relating to
ourselves and say, "That is not what was said." If you just looked at that banner, you would believe it was the
case. The way we live our lives now, people are pulsing in and out and that will be the message they take away. Regarding
the point of law, I defer to Adam, but clearly there is the potential for misinformation to be implied from headlines.
Mr Mitchell: Speaking as a former journalist, privacy law per se is going down a road
that I know journalism and the media will directly oppose as an infringement on the right to speak freely. They would argue
that they operate within the law as it currently stands. They did not in Kate and Gerry's case. That is why they paid
the penalty they did. We have never asked for anything beyond free, fair and accurate reporting. When it overstepped that
mark, that is why Adam and his colleagues assisted Kate and Gerry in the way they did. I notice in the NUJ submission they
talk about a conscience clause. If a journalist feels they are being asked to write something, be it a headline or the copy,
that they know to be demonstrably untrue or distorting, they should be able within their own terms of employment to object
to that. That might be some sort of half way house but the concept of self-regulation is potentially under threat given the
massive expansion of the media we have now seen. If the media do not police it themselves, they could well find that this
sort of debate is increasing and the calls for a privacy law become louder. Q206
Alan Keen: I asked earlier had anybody done a calculation as to what profit The Express made after the expense
that you incurred. We all want freedom of expression but would it not be good for the public to be able to see what profit
The Express made on that, just using The Express as one firm example? Would it not be good to know how many
papers they sold and how much profit they made?
Mr McCann: If you can command that information,
I would like to see it.
Mr Mitchell: It is quantifiable, I suppose, if you know the accurate
figure for sales against cover price but that is not where they make most of the money. It is through the advertising anyway.
It was definitely put on sales. Q207 Alan Keen: It is not impossible to
look at the advertising as well. That comes from numbers of copies sold. We are representing the public. We are not against
the press. We agree with freedom of the press but it is our job to try to get the balance right. We are representing our constituents
and it is an information age we are in. Would it not be good to get that information from the press so we can all see it?
Mr McCann: The one point I take from that is that, if we are relying on tabloid newspapers to
present us with news and fact, then they should not be unduly influenced by profit. Clearly in our case I think they have
been heavily influenced by profit. I can see no other reason for the way the stories were covered on such a consistent basis.
I would be very interested to know what an economist within the newspaper industry could work out as a figure. It disturbed
me to know that The Express sold out on the day the apologies were published. Q208 Alan Keen: I believe the owner of The Express is closely tied in with what is put into the newspapers
but if you take the press in general do you think the owners, the people who collect the profit at the end - it might be a
holding company or a conglomerate which has broadcasting, news printing and all sorts - the people on that top board who are
at arm's length all the time from the newspapers that are printed should somehow have to carry some responsibility rather
than staying at arm's length and letting it be handled by the editors and the lawyers so that people higher up should
not be able to escape? I gave the analogy this morning of corporate manslaughter. If a company is guilty of bad practices
and causes danger to their employees or to the public - I am not a lawyer - but the company can be guilty of corporate manslaughter.
Are owners of the groups, particularly of the print media, able to escape from any sort of liability other than the financial
costs like the ones you have incurred?
Mr Tudor: I am primarily a claimant libel lawyer but
I am a huge fan of newspapers. I think they perform an extremely valuable role in our society. I love reading them but, at
the end of the day, they are commercial entities. I make no criticism of that. It is good to have a healthy, competitive newspaper
market. The thing that hurts them, that makes them stop and think about whether they should be publishing serious libels or
seriously infringing people's privacy, I am afraid to say somewhat cynically, is two things, not necessarily in this order.
Firstly, how much it is going to cost them if they get caught out and if they get the story wrong. Secondly, to be fair to
the newspapers, of course there is an element of professional pride in journalists, editors and so on and we have to assume
that that is the bedrock of journalism in this country because, if it is not, heaven help us, frankly. The main stick to ensure
that this kind of thing does not happen again - that is, other far less serious, far less voluminous, but nevertheless still
very serious for the victims - is financial. You have the theoretical possibility of having a statutory fines framework put
into place. Personally, I am not a fan of that. I would be very surprised if it was ever to happen. The other stick, as we
know, I suppose, is the potential humiliation of losing a libel or privacy action plus the damages they have to pay out which
vindicate and compensate the victim of the libel or the breach of privacy. The jurisdiction, as I am sure you know, does exist
within the civil court to award punitive damages, exemplary damages, in certain circumstances but those circumstances are
very, very limited. The reason exemplary damages exist and the philosophy behind them very much reflects your point, Mr Keen.
If you can see that a decision has been made to publish an article regardless of its truth in order to make more money out
of sales that day, then perhaps the law should allow that to then be reflected in the damages. At the moment, the circumstances
in which exemplary damages are awarded are very, very limited. I think it has been held that they cannot be awarded in privacy
cases. They are available in libel cases but only very rarely. I take the view that Kate and Gerry's case was a classic
one where punitive damages, exemplary damages, may well have been awarded if it had gone to court, in which case it may well
have been that the judge would have thrown the book at Express Newspapers, but even then these things are never open and shut
because you have to establish a state of mind, recklessness as to the truth or otherwise and so on. It is far from straightforward
in terms of bringing a real, financial deterrent for publishers. Q209 Alan Keen:
Are you saying that, as with the banking system, self-regulation particularly in the print media must come to an
end? Self-regulation has not worked, has it?
Mr Tudor: I am not sure it was ever intended
to work in the kind of scenario we are talking about in terms of libel. I am not sure it works in terms of general privacy
in the Max Mosley sense. I know Mr Mosley thinks there is a great deal to be said for having an obligation to pre-notify somebody
before you publish something about their private life and I have considerable sympathy for that. There is a place for self-regulation
but to suggest, as I think some media organisations do, that it is working perfectly, we do not need to worry and we do not
need to bother the courts with more and more cases I think is simply not the case. Q210 Chairman: You reached a settlement with Associated Newspapers and with News International in the form of The
News of the World, but you decided to go to court against The Daily Express. Was that because you could not
reach a settlement or was it because you decided that The Daily Express was so serious that you wanted to see them
Mr McCann: We complained against the Express Group first because they were the
most serious and the worst. We came to an agreement with them and there was an open statement in court in front of Mr Justice
Eady. It did not actually go to trial. Q211 Chairman: Mr Tudor, we have
heard from other members of your firm a week ago about your firm quite often operating on a conditional fee arrangement. You
have said in your view it is quite clear that there was serious defamation so you were very confident clearly that you would
win this case. Did you consider a conditional fee arrangement?
Mr Tudor: Yes. My partners
and I talked about it. We have a committee of partners that looks at whether or not a case is on a no win, no fee basis, as
you probably heard from my partner, Mark Thompson. We did that with Kate and Gerry's case. It was a longer, more difficult
discussion than would ordinarily be the case because of the extraordinary nature, volume and so on. We sent the complaints
to The Express and The Star, at which point we were acting on a normal retainer. We indicated to Kate and
Gerry and we told The Express and The Star at that time that if the matter was not resolved we would indeed
go on to a no win, no fee arrangement.
Mr McCann: If there was not the facility for a conditional
fee arrangement, it is very unlikely we would have continued with the action on the basis that this was not our main purpose.
We are still looking for Madeleine. Much of our energies are diverted in that but also the prospect of a fairly swift, conclusive
verdict along with taking away most of the risk - essentially, we would have had to remortgage our house to do that. It had
a huge bearing and I am thankful to Carter Ruck for taking us on. Q212 Mr Hall: You
went to some extraordinary lengths I think to avoid having to take any legal action in this case. You really did go to the
newspapers and point out to them that a lot of what they were reporting was factually incorrect or just pure fabrication.
That clearly did not work with one group of newspapers. What was the final story that drove you to take legal action?
Mr McCann: We had done as much as we thought we could. There was a period where it seemed to go pretty quiet.
After that, there was a short lull. In January 2008, we had the same headlines rehashed, the same stories with the same incredibly
disturbing content. At that point we said, "Enough is enough. This cannot continue." It was a last resort. We did
not want to get into an adversarial process with the media in general but we felt it had to be done. With hindsight, we probably
should have done it earlier because it led to a dramatic change in the coverage. Q213
Mr Hall: You chose one specific group of newspapers to take legal action against. Was that because they were the
only serial offender, if you like, or was it just because the sheer nature of their reporting set them aside from all the
other media reports?
Mr McCann: Undoubtedly, we could have sued all the newspaper groups.
I feel fairly confident about that but that was not what we were interested in. We were interested in putting a stop to it
first and foremost and looking for some redress primarily with an apology. The Express was the worst offender by
some distance. After the quiet period, The Express rehashed it and it was a very easy decision as to which group
of newspapers to issue the complaint against. Q214 Mr Hall: Was the standard
of the reporting in The Express significantly worse than the other newspapers, of a lower standard? I have no experience
of this. I do not know how you managed to get the translations from the Portuguese newspapers. How did it compare with the
reports in the Portuguese newspapers?
Mr McCann: Kate and I really did stop reading the newspapers
very, very quickly. Unfortunately, many of our family and friends did not. Just to emphasise again how disturbing it was for
us, often if we were going to bed, putting on the television and you had the newspapers being shown on the news last thing
at night, to see a front page headline that you knew to be rubbish and, worse, insinuating that you were involved in your
own daughter's death or disappearance was incredibly, unbelievably upsetting. Often, it was feedback through us or through
our media person. What we did do though, for the reasons I outlined earlier, around July/August 2007, we had an offer from
a Portuguese lady who said she could translate the Portuguese press for us on a daily basis. She did that and then it became
very apparent to us the way the news cycle was happening. I want to make this absolutely clear: we could see that often what
was a throw away line at the bottom of a Portuguese tabloid, along the lines of "Somebody said this", the next thing
was fact in a headline and greatly embellished, rehashing much of the article but often in much stronger terms than had been
originally reported. Q215 Mr Hall: You said that your intention for the
libel action was to stop factually incorrect, fictitious, fabricated stories appearing in the press.
Mr McCann: Yes. Again, I make this absolutely clear: our primary motive was we felt these were damaging the search. If people
believed Madeleine was dead or that we were involved in her disappearance, then people would not look, would not come forward.
That was our absolute, primary objective by taking action. Q216 Mr Hall: What
is your assessment of the success of that action?
Mr McCann: I think it has been incredibly
successful. There was an overnight change in the reporting and what would be carried. I think Kate particularly wants me to
say this: we would much rather that none of these stories had been published in the manner that they were and we would rather
not have had to take action, because I cannot say that the damage that was done has been reversed. I hope it has but I cannot
say that it has. We will not know until we find Madeleine and who took her.
All it could have taken is one person who had information, who reads some of that and says, "It must not have been anything"
and the call never comes through. It could all still hinge on one call.
Mr McCann: When people
are presented with information on almost a daily basis insinuating something, even if it is on rather fragile ground, there
is not always the reasoning and rationale behind it and the objectives of why that information is in the public domain in
the first place are not always scrutinised. Q217 Mr Hall: Other the financial
penalty that the newspaper group suffered in having to settle the action, do you think they have suffered any other serious
consequences for the misreporting in this case, because they clearly have damaged the case to find Madeleine. That I think
goes beyond any shadow of a doubt. Do you think there should have been other consequences apart from the financial damages
that they had to pay?
Mr McCann: I do not know if the Express Group stated exactly what action
they have taken and who they have held accountable and responsible for that. You could apply that to the others. We should
make that public. All of us would expect in our walks of life, in the jobs that we do, that when you get something so badly
wrong so often, with potentially serious consequences, someone should be held to account. There has been a financial payment.
I have no idea whether that has seriously damages Express Newspapers or not. Q218
Paul Farrelly: There have been scores of libellous articles over months and months and no one has been sacked, demoted
or reprimanded. Robert Murat was quoted at the weekend as telling Cambridge University that a British journalist covering
this was so anxious to break the story that she created it. "She tried to convince the Portuguese Police that I was acting
suspiciously"; yet nobody has paid any penalty. What does that say about the press?
Mitchell: It may be instructive to know that when the complaint first went in the initial response from the Express Group
was to offer the chance to set everything right in an exclusive interview with OK Magazine, which is owned by Mr
Desmond as well. You do not have to think too long and hard about our response to that offer. Q219 Mr Sanders: It says in the Express's apology that they "promise to do all in their power
to help efforts to find her". Have they done anything in their power since that apology to help you?
Mr Mitchell:I think our silence speaks volumes. Q220 Adam Price: You described the process of embellishment whereby an originally inaccurate story in the Portuguese
press then became magnified in the British press. Did you ever feel it necessary to take any legal action against any of the
Portuguese newspapers for some of those original sources of inaccurate information?
Mr McCann:We have of course considered it. In August 2007, we did issue proceedings against the Tal e Qual newspaper
and that organisation has subsequently gone bust. An indicator of it is that is still going through the process of the courts.
It is very unlikely that we will follow it up but we have chosen at this time not to take action in Portugal, primarily because
we have been advised that it would be a very long and drawn-out process. It would distract our energies in a direction which
is not the main aspect of what we are trying to achieve in the search for Madeleine. Additionally, we think it would have
a negative impact by rehashing the same information over and over again and adding what we saw in some of the jingoistic elements
of the reporting an Anglo-Portuguese battle, which is not what this is about. We want to work with the Portuguese in the search
and although we cannot and will not rule it out in future, for the time being we have decided to try and get on with doing
what we think everyone should be doing, and focusing on Madeleine and not on what has been said in the past. Q221 Adam Price: In that sense at least you think that the British system of libel law is
Mr McCann: Absolutely, and I know that the PCC in their submission have
said that their process is fast, free and it is solved in a non-adversarial way, but that is not the advice that we were getting
with regards our specific complaints. In some ways I have been very thankful that we have been able to put a stop to the reporting,
the way it was going, and fairly quickly, and without a huge amount of time. Obviously we weighed up issuing the complaint
very carefully and we felt that we were pushed into a corner, but in terms of our own time, how much Kate and I had to spend
on it was really small in comparison with the amount of other activity that we are involved in with the on-going search.
Mr Tudor:Just on that point, and as a follow-up to Mr Farrelly's
point as well, which is what does this say about British journalism and newspapers and so on, I am not going to comment on
that in any detail other than to say that one of the themes that has come out of many of the submissions that you have had
from the media for the purposes of today, and to some extent from the PCC as well, is this notion that the McCann phenomenon
in libel terms and press terms was indeed just that, a phenomenon, and you cannot compare it with anything, it is not a model
for where we are with press standards, and so on and so forth, and that is a real theme. That is Fleet Street's out, if
you like, in this debate. This case was clearly unprecedented to some extent. I know Kelvin Mackenzie says he thinks that
the "Madeleine story" was the biggest of his career, and whether or not that is right, I do not know. Either way
- and Gerry would probably amplify this - I think that all this case has done in libel terms is magnify what I think is endemic
anyway in terms of the pressure on journalists to deliver stories, the lack the sufficiently rigorous fact-checking and so
on and so forth, and filling vacuums of news on the 24-hour news cycle. I do not think it is right to say there is no lesson
to learn from this. I do not think that is right at all.
may just add one thing to that and it is that we know that journalists have always had deadlines and pressures, but it is
quite apparent to me from reading several of the submissions that they are threatened by the change in the media, and where
new media meets old they are competing, and what Clarence when he came on board told me about his rigorous fact-checking when
he started as a journalist a few years ago, we have not seen evidence of that. They were prepared to do it. One other thing
that I think is very important in regards to how this story was covered is that the media, particularly the press, became
so obsessed with getting there first that Kate and I feel that on a number of occasions Madeleine's safety was completely
disregarded. There were sightings and other information would have been followed up and there was no consideration to Kate's
and my feelings, hurt or our wider family about anything that was printed. What we saw in the first few days very quickly
evaporated. Q222 Rosemary McKenna: It just must have been incredibly invasive
and so difficult. In the time since Madeleine disappeared and all the issues surrounding your case, are there any general
lessons that you think the press should learn?
all of us are asking for here is responsible reporting. Maybe it is too much to ask to go back to responsible journalism,
fact-checking and checking of sources. I think it is too easy where new media meets old to pick up a slur on the internet
and "here is my copy for today". It is lazy and it is dangerous and I think personally if I felt there was some
way of regulating it, and I know it is incredibly complex, then I would like to see responsible reporting. A huge amount of
the NUJ submission is very balanced, but I think in the commercial world, with the pressures, it is not going to happen. I
think for me it is about responsibility and reporting truth and not making innuendo and speculation appear as fact. Q223 Rosemary McKenna: I wonder how some of them can live with themselves. Finally, what level
of media coverage would be useful to you now? Is there anything that can be done that the media itself, the journalists themselves
could do now to help in your search for Madeleine?
search is on-going and it is very much the way we can get the information to as many people as possible. We do not know how
many people, first of all, may have information that might be relevant, who may or may not have come forward already. Clearly
what we have been doing within the Find Madeleine team is to review the information available to us, and to look for areas
where there are deficiencies, and to target where we think we want key information, and of course then if we think it is appropriate,
and I have to say this has largely been left to ourselves throughout to identify these things, and continues to be left to
the family and those who are working for us, then we will come and we will ask the media because we know we can reach people.
If we think there is something they can help in then we will come to the media and ask for that help. I would ask if the media
really have something which they think is potentially helpful then they come to us and ask whether we think it is helpful,
or the police if they want.
Mr Mitchell:Every time I get an interview
bid - and I still get them on a daily basis - Kate and Gerry turn round to me and say, "How is this going to help the
search for Madeleine?" and, frankly, 98% of the time I have to say it is not. It is going to give them a good headline
and it is interesting, but is it actually going to have a tangible, beneficial result; the answer is no. There are obvious
points such as anniversaries and birthdays where the interest will come back again, legitimately we could argue. We had the
nonsense where we had the 30-day anniversary, the 50-day anniversary, the 100-day anniversary, fatuous things like that. However,
when there are legitimate anniversaries, God forbid that it goes on that long, Kate and Gerry may well choose to do some interviews,
and we will choose which are the most effective and refine what messages there are from the search side, from the investigative
side, that will hopefully yield that piece of information. That is when we will re-engage with the media. We are very grateful
to them, Kate and Gerry are very grateful to them for their continued interest on that basis.
Mr McCann:It is quite difficult in terms of the calendars on the news desks because clearly they
do mark dates on the calendar and they think, "Okay, we will come back to this story." The pressure mounts to give
something. Of course, we do want people to know the search is on-going. It is and we are never going to give up; we cannot
give up, but it is very much if we have something, then we will try to coincide that with what will be a natural increase
in the media interest anyway. Q224 Paul Farrelly: As MPs we get abusive
letters and emails all the time; that is freedom of expression. People write hostile news stories but these days they invite
comment on news stories on-line. On New Year's Eve, a friend of mine lost his son who was 16 years old in a tragic accident.
There was a factual report in the local newspaper but some of the comments that the newspaper allowed on the story were obscene
and sick, and it is a disgrace that they allowed them to be printed there. What was your experience was with the so-called
on-line world, in particular how newspapers did or did not moderate comments that they invited on stories about Madeleine?
Mr Mitchell:I am not going to dignify some of the on-line comment
or sites or forums that are out there around this particular case. A lot of what they say is, as you say, quite rightly, entirely
disgusting and, nor, as I say, will I dignify it with any real comment. Where we see deeply offensive nonsense like that,
inaccurate, libellous statements appearing, it has got to the stage where I will not even tell Kate and Gerry about it; it
is pointless. I let Adam know and if it is a mainstream media outlet that is allowing this publication to occur, normally
a call from Carter Ruck pointing out the legal problems they are facing with such comment sitting there will normally suffice
to get it either retracted or taken off. That is not in any way trying to stop free speech. Expression of free speech within
the law of the land is absolutely fine, but when it oversteps the mark, and I know exactly what you mean about that other
tragedy, you just wonder about human nature, where is the compassion, and where is the heart in any of these people that they
can say these things freely. Q225 Paul Farrelly: With respect to newspaper
sites you should not have to do this, should you, they should moderate themselves?
Mr Tudor:That is a moot point. In my experience, what happens, and I echo everything that Clarence has just said, with
a slight exception, I remember at a fairly early stage of my retainment we wrote to a newspaper in respect of readers'
obscene comments attached to several of the articles that that newspaper website was running, and we got the response back
that said that they were not going to do anything to interfere with their readers' Article 10 rights to freedom of expression,
which is ludicrous obviously given what these emails were saying. We upped the ante somewhat and it is fair to say that they
then came down very, very quickly. Only last week we had a situation with a newspaper where we had to get stuff down. By and
large, newspapers are quite responsible about it, not necessarily through any altruism but because as soon as they are on
reasonable notice of it they become legally liable. One of the ways they try to protect themselves from the very point that
you raise, Mr Farrelly, is that they deliberately say, as I understand it, and I will be corrected if I am wrong, that they
are not moderating it because if they are not moderating it they are not responsible for it. Personally I think that is a
rather unattractive way of looking at things. If they are going to host websites and allow people to put whatever comments
they want on their websites, they should monitor them properly and spot libels and serious infringements of people's privacy
or whatever and take them down themselves. It should not be necessarily incumbent on the victims of those libels or infringements
to get in touch with them and get it taken down. That begs another question about the extent to which newspapers can be encouraged
or forced to moderate. Q226 Paul Farrelly: They would be in breach of what
the PCC tells us is the Code position. One final question on electronic media. Since we have taken up the inquiry I have noticed
that because our emails are public we are getting people who really should get a life coming to us with obscene stuff. We
do not respond to it because it just encourages them, so we just delete it, but that begs the concern where this stuff is
egged on and people have taken this up because they are quite sick, in large part because of the tenor of the newspaper coverage,
to what extent are you plagued by this now and to what extent have there been fears for your personal safety?
Mr McCann:I think in general we have had a substantial amount of abusive mail. There
have been one or two incidents around the house in which the police have been involved. Generally it is not such an issue,
but clearly we have concerns for our own and our children's safety, and that should be borne in mind. I think in terms
of electronic media, clearly some people have got too much time on their hands. I stopped reading any comments, much like
most of the information on the internet regarding Madeleine, very, very early on. When the media said to us at the beginning
about this being a campaign, it was a word that I really did not like. Actually I have realised why it is a campaign; it is
because we have got one objective and we are trying to achieve it and other people are trying to derail us from our objective,
and there is a war of attrition at times. I feel very sorry for those people who feel the need to do that. There is clearly
something missing in their lives.
Mr Mitchell:I think the internet
can give a spurious credibility to some of these views. A lot of these people have their own self-serving agendas based entirely
on prejudice and inaccuracy and a churning of inaccuracy upon inaccuracy leading to this false horizon that they believe in
themselves. We choose to ignore them because they are utterly irrelevant. Chairman:
Thank you. We have no more questions. Can I thank all three of you for coming this afternoon and in particular, Gerry,
we greatly appreciate your willingness to come and talk to us, thank you.
Culture, Media and Sport - Transcript, 24 March 2009
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 275-v House of COMMONS MINUTES OF EVIDENCE TAKEN
BEFORE CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE
STANDARDS, PRIVACY AND LIBEL
Tuesday 24 March 2009 MR JEFF EDWARDS, MR SEAN O'NEILL and MR BEN GOLDACRE SIR CHRISTOPHER MEYER, MR TIM
TOULMIN and MR TIM BOWDLER Evidence heard in Public Questions
303 - 401
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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2. Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should
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4. Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation
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Transcribed by the Official Shorthand Writers to the Houses of Parliament:
B Gurney & Sons LLP, Hope House, 45 Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 3LT Telephone
Number: 020 7233 1935
Oral Evidence Taken before the Culture, Media and
Sport Committee on Wednesday 25 March 2009 Members present Mr John Whittingdale, in the Chair Philip Davies Paul Farrelly Mr Mike Hall Adam Price Helen Southworth ________________
Witnesses: Mr Jeff Edwards, Chairman, Crime Reporters Association,
Mr Sean O'Neill, Crime and Security Editor, The Times, and Mr Ben Goldacre, the
Guardian, gave evidence. Q303 Chairman: Good morning. This is the fifth session taking
evidence into our inquiry on press standards, privacy and libel. In the first part of this morning's hearing we are taking
evidence from what we have termed "working journalists". I would like to welcome Jeff Edwards, Chairman of the Crime
Reporters Association, and I think recently retired Chief Crime Correspondent for the Daily Mirror.
Edwards: Yes, not working any more.
Chairman: Sean O'Neill, the Crime and Security Editor of the Times,
and Ben Goldacre, author of the Bad Science column on the Guardian. Adam Price is going to start the questions.
Q304 Adam Price: One of the themes that has emerged in the inquiry so far is the huge pressures that
modern journalists are having to work under. We are familiar with the term "churnalism" that Nick Davies has added
to the lexicon. In the study by Cardiff University that underpinned some of his work, a survey showed that, for example, facts
were only checked in 12% of stories, and they claimed that journalists in national newspapers were having to produce three
times as much copy compared with 20 years ago. Is this an accurate picture in your experience of the pressure that journalists
are working under now, compared to, say, a generation ago?
Mr Edwards: Yes. I think everybody in a newspaper
office has to do more for less now. I can only speak about the organisation I was with for the last 20 years, which was
the Daily Mirror, but during that period I have seen the staff shrink year on year, and when I left in December it
was probably about 50% of the strength it was when I joined in the late 1980s. Inevitably it depends on what is happening
on the day. As a specialist correspondent, I might start the day with nothing on the agenda or with five or six projects in
the air at any one time and having to dip in and dip out of things. Pressure to produce is not a new phenomenon. That has
been ever-present, in my experience. It is slightly different if you are a very experienced journalist - as I am, as Sean
is, and my colleague here, I am sure, is as well. Obviously it is a matter of professionalism that you check your own facts
as closely as you possibly can all the time but it is true that at certain times you might be dealing with, essentially, an overload
of information. I think that is just changing times in the newspaper business. Its back is to the wall at the moment. We have
seen shocking cuts and economies being made wholesale. Especially in the tributary system through the regional and local paper
system, we have seen huge job losses. I think that, inevitably, the overall effect will be a poorer standard of journalism. Q305 Adam Price: Some of the more colourful passages in Nick Davies' book refer to the use of
industrial language, I suppose, by certain leading figures in the newspaper industry: "Journalist reduced to tears under
pressure to produce," but was it not ever thus? Or is this a new phenomenon?
Mr O'Neill: I do not
think there is anything new about that. It is a fairly robust work environment, where every day there is an absolute deadline
otherwise the paper does not get out. You have to produce. I agree with Jeff: there is a new pressure to update internet sites
and websites continually, but from my own experience when I was at The Times, if I am on a particular story
and the web are saying, "We need copy for this," I can very easily say to the guy who is running the website, "I
have to research this for the paper and I haven't got time to do it," I talk to one of his online reporters - he
has a dedicated team of online reporters - have a chat with him on the phone, and that can be my input for the web for that
particular story. Other times, if I feel I have time, then I will certainly follow up for the internet as well. I think
the pressures have always been there. I have been on the staff of national newspapers, the Telegraph and then The
Times, for 17 years now and we have always had a pressure. The Telegraph back then was a much bigger paper.
It carried an awful lot of stories. You would be writing two or three stories for the paper every day. You might do less stories
now but you might do one for the paper and one for the web - one version for each. Q306 Adam Price: To
a certain extent you are all specialists. In the news environment, are you give the time and the space to develop the specialist
expertise, the contacts and the depth of knowledge that you need really to be a specialist?
Mr O'Neill: Where
Jeff and I are, we cannot do our jobs in the crime field without spending a lot of time developing contacts. You just
have to look at some of the agendas over the last year to see journalism of the last year to see that people do have the time
to get out there and still dig into a story. If you look at my own paper's coverage of the Eddie Gilfoyle alleged miscarriage
of justice case, one of our reporters spent months and months on that. He has had plenty of time to work on that. Ian Cobain
at the Guardian, in the work he has done on alleged British complicity in Georgia, took months and months to pursue
one topic. I myself have a 3,000 word piece in The Times today which has taken weeks and weeks to do. There is time.
Absolutely. If you have the right story, you will get time to do it.
Mr Edwards: But quality journalism is expensive,
frankly. It is expensive in terms of staff power. It is expensive in the literal sense: if you want to investigate something
properly you have to go out and travel, you have to stay in hotels, costs mount up. There is an element in certain papers
now of "pile it high and sell it cheap". Without a doubt. There is a huge budget squeeze. A ratcheting effect has
gone on. This is not entirely new. It has gone on over at least a decade, I would say. I think the end product is a lower
standard of product. It is interesting to note that the consistently successful newspapers, the ones which either maintain
their circulation or at least manage to have a slower rate of decline than the others are those that invest heavily in journalism.
There are commercial benefits to be gained from proper investigative journalism, but I am afraid that for many newspaper groups
that is not an option any more. They have missed that boat or the boat sailed without them noticing. The Express Newspaper
Group is a very good example, I suppose - although I do not really want to single anybody out. The truth is that is merely
a shell of the organisation it once was. Newspapers are run by accountants now, not by journalists. Q307
Adam Price: Clarence Mitchell, who is the media adviser to Gerry McCann, painted a pretty appalling picture
of almost frenzied pressure on the journalists working on that particular story to produce. One of the discussions is whether
that was a one-off because of the particular circumstances, but in the last few days we have had another crime story in an
overseas jurisdiction, the Fritzl case. The Sun was the first newspaper in the world, I think, to publish
a photograph of the daughter. The Daily Mail then followed up by publishing the name of the village where she was
living now with her family, and she has had had to move back into a psychiatric institute because the cover has been blown.
It hardly makes you proud to be British. Does it make you proud to be a journalist?
Mr Edwards: No. It is a vast
topic this. When you look at the amount of trade and traffic that a newspaper like The Times or the Daily Mirror
generates every day - millions of words, thousands of different topics over a period of a year, and things happen. There
have always been things that have happened that I certainly did not approve of and no doubt a number of my colleagues would
not have approved of. With the McCann case, which I was not directly involved in, I did not travel to Portugal - I did a little
bit of work at this end, but I was only peripherally involved - I know from talking to colleagues, not just colleagues at
the Daily Mirror but colleagues across the business who were out there, that there was intolerable pressure brought
to bear on some of them to produce results at any cost. One of the interesting developments or one of the interesting aspects
of how technology can take over is that all newspapers have websites now, and editors were coming in each morning and looking
at the number of "hits" per story on the websites, and certainly the ones which were getting the greatest amount
of attention were the ones they then wanted to repeat the process with again the next day. With the McCann case I know that
most newspapers were in this situation. Editors were coming in the morning, having a look and saying, "There've been
10,000 hits." I have no doubt the same thing would have applied to the demise of Jade Goody over the last few days.
They would come in, have a look and say, "This story is getting twice as many hits. People are twice as interested in
this as anything else, thus we must have more on this story. So the editor tells one of his line managers, "We must develop
more on this story," the line manager leans heavily on the reporter in Portugal and says, "We must have more on
this story," and the reporter says, "There is no more. We have squeezed this dry." The line manager - and I
am not talking about any particular newspaper: I am sure this is happening across the business - will be saying, "I don't
care what we do, just get something" - you know: "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions." I have
heard that expression many, many times in these sorts of circumstances. Essentially reporters, I know, will have been congregating
in Portugal over breakfast, and saying, "What the hell are we going to do today to resolve the situation?" Thus
a huge amount of recycling of information, and I have no doubt that some of what went on strayed beyond the boundaries of
what was acceptable and some newspapers paid the price for that. Q308 Adam Price: Sometimes, of
course, the problem lies not with the body of the text of a story but with the headline. To what extent, if your buyer
pays for the story, do you, as journalists, get consulted in relation to the headline?
Mr Edwards: No.
Mr Goldacre: You do not.
Mr O'Neill: I have had cases where we have had legal problems which have emanated
from headlines and captions rather than from the body of the text. But I think it is part of the job of the reporter to be
sensitive to the nature of the story. If you think there are legal issues there, you must say to the in-house lawyers and
to the sub-editors who write the headlines, "Be very careful about the headline. Don't put the word 'terrorist'
in there" and make sure the lawyer sees the headline before the page goes to print. There are ways of avoiding it but
you have to have your antennae out at all times. The other thing is that sometimes people insert mistakes into your copy while
in the business of correcting your grammar or something. Q309 Adam Price: This must be one of
the problems with some of the health scare stories that certain papers seem to major on. People will read the headline which
will give an impression of whatever problems with MMR, et cetera. Maybe the body of the text is more balanced but they will
just have read the headline and that is it.
Mr Goldacre: I think that is sometimes true. "Facebook Causes
Cancer" was a good example of that in the Daily Mail. I think there are a lot of problems that are possibly
specific to health and science coverage. I am slightly worried about the extent to which people are keen to use overwork as
an excuse in bad journalism. One of the stories I have covered, for example, the media's MMR hoax - as I believe it will
come to be known, effectively - is not an example of people being hurried. It is also quite a good example of how, even though
there are people in newspapers who are well trained (for example, specialist health and science correspondents who are often
very good at what they do), commonly when a story becomes a big political hot potato, it is taken out of the hands of the
specialists and put into the hands of journalists. In the case of MMR that was very clear. There is study from the Cardiff
University School of Journalism from 2003 which shows that of all the science stories in 2002, which is when the coverage
of MMR peaked, the stories about MMR were half as likely to be written about by science and health correspondents as stories
about GM or cloning. I think that is very problematic because, suddenly, the people who normally would be writing about a
funny thing that happened to the au pair on the way to a diner party were giving people advice about epidemiology and immunology,
which is plainly never going to work. That happens time and again with stories of the kind that I cover, where you see a scare
story, or a story about the supposed benefits of one particular vegetable, written not by a health or science correspondent
but by a journalist who has picked up a press release. Q310 Adam Price: Nick Davies' speeches
about churnalism are borne out, and it is driven by sales in this country, because a paper believes that there is a public
interest in these kinds of stories and therefore they want them to go on the front page of the papers.
I recognise that you have to be realistic and that there is a difference between the work of a public health physician trying
to convey good, clean, clear information to the public about the risks of different health behaviours and the desires of the
newspaper to sell copies or to sell readers to advertisers, but I think the drive to sensationalism has gone to the point
where people create stories that really have basically no factual content at all in the area of health. Q311
Alan Keen: It is coming through clearly - and people knew before we started the inquiry, but every time we have asked
anybody during this inquiry, whether it is lawyers or Gerry McCann or Max Mosley, and you have said it again this morning
- the standards have changed, have deteriorated, because of people getting desperate. What can we do about it? We are talking
about a privacy law or not a privacy law. Are the press intruding too much or are they not? You are insiders. What would you
say we should do?
Mr Edwards: I do not have any answers. I could take you back through my career and I could
sort of chart the demise of journalism. When I started my career in the late 1960s, working on very well-produced newspapers
in East London, advertising was the packaging that went around the editorial content. They were editorially driven and had
a large editorial staff. If you look at those same papers today - if they are not free sheets - they have almost no editorial
staff whatsoever, and what editorial content there is, it is the packaging that goes around the advertising. I like to compare
regional journalism, say, in this country - and this is a bit whimsical, but I am an angler - to the tributaries that feed
into the main rivers. Those regional and local newspaper offices and so forth - as with radio and television, I am sure, as
well - are the spawning beds of the industry. If you destroy those spawning beds, do not be surprised if the number of salmon
coming through over the next few years is reduced. Ben made a good point. We laugh about it sometimes, ironically, at work.
I have seen extraordinary schoolboy howlers creeping into papers I have worked for over the last few years, simply caused
by just a lack of knowledge or a lack of training or a lack of experience by people on the production side. Sometimes you
hear conversations that make your hair stand on end. I walked behind two sub-editors at the Daily Mirror just before
I left - these are people in their thirties, you would have thought they would probably have had a good education - and one
was saying to the other, "Do you know, I didn't know Japan was in the Second World War." I am serious. And I
thought, "Then you shouldn't be working here." I do not really want to bring levity into this, because
it is a serious matter, but the Guardian was honest enough to be the first newspaper that started a purpose-designed
corrections column, and the Daily Mirror does the same thing now, and it is one of the things that you first look
at in the morning to cheer you up. Things happen in there that you find completely unbelievable. But it is symptomatic of
a much more serious problem.
Mr O'Neill: I would take a slightly different perspective from Jeff in that. I have
spent quite a few days recently in the Newspaper Library at Colindale, which is a fascinating place. It is not that long
since newspapers had advertising all over the front page. They did not have news; advertising was very much to the fore. Also,
I do not necessarily recognise "churnalism". I do not have a lot of time for Nick Davies' thesis at all. The
old Telegraph in the 1950s and 1960s had about 40 or 50 stories on a page and somebody was churning that out. I am
a very passionate, heated believer in the power of journalism to shine a light in dark corners and to get where people do
not want stories to be told and things to be found out, and journalism today is a damn sight more professional than when I
started 30 years ago, and, I think, a cleaner and more conscientious business than it was. We were chatting outside about
the old days but I think people are a lot more conscientious now about how they go about it. It is just a more professional
business. Frankly, we spend a lot less time in the pub than we used to. Q312 Paul Farrelly: I
became an MP in 2001, and I was City Editor of the Observer and an investigative journalist beforehand. My coming
here coincided just at the time when these collaterised debt obligations and all this fancy stuff was taking off. I had never
heard of it until recent times. I cannot help thinking that the number of old hands from financial investigative journalism
that I still know in the trade I could probably count on the fingers of one or maybe two hands, whereas there used to be a
lot of them. I just wonder, coupled always with the implicit threat of libel, always with the implicit threat of spoiling
the sources if you are in the City, whether, even ten years ago, the press would have done a far better job of investigating
the causes of the current troubles than it does now in terms of the amount of resources it is willing to put into investigative
Mr Edwards: I agree, in a way, with what Sean just said. I think we have been "professionalised"
in one sense, but it has not necessarily made us better journalists, if you see what I mean. Newspapers cannot afford, never
more so than at the moment, to be cavalier about what they do. Lawyers in big newspaper groups are more active than they have
ever been. The biggest struggles that I know go on in a newsroom on almost any given day are those between journalists and
our in-house legal departments, because, in an ideal world, they would put a blue pencil through everything they possibly
can because they are also judged on their results. If things get through the net, they are culpable. In the end, the buck
stops with them. They are the people who carry the responsibility for keeping us out of the courts. Journalists are passionate
in their views, or should be, about their profession, and of course they are always looking in a certain sense, with responsibility
I hope, to push the envelope, to push the boundaries. Once again, it comes back to investment in the product. It strikes me
the Sunday Times is not feared by the establishment in the way it used to be, for instance. You could almost rely
on it, week by week, 20 years ago, to produce stories that really grabbed attention, that really brought about change, that
brought important matters under public scrutiny - and not just the Sunday Times but many others. The Daily Mirror,
where I worked until very recently very proudly, had a fantastic tradition for really great journalism. It had many,
many extremely creditable people working for it: people like Paul Foot, John Pilger - great names - journalists who built
a reputation on righting wrongs, on fighting injustice and so forth. As I said to you before, that element is no longer considered,
even in a paper like the Daily Mirror, to be a commercially viable or a commercially interesting asset.
Mr O'Neill: Your generation of financial journalists were probably the generation that did not see Maxwell coming.
Maxwell got away with robbing the Mirror pensions blind. Q313 Paul Farrelly: Read the
Mr O'Neill: When they went for Maxwell, he went to the courts and he obtained injunctions
against everybody. That is the situation we are in with a lot of investigative stories now . You probably see less of it because
a lot more of it is being stopped in the courts by injunctions and by threats from Carter Ruck. People run to Carter Ruck
as soon as you ask the question and stories get stopped. Q314 Chairman: That leads neatly on to
this issue. We have been told that there has been a gradual shift in the balance between freedom of expression and privacy,
but that in the area into which I think all three of you fall - which is exposing genuine matters of real public interest,
not sensationalism - all three of you are dealing with either crime or health matters which obviously are in the public interest,
there is the defence for journalists of public interest, which has been set out specifically in the Reynolds case,
where there are various tests which, if you meet them, provide you with a defence. Are you satisfied that you are still able
to devote the time and the resources in order that you have that defence and that it is not preventing you from righting wrongs
as you do it?
Mr O'Neill: I personally think we still get the stories and we still do the work. Where the obstacles
come in - and this is particularly just in the last two or three years - is in the rise of this kind of unwritten, judge-made
privacy law, and the rise of - I am sure you have heard of it - what I call "no win, no fee" but which I think is
called CFA libel. Q315 Chairman: Indeed.
Mr O'Neill: That scares the living daylights
out of newspaper lawyers. As soon as they see Carter Ruck coming waving CFA at them, they know that by the end of the week
the costs are going to be tens of thousands of pounds and going up from that in a spiral and they settle cases and run away
from cases rather than fight them. I have been involved in a number of stories where, frankly, I think we could have fought
cases and won them, but it would have been so expensive. Might the guy at the other end have had the money to pay our costs?
Probably not. The judgment is made that we will wait for a bigger one, but we have to stand our ground at some point. It is
difficult to give examples of this but I have been involved in a couple of cases involving terrorism stories, where people
have gone to Carter Ruck and sued. I hope I am privileged in here, but .... Q316 Chairman: You
Mr O'Neill: Jolly good. I am fairly sure that in two cases that I am aware of some of the money that was
paid in damages to one individual was then later used for bail surety for a man on a very serious terrorist charge, and
I am pretty damn sure that money was used to bribe officials in Pakistan to set free a very serious terrorist prisoner. On
the other business of privacy law, I can give you an example of a story I was working on with a couple of colleagues a couple
of years ago. A fairly senior lawyer, who back in the 1980s was a student animal rights extremist, now works for, advises
and represents the Metropolitan Police and police forces up and down the country. His previous animal rights activity is well-documented
back in the early 1980s. We were going to do "Look where he's gone now" as a matter of public interest but as
soon as we put the questions to him, we called him up and informed him of what we were doing and here are the questions, he
gave answers - he basically admitted everything - within an hour we had Carter Ruck on the phone threatening, "This is
breaching his privacy. We'll get an injunction" blah, blah, blah, and we ended up having to pull back and look at
that another day. We run into that sort of thing all the time. Q317 Chairman: But you believed
that that story was in the public interest and that is a defence against any attempt to obtain an injunction.
Mr O'Neill: I believed it was in the public interest. If I am right in remembering, I think my lawyer said, "We
think we would win on public interest, but this privacy law is so uncertain, we don't know where we are going, and is
this the one on which we want to make our stand?"
Mr Goldacre: I think one problem is the time and money required
to deal with the problems you could pick off is so enormous that it is a very big risk. I get the sense that people often
exploit the fact that they know it will be a lot of time and money for you in order to make quite trivial objections to your
Mr O'Neill: It is blackmail.
Mr Goldacre: Yes, but it is a test really of how much
you want to cover a story. In some cases it can make you more dogged, because you think, "Right, there's obviously
something worth covering here" and, also, just out of bloody mindedness, "I'm going to pursue this because I
feel offended that you are trying to bully me." But I think in a lot of cases, if it is a 50:50 thing and you are
not that bothered, then people will often drop things just because the nominal cost is too much.
We had a similar one at The Times recently, with Mohamed Ali Harrath, a Tunisian who is on an Interpol red notice.
He is a wanted man in Tunisia but not anywhere else and he is an adviser to the Metropolitan Police on Islamic affairs in
this country. When we first approached him it was as a side issue on another story, and, once again, we got Carter Ruck down
like a ton of bricks "How dare you harass our client." He abused the reporter and he called him "a Zionist,
an Islamaphobe." He was more abusive and we were terribly polite, as always. In the end, I thought, "This is just
not worth it." But we had a young Australian reporter who came in recently, and he spent three months nailing that one
down and got it into the paper. But it took a hell of a long time and an awful long time spent with the lawyers, and basically
not to deviate very far from the point at which we started. Q318 Mr Hall: I want to explore with
you the relationship between journalists and the PCC. Before I do that, you said that we have unwritten, judge-made privacy
laws. Would you like the Government to clarify the position on privacy laws in primary legislation?
I think that once we start getting ministers and judges and lawyers editing newspapers, we are heading towards Portugal. Q319 Mr Hall: I take that as a no, then.
Mr O'Neill: Absolutely. Q320 Mr Hall: You are quite happy to put up with the situation as it is.
Mr O'Neill: In my situation
the PCC code is part of my contract of employment. It is a very serious matter for me. I cannot mess about with that. I cannot
say, "I'm not going to stick by that." It is in my contract. If I breach that, I can lose my job. I think we
are all pretty aware these days, especially on crime stories, that you are dealing with very sensitive areas. You are approaching
people who have been bereaved; you are dealing with ongoing criminal investigations. You have to be very careful. I personally
take that code very seriously. Q321 Mr Hall: The National Union of Journalists has campaigned
for a "conscience" clause in the PCC code to allow journalists to say to their editors, "I'm sorry, I don't
like this story, I don't want to cover it." Do you think that should be in the code?
It is very difficult to apply. In my situation I had sufficient seniority - and I have used this many times over the years
- to go to the editor, if I knew in advance what we were doing, and say, "I think we're wrong to do this. I think
we are barking up the wrong tree. I think this is dangerous." I have worked for 26 different editors in a 25-year career
on national newspapers. The turnover was very rapid. Different editors. Different personalities. Some were good listeners
and would take good advice; others did not want to know at all. I think senior journalists do have that facility. I have
no doubt that senior political journalists regularly brief their editors and say "I think we should be doing this"
- or "I think we should not be doing this" is just as important. But, of course, the majority of the staff of any
newspaper are not in that privileged position. It would be deemed to be quite impertinent for most of the people I can think
of to go the editor of the paper and say, "I'm not doing this, boss, because I simply do not agree with it"
on moral or ethical grounds or whatever. You would probably be quietly eased out of the organisation, is the effect. It would
be impossible, I think, to police it. Q322 Mr Hall: We have heard reference to the MMR story,
which you are calling the "media hoax". A journalist goes along to his editor and says, "This is completely
wrong. We are going to end up in seven years time with an endemic of measles, the research side of this story is complete
garbage and we should not be doing it." Would that work?
Mr Goldacre: I think that did happen in a lot of
newspapers. There were a lot of people who spoke sense to power but were ignored. I think there is a problem in that health
and science coverage have unique problems, in that people at the top of news organisations tend to be humanities graduates
who do not understand the basics of evidence-based practice but, also, there is a desire for certainty about either risks
or benefits that medical research simply cannot offer. Certainly in relation to MMR I have been told a lot of stories about
this stuff. Also with the silly science stories. There was one where the headline in the Sun was "All men will
have big willies". It was a classic example of churnalism. It was a promotional piece for a TV channel but it was
presented as if it was an important breakthrough within the science of our understanding of evolution. This was reported as
a serious story in all national newspapers. I have been told by people who were in newsrooms on that day that they said, "Look,
please do not make me write this story, it's ridiculous." News editors and other senior people in the paper made
it very clear that this would be bad for their career. That is a trivial example, but I think it speaks to a larger problem.
Journalists often talk about "writing for the spike," which is where you are forced to write a story, and so you
do write it, but you write it with as many caveats as possible so that it is effectively unpublishable. I suppose it is that
dirty protest that is the closest you can get realistically. Q323 Mr Hall: How effective is the
PCC's code of practice, if you are not going to sign up for a conscience clause? Sean, you have already answered this
question. What is your view, Jeff?
Mr Edwards: I think the PCC is taken very seriously. I know from the last few
years working at the Daily Mirror that I frequently heard and was part of debates where the question of whether we
would we be leaving ourselves vulnerable to that kind of complaint was taken. I was quite pleased, in the sense that
I think it was necessary to form a body like the PCC. And of course initially people said, "It does not have a great
deal of bite" but I suspect that the longer it has gone on the more seriously it has been taken. I really think
that is probably about as good as it can get. Q324 Mr Hall: What is your experience of the complaints
procedure? You might want to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Mr Edwards: Not at all. Q325 Mr Hall
You have been very candid with us.
Mr Edwards: I will be honest with you, in my entire career I have never been
the subject of a PCC complaint. I have only been the subject of one libel, which was on my first week on the News
of the World, and, interestingly, bearing in mind something else we were just debating, it was not about the text of
the story. My copy was not libellous but the headline was. We lost that, I think. Again I make this delineation: amongst senior
journalists who are given responsibility and expected to show responsibility and expected to understand their profession fully
there is a great deal of discretion and a lot of integrity and a lot of commonsense application. Your knowledge of the rules
should keep you out of trouble anyway. Instinctively, your experience, your knowledge, your learning and a number of factors
should be able to tell you: "If I write that we are likely to run aground. We are going into tricky conditions here."
In my particular field, many, many times, I have adjusted my approach to a story out of deference to victims of a crime or
to recognise that you need to show some sensitivity. I have sometimes been critical of colleagues who have written things.
We have had debates afterwards and I have said, "If I had been writing that story, I would not have pitched it that
way. I would not have said that. You could cause a lot of damage unnecessarily. How does it enhance the story? What would
we lose by it if we had not included that?" No saint am I, but I have accrued a lot of experience and I think that is
invaluable in keeping you out of trouble.
Mr O'Neill: I have two outstanding PCC complaints at the moment.
They are both being taken very seriously by our Readers' Editor. One is from Terry Adams and the other is from Kenny Noy(?)
both with links to organised drug-running businesses, and I have to answer those in full when they come in. On the conscience
clause, I think a conscience clause would turn into a bit of a Shergar's challenge. I was born and bred in Northern
Ireland and I spent a lot of time reporting on the troubles. It is my job in something like that, no matter what I think
and feel personally about a matter, to report that impartially. There is a paper in Northern Ireland called the Impartial
Reporter. I think a reporter has to be impartial. You report what you see in front of your eyes. It is not about what
you think when you are a reporter; it is about what you see and what you hear and what occurs. You have to report that
fairly and frankly and openly. I think if you have a problem with an issue, if you have a problem with a news editor
suggesting you go and do something, I think Jeff is right this is where experience comes in. If you are an experienced reporter,
you can tell your news editors to hang back a little: "We do not want to do that. It is a bad idea." Q326 Helen Southworth: You have been very clear about the importance and significance of the PCC code of practice,
all three of you. How universal is that? Is it automatic for any journalist that the code of practice would be part of a contract,
Mr O'Neill: I do not know if it is universal across the industry. I think it is in News International.
When we had the previous body, the Press Complaints Council, before the current Commission, I think it was taken less seriously.
I think that for the last five, six, seven years it has been regarded much more seriously, because all newspapers, like Jeff
says, want to stay out of the courts. Nobody wants to get to the courts. If there is a system of self-regulation and it can
be seen to be working, then everybody in the industry takes it seriously. We have to. I think that has become much more the
norm and much more the standard.
Mr Edwards: Certainly in the last eight or nine years at the Mirror,
however long the PCC has been running, it was made very clear that we were going to comply, we were going to clean up our
act. I think that may well have been said in other newspaper offices as well. Unfortunately what happens is that sometimes
a set of circumstances may be so irresistible that people conveniently push aside that commitment. They become overexcited.
I suspect that if you look at the McCann saga it is probably a good example of that, whereby if you had shown various
editors the year before a play written around those circumstances, they would have all read it and said this is jolly interesting
but we would never allow it to happen. It is a peculiar psychology. I do not know what gets into people but that is an
ideal example of it. It is a paradox. On the one side I know I have had many, many conversations, as I have said, where we
have talked about the risks, about the morality of a particular story or whatever, and said, "Listen, we want to stay
the right side of the line. We have a commitment to abide by the rules." Then you will see a certain set of circumstances
where it is almost as if, I do not know, people suddenly act out of themselves for a limited period over a particular story.
I do not know - you know, in a world that is driven by extreme competition never so more now than it is - what you do about
that. Q327 Helen Southworth: I want to follow up about the drivers and whether these drivers have
changed. We have been touching on it in your answer, Jeff. The mass media communication world has changed so rapidly in the
last ten years. You do not have to travel across the world to find out what parts of the world are saying. Some of those media
are completely outwith the journalists' body of experience and knowledge and skills in print media and broadcasting previously.
What kind of impact do you think that is having currently? Is that something that the PCC needs to give a focus on, putting
something into the public domain, for example? It has shifted really radically in the last ten years.
In a way we are the responsible end of the business. What they call "citizen journalism," out there on the blogosphere
and forums and rumour sites, nobody is controlling any of that. The stories are still out there about the McCann family and
that case. It is circulating madly. The internet feeding frenzy that goes on is completely beyond regulation. Nobody has any
control over any of that. I think that is really quote worrying. I am not saying you people, but if you look at the courts,
judges make contempt of orders: "You must not report this" and "Nobody must know anything about this"
and when jurors get home they Google the name of the defendant and find out everything they need to know. Not necessarily
from responsible media but from all kinds of sites. It is getting to a world where you can regulate the press and you can
talk about privacy laws and libel and all the rest of it. Who is going to sue truecrimeblogger.com while he peddles loads
of nonsense that cannot be checked or verified and all the rest of it?
Mr Edwards: Sean is right in that respect.
I have said that mainstream newspapers are almost being pushed to the fringe of the media world and, as you say, we can only
self-police ourselves internally as the world pertains to us. There is an incredible mass media world and, as Sean said, there
is citizen journalism now; it seems that the internet is entirely unrestrained, there are no legal restraints on it and you
can write what you like almost about anyone providing that you are shielded in some way - outside the UK jurisdiction or whatever.
I do not know what you do about that. I was fascinated, I watched an episode of a police series called Traffic Cops
the other night and the police officers had to arrest two very violent men inside a supermarket. By the time they got them
under control the camera was facing towards the front glass of the supermarket and you could see about ten people with mobile
phones videoing this arrest. I thought it was quite interesting that after the prisoners were put into a van and taken away
to the police station the reporter said to the PC "That was a difficult bit of business" and he said "Yes,
because we had to behave extremely well in these circumstances because you saw all those people who were videoing what was
going on. That won't be the first time that our relief has been on YouTube." There is good and bad in that; it actually
acts as a restraining factor and also acts as a restraining factor on journalists sometimes, in some circumstances, you never
know, because we are all subject to more scrutiny in more circumstances which you might not expect because there is so much
more media out there.
Mr Goldacre: I actually disagree. There is certainly a lot of idle tittle-tattle on the web
which is much like conversations in pubs, and that could be policed very simply if our libel system was not so all or nothing;
if there was the equivalent of a small claims court then it would be fairly straightforward. More importantly, there are many,
many stories in the area of health and science where the coverage on the internet is infinitely better, more accurate and
more relevant than the coverage in national newspapers; that is something to be very optimistic about and something to actively
encourage. It is not just blogs, it is not just of random people, it is academics who write about their own work, who write
about their colleagues' work, it is medical research charities, it is the NHS evidence site which gets through many visitors
a week, and actually as the quality of newspaper coverage deteriorates alternative sources are improving in quality and it
has a two-sided effect. On the one hand they are producing better coverage and on the other hand, as you say, they are pointing
out the flaws in mainstream media coverage. That is very powerful and something to be very enthusiastic about. Q328 Paul Farrelly: I tend to agree that a conscience clause would be unworkable, and I can imagine the conversation
afterwards with most editors, that if you want to continue working for this paper, son, before you get up tomorrow and leave
the house you had better leave your morals at home.
Mr Edwards: Absolutely. Q329 Paul Farrelly:
I was interested to hear what you say about the seriousness with which the PCC is allegedly taken because I know the sort
of people who comment in the press, but actually if somebody threatens to take you to the PCC over a controversial story there
is almost a palpable sigh of relief because people have not got the confidence or the wherewithal or the bottle to sue, and
unless you threaten to sue it will not change a newspaper's behaviour or they will not take it seriously, you are not
a threat. Therefore the PCC in many respects is laughed off as a bit of a ---
Mr O'Neill: I can only speak
from personal experience. If I get a PCC complaint then in no uncertain terms I have got to go through the anatomy of the
story: where it started, what I did, who I speak to and where the information came from. With some stories it is quite difficult
to reveal or hint at where the source of information about a particular person came from. That is increasingly the case so
I disagree with you Paul.
Mr Goldacre: I have had several PCC complaints and I have taken them extremely seriously.
Often they have been on things which I have regarded as quite trivial and I am very happy to spend the time. The fact that
it costs you a lot of the time is one of the main reasons for people going to the PCC because they know it is a way of effectively
punishing you for writing about them.
Mr Edwards: I would agree with my colleagues here. As I stated before, I
was pleased, certainly in the last few years at the Mirror that the presence of the PCC was taken seriously. Earlier
I said that I have never been subject to a complaint; Sean has just reminded me and funnily enough I think the only complaint
I recently received was from a multiple rapist who said that I had said that he was the worst rapist in the prison system;
it turned out that there was somebody else with one more conviction so it was not true. He received a letter back from our
Legal Department wishing him a nice day in prison and to stop bothering us. It is quite interesting actually; a lot of complaints
that go into that body are actually from people who do it in anger, they often do not understand what is right and what is
wrong. Lots of people who find themselves on the wrong end of publicity, quite justifiably, immediately lash out. People are
always talking about suing newspapers but they go and see solicitors and it is not a question of the expense when they are
told in no uncertain terms that actually the newspaper story appears to be fair and accurate. It is the same thing with the
Press Complaints Commission, that people tend to make threats or make a lot of fuss and write letters to the PCC when in fact
there is no case to answer. Certainly it was instilled in everyone - I have never worked for any newspaper at all where wilful
inaccuracy, wilful going out to get somebody, was encouraged or tolerated or ever wanted. Quite often complaints go to the
Press Complaints Commission because it is a mistake rather than a deliberate piece of mischief that brings about that situation.
As I said before, when you look at the enormous amount of traffic that one copy of the Guardian generates - I do
not know how many words go into one issue of the Guardian or one issue of The Times every day but the accuracy
rate contained therein is astonishingly high when you consider all those words. It is a good thing also that you will hear
a lot of people talk about being maligned in the papers and what they actually mean is it is a difference of opinion about
something rather than a difference of facts. I spend a lot of time with police officers and we hear regularly of miscarriages
of justice - we saw one last week where a man convicted of murder was released after 27 years when his conviction was believed
to be unsafe. I do not know any police officers who take pleasure in convicting and putting in prison the wrong person for
a crime, and I do not know any journalists who take any pleasure in deliberately distorting facts or maligning people who
do not deserve to be in that situation.
Mr O'Neill: If I can come back on that, you are right that the PCC
is maybe not taken as seriously as being sued in the libel courts and I am sure that in a case where somebody thinks they
have a strong case for libel they will go to the libel courts. What is happening now though with CFAs is that you are being
threatened with libel actions over things that really at the end you just know actually I am right here, but the lawyers are
saying "We have got to settle this one, we cannot afford to fight this one". That is distorting journalism and it
is a distortion of justice. Q330 Philip Davies: I am interested about this sort of chilling effect
that seems to be taking place. Has the balance shifted? It seems to me as a layman that perhaps 15 years ago the common view
would have been do not bother taking on the News of the World or The Sunday Times because they have got
such deep pockets you may be asking for a bankruptcy, just do not bother. It seems that that has now changed and it is now
the newspapers who are saying we cannot afford to risk taking this to court and the balance of power has shifted; is that
Mr O'Neill: The cases would go to court if the fee structure was in any way fair. I am no lawyer and
I do not really understand it, I just have lawyers saying "Look, we cannot afford this" and because of this CFA
thing the costs start like that and then they go like that. Q331 Philip Davies: Is it simply CFA?
Mr O'Neill: It is also predatory lawyers. Carter Ruck, if you see their newsletter, they boast about running around
the country, reading through the newspapers, picking people and approaching them and saying "We can get you some money
here". It is ambulance-chasing and that is really going on extraordinarily in some areas, especially if you write anything
to do with Islamic extremism or suggesting someone is an extremist or a fundamentalist or anything like that. You can bet
your bottom dollar Carter Ruck will be on it within days. Because of that it is a chilling effect, absolutely, but we do go
around and we cross the I's and we dot the T's and we check again and again and again. Q332 Philip
Davies: My starting point is that a free press is essential in a democracy and that we rely on the press and the
media to expose and challenge wrongdoing in authority; I would hate to see a privacy law because it is an essential part of
our democracy. If this is happening, from your perspective what is the solution that would allow you to expose this wrongdoing
without worrying about being sued or being prevented from publishing wrongdoing? Is it simply abolishing CFAs or does it need
something more than that?
Mr O'Neill: Ben just talked about this idea of more of a small claims court for libel
so that libel does not become this extraordinary, hugely expensive thing.
Mr Goldacre: I was recently sued by a
vitamin consultant who was selling vitamin pills in South Africa - taking out full page adverts in national newspapers saying
anti-AIDS drugs will kill you, it is a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry, vitamin pills are the answer to the AIDS
problem. This was obviously very irresponsible and it was fairly cut-and-dried to my mind where the evidence stood on whether
vitamin pills or anti-AIDS drugs were better for treating AIDS, but this was such an enormously long drawn-out process that
eventually by the time he pulled out our costs were half a million pounds. I had watched the process accumulate with unending
meetings with huge numbers of very professional and very highly-paid people and I found myself amazed at the huge amount of
time and effort that was being expended on looking at what seemed to be something that could be resolved in an afternoon. Q333 Philip Davies: Are there individuals that you would shy away from, that because you know that
they will threaten legal action through Carter Ruck or whoever it might be, have we got to a situation where there are now
individuals whom you consider to be untouchable because you know you cannot take them on or your newspaper would not be prepared
to take them on?
Mr O'Neill: I am not sure there are any number of Maxwells, that was the classic case.
Mr Edwards: We are in a position of privilege here, that is understood. Certainly the Daily Mirror fought
shy of anything that might be perceived to be critical of Roman Abramovich recently. I actually had a story myself which was
not critical, it would not have been in any way libellous, it simply talked about some security arrangements, some extravagant
and interesting security arrangements that he was making concerning his fleet of luxury yachts, and we did not run the story
at the time because the edict was can we absolutely back this story up? I know what it was - I knew it was absolutely true
but his organisation denied it, because he is a very private person and he considered it apparently to be some commentary
about some aspect of his private life. The message came back we do not mess with Abramovich, he is too powerful, he is too
litigious, if in doubt - there was no doubt in my mind, I said "Orders have been placed for this equipment, I can tell
you with which organisation" but they ran away from the story and I accepted that that is the world we live in now, sometimes
you cannot do anything about that. Q334 Philip Davies: It is quite serious if people for whom
it is important to have scrutiny and be challenged, simply because of the legal ---
Mr O'Neill: It has always
been that way, it has always been the rich and powerful who have been able to go to the libel courts and silence the newspapers. Q335 Philip Davies: When Max Moseley gave evidence to the Committee I actually was not here but one
of the most convincing things that he was complaining about was the issue of prior notification. He felt it was absolutely
right that if a newspaper was going to print something about them the following day they should be notified prior to that.
In his particular case that did not happen, presumably because the paper concerned would be pretty sure that an injunction
would be taken out and that they may not be able to run the story, so presumably prior notification was not given in that
case in order to prevent an injunction. Would you support a system where you had to give prior notification to somebody if
you were going to print an unflattering story about them?
Mr O'Neill: No. The normal course of action when
you are doing a story with most people is that you will ring them - it is not really prior notification, you are saying this
is the allegation we are about to make or the story we are about to tell, we know it is true, what is your response, what
is your comment, what have you got to say? There are other stories where, again, like the Maxwell situation, people will injunct
you, where you have High Court judges basically censoring stories. Maxwell was protected for years by the courts and the people
who lost out were the Mirror pensioners whom he robbed blind for years because he was not properly exposed. The other
situation, slightly hypothetical, is imagine you were writing a story about someone who has committed a criminal act or is
a fraudster or something, you are one step ahead of the police - which sometimes happens. You do not want to flag that up
to that person to allow them either to start shredding documents or escape the country or something like that, you want them
to get the story out, you want to get the authorities informed but you do not want to have to give the game away. Q336 Philip Davies: But I think the argument would go that surely it is better in terms of an injunction that an
independent judge decides whether or not something is in the public interest rather than the editor of the newspaper making
that decision that it is in the public interest and I do not know care what anyone else thinks. That is how the argument goes
but what would you say to that?
Mr Edwards: First of all, how do you apply prior notification because especially
in the case of very wealthy, very important people, they can avoid prior notification if you like because very frequently
if I wanted to speak to Roman Abramovich I could not, it would be easier probably to get an audience with the Pope, as they
say, than speaking to somebody like that because they are constantly on the move, they are shielded by layer upon layer of
security and public relations and all sorts of people - echelon strength. If you are the editor of the News of the World,
it is Friday evening and you say "Right, now it is time to tell Roman Abramovich what we are about to do", you speak
to your first line of contact which is maybe a public relations agency or whatever working on his behalf and they say, "Sorry,
we cannot get hold of Mr Abramovich, we have no idea where he is in the world; he has 16 homes, eight aeroplanes and nine
yachts and we do not know where he is." Have you fulfilled your obligation to try and contact him or have you not, and
do you then say we cannot publish the story until we can speak to him directly, because that situation could run on endlessly?
What criteria do you apply that says we have actually attempted to do our best to contact this individual to give him prior
notification? Important people, as we said, will always find ways to make themselves unavailable, so that is a difficulty
that I can see straightaway.
Chairman: We are going to have to stop very, very shortly. Paul. Q337 Paul Farrelly: Just on the chilling thing I am sure the News of the World might argue that actually
we published a dummy edition in time-honoured fashion, not because of the threats of injunctions, to be sure of our story,
but because we did not want the Sunday Mirror getting in on the story.
Mr O'Neill: Quite right. Q338 Paul Farrelly: We have recently just had an example where a newspaper was very sure of its story
because it verified the documents - the Guardian - where Barclays found a judge at two o'clock in the morning
who could not order the paper to be pulped because it had gone out at that stage but ordered the removal of the documents
from its website for breach of confidentiality. Ben, very briefly in the time that the Chairman has allowed us, could you
just explain, when you are running health stories how do the people who are peddling these wares approach you and the Guardian
to try and stop you writing what they consider to be bad things about their reputations? How do they tie you down?
Mr Goldacre: Legal threats generally; obfuscation, so unsatisfactory defences which take a lot of time and effort to unravel
but more commonly legal threats which have never come to anything - well, they have come to 15 months of weekly meetings and
harassment but nothing more than that. Q339 Paul Farrelly: Finally, do you find that in these
circumstances it is not really about the money they want, it is about the chilling effect and also causing you and the newspaper
so much aggro that you are more likely to give up and leave it alone?
Mr Goldacre: Yes, because the motivation
is to bully you and that can have very different effects. With me in a lot of cases it has made me much dogged about pursuing
a story but on a much bigger scale there are points where it goes beyond what a newspaper can actually administratively handle,
and at that point people become untouchable.
Chairman: We need to move on to our next session. Can I thank all
three of you very much. Memoranda submitted by Press Complaints Commission and Press
Standards Board of Finance
Examination of Witnesses
Christopher Meyer, Chairman, Press Complaints Commission, Mr Tim Toulmin, Director, Press Complaints
Commission, and Mr Tim Bowdler, Chairman, Press Standards Board of Finance, gave evidence.
Good morning, for the second part of this morning's session could I welcome the Chairman of the Press Standards Board
of Finance Tim Bowdler; the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Sir Christopher Meyer; and the Director Tim Toulmin.
Janet Anderson. Q340 Janet Anderson: Thank you Chairman. Welcome, gentlemen. The Press Complaints
Commission of course was set up in 1991 following a report by Sir David Calcutt into press regulation and it was his recommendation
that there be a non-statutory body to regulate the press but that if it was not effective then there ought to be statutory
regulation, and in fact in 1993 he went on to recommend that. Could you perhaps tell us what you do to make sure that self-regulation
guarantees the freedom of the press and to make sure that the PCC retains credibility in what it does?
Meyer: The essential thing, if the question is addressed to me, is that we should exist in a state of permanent evolution,
that is to say never to be satisfied with the experience that we deliver and always seek to improve it. I am coming towards
the end of my time now, I will be gone a week today, and I look back to 2003 when I first became chairman and we put in a
set of reforms that covered a very wide area of PCC activity. You could say that the last six years have been a story of embedding
and improving those changes, which in turn have led to other changes. The most important thing that we have to have in mind
is that above all else we provide a public service and that this public service must be consistently and continuously improved
by enhancing the independence of the PCC, by enhancing its proactivity, by enhancing the speed and good judgment and the way
in which we react to complaints, by enhancing our pre-publication activities, which has been a growth area over the last few
years, by ensuring that when we do negotiate remedies for people, apologies, corrections and so forth they really do appear
in newspapers and magazines with due prominence and by ensuring that the Code of Practice is revised as frequently as is necessary.
One of the improvements we introduced five years ago was to ensure that the Code Committee met regularly every year to consider
changes instead of meeting ad hoc, and to also be certain - maybe not ahead of the curve but at least on the crest of the
wave - of the huge technological changes that were taking place in the industry, which now means stuff which is online. As
we have just announced, last year as in 2007, which was the first such time, we are now taking more complaints about online
editions of newspapers and magazines than we are print. To sum it up, this is like painting the Forth Bridge; you cannot rest
at any time. You are satisfied that you have achieved this or you have achieved that but it is simply a staging post to doing
better. I believe today as firmly as I believed in 2003 that where newspapers and magazines are concerned, be they in print
or online, self-regulation is the only way by which one can satisfactorily reconcile freedom of expression, freedom of the
press on the one hand, with responsibility and respect towards readers and viewers on the other now at the beginning of the
21st century. That is where I am coming from. Q341 Janet Anderson: Thank you. If that
is the case and you think the PCC is doing a good job and a credible job and everyone recognises that, why is it that as the
journalists from whom we have just taken evidence have told us people increasingly resort to the courts instead?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I believe that is false and it is revealed by the statistics which we have just announced in our
annual review of 2008. Leave aside the fact that we hit an all-time record in people who came to us for help, for remedy,
on matters of privacy where the courts issue focuses. On matters of privacy we increased by an astonishing 35% the number
of rulings we issued. Now it is absolutely the case that more privacy or confidence issues are coming to the courts because
the judges are applying the Human Rights Act - you would expect that to happen - but if you look in comparison at the number
of cases that come to the courts with the vast number of cases that come to us, in their hundreds, it is impossible to argue
as some people do (I do not know why) that people are bypassing the PCC for the courts. There is always going to be a time
for the courts and a time for the PCC and as sure as hell it is a time for the PCC where privacy is concerned, and the proof
of the pudding is in the statistics. Q342 Janet Anderson: But at the end of the day surely all
you can do is try and get an apology where you think an apology is appropriate. Do you think that is sufficient deterrent
to prevent newspapers publishing inaccurate information?
Sir Christopher Meyer: You are never going to get perfection
in the world of journalism any more than you will in any other area of activity in society, but I am quite convinced that
the range of remedies and penalties that we have at our disposal are sufficient to maintain generally high standards in the
industry. We are never going to stop excess, we are never going to stop mistakes, we are never going to stop journalists who
do something stupid or even malevolent, but what we can do is provide a regime that curbs all the worst excesses and really
serves as a deterrent to editors and really provides a panoply of remedies to people who come to us for help. It is not just
a question of apologies and corrections and things like that, it is the tagging of archives so that the story does not get
repeated again five years hence, it is the ability within 24 hours - or less even - where if something goes wrong online they
have it taken down, taken off the web archive - this is increasingly a growth area which this Committee recognised in its
report in 2007 - and our ability to intervene and, I have to say actually, our ambition to intervene before something becomes
a problem; there is a lot of stuff that we have stopped from happening, and by definition it is quite hard for us to publicise
that but it is a growth area in our work. I am satisfied (a) with the range of remedies and (b) with the range of deterrents
that we have at our disposal. If we were, say, as a lot of our critics argue, to go to a regime of fines, some kind of fining
system for editors who step out of line, I genuinely believe and I could elaborate on this that that would serve as no greater
deterrent to bad behaviour and actually would impede seriously the effective and speedy operation of the self-regulatory system. Q343 Janet Anderson: We have taken quite a lot of evidence about the case of the McCanns, including
from Madeleine's father Gerry McCann. In its submission to this inquiry the National Union of Journalists actually said:
"It is likely that the PCC would not have upheld complaints from the McCanns since it is arguable whether there is direct
evidence that the articles concerned breached the PCC Code of Practice, which does not prevent speculation." We understand
that the McCanns were actually advised by their legal advisers that to go down the PCC route was not the most effective, although
they did eventually successfully sue the Express.
Sir Christopher Meyer: The lawyers would say that, would
they not? Having read Mr Tudor's evidence to you - I think he was there with Gerry McCann - it was a classic kind
of Carter Ruck operation, a sort of tendentious onslaught on the PCC, because one has to say there are a number of law firms
in London who specialise in media matters who regard us as their sworn enemies, probably because we do the job as well as
they do but we do it for free and we can provide a degree of discretion which protects the complainant in a way that open
exposure in court does not. Here I would mention the case of Max Moseley which maybe you will want to discuss. In the matter
of the McCanns - I am not aware of this NUJ submission and I do not really understand what it is driving at there - one has
to say this in brief, and I come back to my first point: there is a time for the courts and there is a time for the PCC; the
notion that the courts and the PCC are in a competition as some kind of zero sum game is absolutely ludicrous. The PCC is
never going to eliminate the courts and I sure as hell hope that the judges do not ever eliminate the PCC; we act in a complementary
way. What I said to Gerry McCann when I first him was this is what the PCC can do for you, this is how we can help. If you
want damages, if it comes to that, we do not do money, the courts do money, so you are going to have to make a choice. It
seems to me perfectly normal that if you feel that you are defamed or libelled and you want damages for that, punitive damages
for that, you obviously go to court, but there is a whole range of other things that we could have done and could do for the
McCanns which are of a quite different nature. The McCanns are an interesting case of people who chose both ways; they went
to the courts on the matter of defamation and they came to us for the protection of their children and their family from the
media scrums when they returned to the United Kingdom. It seems to me a perfectly normal way of proceeding. Q344 Philip Davies: Just on the issue of credibility, I understand the point you make is a good one, that if people
want damages then they are going to have to go through the court system, but in terms of the credibility it seems that Gerry
McCann said that his beef with the PCC was that the "editor of a paper which had so flagrantly libelled us with the most
devastating stories could hold a position on the board of the PCC." That was his beef. Max Moseley's beef was that
"they have no power" and that it was "very much a creature of the press". In terms of credibility would
you accept that those kinds of feelings about the PCC are quite widespread, although nothing to do with whether somebody wants
damages or not, they are actually just questioning how effective the PCC is in any event?
Sir Christopher Meyer:
I must say it would be a desperate man who measured the quality of the PCC's service by something that Max Mosley may
have said. Where the McCanns are concerned the editor of the Daily Express, after the settlement was announced on
19 March last year, played no further part in the proceedings of the PCC and it was in May that he was replaced by Peter Wright.
Max Mosley - I read what he had to say. It was absolutely predictable stuff, probably ventroloquised by Carter Ruck, all the
usual tired, pitiful stuff about limp wrists and - what was his stupid thing, arranging a piss-up in a brewery, some worn-out
metaphor that he used. I really have no regard to what he had to say about the PCC. Q345 Philip Davies:
In terms of credibility we just heard how the Daily Mirror shy away from taking on Roman Abramovich, even it if does
not seem to be libellous, because he threatens litigation and they shy away from it. It is inconceivable that the Daily
Mirror would shy away if Roman Abramovich threatened to go to the PCC, is it not? I mean, "If you print this I am
going to go to the PCC" is hardly likely to stop a paper launching in with both barrels, is it?
Meyer: I know a lot of papers that have precisely done that. Roman Abramovich is probably not typical of most citizens in
the United Kingdom so it is not an ideal benchmark for discussing this issue. If you are talking about very rich people going
to court on the basis of contingency fee arrangements, for example, we are into a wholly different area of debate - you have
probably had this already with various journalists who have been on the stand. I can tell you that when an editor be he (or
she) national or regional or local knows that there is a possibility first of all of a PCC investigation, secondly of a negative
adjudication - which in fact means naming and shaming - in his or her own newspaper in terms over which they have no control
whatsoever you can hear the screams from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. Believe you me, it works. Q346 Philip Davies: One final question: is there a possibility that the PCC could be or has been used as a sort
of stalking horse for legal action so that somebody makes a complaint to the PCC to try and test out how good a case they
have got, and if it seems that the PCC are very sympathetic to what they are saying they then move on to legal action. If
so, might that threaten the newspapers from fully co-operating because they fear the wider consequences of admitting that
they have made a mistake?
Sir Christopher Meyer: As a general statement I would say that I have had very little
evidence over the last six years of any newspaper or magazine not co-operating with us. I remember when I became chairman
in 2003 there was a great anxiety then - and I cannot remember why it was particularly acute at the time - that people, particularly
those who use solicitors to come to the PCC which, as you know, is not necessary, you do not need to pay a penny to come to
the PCC, would use judgments made by the PCC as a springboard for legal action. That fear subsided after that because we did
not really see very many if any examples of it. There must have been one or two over the last few years and it is a fear that
is there, but it is not rampant - I think I am right in saying that.
Mr Toulmin: It certainly is in the back of
some newspapers' minds that because the law, particularly on privacy, is developing and is covering similar areas to our
Code of Practice, it is a theoretical possibility. What is interesting though is that most people choose to come to the PCC
on privacy and that is the end of the matter, so we probably deal with 100 times more privacy cases than the courts. Of course
the courts get the attention because it is a huge adversarial punch-up in the High Court which everyone loves the drama of
- look at Max Mosley, but that is all you can look at, Max Mosley, for the whole of last year whilst we were dealing with
perhaps nearly 400 privacy cases discreetly, and I do not think any of those went on to sue on the back of it and if they
did then they were very few and far between.
Sir Christopher Meyer: What Tim has just said has set off a train
of thought; could I just add one thing and it is, Mr Davies, partly an answer to your question. The great deterrent on a privacy
case from springboarding, say, out of the PCC into the courts is because if you are concerned that some intimate detail of
your private life has been exposed in the newspaper and the PCC finds in your favour, so you think "Right, I am going
to go to court now and try and get damages" the very sin of which you were complaining, and for which you may have got
a remedy at the PCC discreetly, is then thrown into open court where every nook and cranny and crevice - almost literally
in Mr Mosley's case - is then exposed to the public gaze over and over as prosecution and defence throw the shaved buttocks
backwards and forwards across the courtroom. That is a great deterrent on a matter of privacy or confidentiality against going
out of the PCC and into the courts. Long may that be the case. Q347 Alan Keen: We are getting
into danger, because there have been attacks on the PCC for not being effective, of thinking that the PCC is not useful. This
is the third inquiry I have been involved with on this Committee and I have been extremely impressed by all the staff at the
PCC. It might be worth it if we gave Tim a couple of minutes to explain how the PCC works and where they do a lot of good
which solicitors and legal people could not do, because we do not want to end up with this inquiry saying the PCC should be
shoved to one side. You have a role and you do it very, very well; what is the best part of that role?
Building on my remarks earlier the best bit is the bit that does not get publicity and if you are trying to help people with
their problems with privacy, with harassment from photographers and journalists, or with something that is intrusive or inaccurate
online, all these people want is a very quick remedy that is going to stop the problem or prevent it from arising in the first
place. When you came in to see us we gave you some examples of how that actually works in practice. We cannot take those out
there and use them publicly because we are set up to protect people's privacy and so we do suffer from a comparison with
what looks like a very robust court view of press standards. People come to us precisely because they know we are more discreet,
so this is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and although it is a small team of people they are always on call, they have
always got the contacts of the newspapers, the newspapers and their online publications take it seriously, we can always get
through and get stuff changed, get stuff stopped the whole time. Your Committee shining a light on that work has been incredibly
helpful for us in the past and you have obviously recognised it. That is not to say that corrections, apologies, tagging,
preventing stuff from happening in the future and the naming and shaming element is not important as well of course. Q348 Alan Keen: Having said that, Sir Christopher said that the PCC is forever evolving, changing and improving.
Somebody has already mentioned the fact that the editor of one of the papers who was in dispute was on the PCC, so looking
at it from the eyes of the public outside it does seem wrong that editors are judging when really some of them are guilty,
if not the week we are talking about then next week or the week before. That may be one issue, but what other issues, Sir
Christopher, do you feel need to change at the PCC? How could you improve on what has been happening - you have had five years
Sir Christopher Meyer: A lot of it is an evolutionary answer because I do not believe that there needs to
be any kind of radical departure in the way that the PCC operates. I really would like to take this opportunity publicly to
pay tribute to Tim Toulmin who has been director of the PCC almost all the time that I have been chairman; he has been absolutely
exemplary in leading a very small and highly motivated team to do an absolutely enormous amount of work, both preventative
and in reaction to complaints. What I would like to see particularly - and this is quite a beef of mine - is I would like
to see the industry itself give more publicity to the fact of our existence. It is much better now than it used to be six
years ago; you can go online and you will see links to the PCC which people have put on their websites, sometimes on the home
page and sometimes somewhere else. You will see in many print editions references to the PCC so that the reader knows that
he or she, if they need a remedy, has got somewhere to go if they cannot get satisfaction from the editor or the publication
itself. I would like to see much more of that because although the numbers we are handling at the moment are almost double
what they were in 2003 we still, when we go round the country - and that is one of the things we have changed, we do not stay
in London all the time, we are constantly on the road going around the country - we still find too many people who do not
know about the services that we have to offer, how we can help. That is always going to be the case, I suppose, you cannot
have perfect cover, but I think the industry could do more to advertise the services that we provide. After all, it is in
their own interest. Q349 Alan Keen: Could I ask Tim Bowdler, you look at it from the outside;
what do you think could be done to make the PCC service better?
Mr Bowdler: I would agree with what Sir Christopher
has just said. The industry does publicise the PCC and adjudications and so on, but it could be given more prominence and
indeed Pressbof as the industry body or the funder of the PCC does encourage newspapers to take the PCC seriously and to give
it the sort of prominence that would be helpful to it. In the end it is the individual publishers who will decide but certainly
from my own point of view, having been chief executive of a company which owned more than 300 newspapers, we certainly took
the PCC very seriously and I got to know of every complaint to the PCC and I certainly encouraged our editors to make sure
that it was given the right prominence.
Alan Keen: Tim, could I ask you another question? We have just had three
very decent journalists in front of us, one who has just retired so years of experience, and the other two were very experienced
also, and each of them said that the industry, the journalists and the quality and standards have deteriorated because of
the pressures of finance. It is very, very sad. I do not buy Sunday newspapers any more because I do not believe a word of
what is said on the front pages, for instance - people have known that for a long time, that I do not do Sunday papers, the
big ones, "Source at Number 10", "Prominent Opposition spokesperson says ..." - we know they are made
up so I do not even buy them. But we are not talking about that ---
Adam Price: The PCC will be there. Q350 Alan Keen: These journalists are under pressure because of the bad finance that the press and competition
have got all over the place. Are you concerned about the pressures on decent journalists by people who are desperate because
of finance, and what can be done about that, or are we just saying goodbye to print newspapers?
Mr Bowdler: I would
not take such a gloomy view of it. Certainly the pressures on the industry are intense. We have over the course of two years
seen advertising - which in the case of a company like Johnston Press accounts for more than three-quarters of our revenue
- go down by something in the region of 40% to 45% in the first eight weeks of this year alone and it was down by 36% year
on year, so there is huge financial pressure, it extends across the industry and of course you have to couple that with the
fact that we are selling fewer newspapers - copy sales are down so cover price revenues suffer in addition. We have seen across
the industry now a fair amount of restructuring going on to take costs out of the business; the bulk of that is really to
address the backroom efficiencies, whether it be in printing or pre-press production. I can speak directly of Johnston Press:
we have been absolutely committed to the continued investment in content to ensure that it does not diminish in terms of the
quality or quantity of the material which we publish. Inevitably there is always a compromise, or there are difficult choices
to make and they get more difficult as the pressure increases, but I would not subscribe to the view that there has been a
general downward trend in the quality and in fact the assessment of that is clearly subjective. I would suggest that actually
the PCC through the Code of Practice has been instrumental in fact in many areas in improving the quality of journalism. I
do not think it is enough to take one or two editorial views, you have to take a broader look at the entire output of the
industry and not just a particular national newspaper or newspapers. You know, we are talking about an industry which publishes
something like 1400 different newspapers. Q351 Adam Price: Sir Christopher, the Max Mosley quote
that you were grasping after a moment ago was "Mafia in charge of the local police station".
Meyer: That was it. Q352 Adam Price: But as you said, the thought of Max Mosley cracking the whip
in any context has unfortunate connotations. You mentioned the public humiliation or professional humiliation that arises
really from an adjudicated complaint from the PCC. We know lots of examples of journalists and newspaper editors even who
have lost their jobs effectively as a result of successful litigation against the newspaper; are there examples of journalists
who have been demoted or sacked as a result of a PCC complaint?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I cannot tell you that -
although Tim may have some knowledge there - but I would be surprised if there have not been repercussions for the kind of
sloppy or bad journalism that we have exposed and condemned.
Mr Bowdler: Perhaps I could add to that because within
Johnston Press I certainly have a number of examples where precisely what you describe has happened, both to the extent of
disciplining a journalist and there are cases where we have dismissed a journalist through the results of the PCC inquiry.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Mr Price, do not forget that one of our campaigns has been to have respect for the Code of
Practice written into journalists' contracts, including editors as well, so if you breach the Code of Practice you are
in fact breaching your own contract of employment. That is quite a salutary thing. Q353 Adam Price:
You would accept that a PCC complaint surely does not cause the same level of trepidation that, say, a major libel case could
in the case of defamation, it does not have the same effect of concentrating editors' minds, journalists' minds?
Sir Christopher Meyer: This is oranges and apples or is it pears and oranges - I cannot remember what it is. Defamation
and libel are a wholly different beast. You do not have the choice of coming to us for defamation and libel; it is a legal
process, so it is a little unfair to compare that which is unique to the law with the kinds of things that we can do to act
as regulator, punisher and deterrent. If I were an editor and I was faced with a defamation action, with contingency fee arrangements
as they are currently constructed, I would be very worried, I would be very worried for my bottom line. If I was about to
get whacked by a PCC adjudication which censured me in harsh terms, I would be worried about my professional reputation, so
they are different things, but equally powerful? Certainly powerful.
Mr Toulmin: May I just add to that? Actually
I do speak to editors all the time and they absolutely hate it, they hate the thought that they are about to lose an adjudication
and when they have lost it they really intensely dislike the public criticism that they have no control over. It is entirely
down to the PCC what we say about them; they have signed up to this system, they put it in. If you compare and contrast the
News of the World's treatment of the ruling against it in the Max Mosley case where they criticised the judge,
they disagreed with it, the editor believed and continues to believe I think that the story was in the public interest, they
have not accepted that. Shortly after that we handed down a ruling against that paper from Paul Burrell which the paper again
did not like, but they accepted it. They printed our ruling in full, very prominently, they did not criticise the complainant
as they had done with Max Mosley, they did not criticise the PCC. The system actually illustrates that newspapers do take
the PCC seriously and they do not try and undermine it, which you cannot say for their attitude to the courts, and that works
in the complainant's interest and the public's interest. Q354 Adam Price: On the issue
of credibility of your processes has a newspaper proprietor or editor ever misled you knowingly or inadvertently as to the
facts of a case that you were interested in?
Sir Christopher Meyer: Tim, you are in the belly of the beast more
than I am.
Mr Toulmin: The only time that has ever arisen in my experience, which is lengthy - at the PCC now it
goes back to 1996 - and has been established in the public domain now involved the Mirror Group submission to us at the time
of the initial inquiry into Piers Morgan's share dealings. We then reopened the matter and went to them for more information
because it came out during the court case that there was a very particular reason why they did not let us know that in fact
the total amount of shares in a particular case was higher than they had let us know about. That aside, which had very specific
reasons behind it, they do not mislead us and if they did mislead us then there would be grounds, obviously, for serious disciplinary
action I would have thought. Q355 Adam Price: Presumably you reprimanded them for allowing you
to believe something that was not true.
Mr Toulmin: Yes, we did, absolutely, and that is on our website. We said
it was regrettable that there were reasons, they were flawed reasons, they did not do it to try and keep out of trouble because
they did not manage to avoid being in trouble. They then sacked the journalist involved - which is an example of breaches
of the Code leading to dismissal incidentally. We said that they had made the wrong decision, we did reprimand them and that
is on our website. Q356 Chairman: You will be aware that there are still people, however, who
believe that the PCC is basically a cosy arrangement run by the press for the press, and most recently of course we have had
the Media Standards Trust, with whom you have crossed swords on their report. Do you accept that there is still a serious
credibility problem in some sections for the PCC?
Sir Christopher Meyer: It is much better than it used to be and
we test this all the time; we test this with our own public opinion polls, we test this by using Ipsos MORI, we test this
anecdotally when we go around the country, and I have to say that the kinds of things that used to be said back at the beginning
of the decade are said with far less frequency nowadays. There is a constituency out there, largely to be found in London,
to a degree to be found in the academic world - the way I would put it is there are none so deaf as those who do not want
to hear - who simply are ideologically hostile to the PCC. Sometimes of course it is because editors are sitting on the Commission,
albeit that they are the minority, some people do not like it because it is funded by the newspaper and magazine industry
of the UK, some people do not like it simply because it is self-regulatory and they believe in some form of statutory regulation.
There is, if you like, a hard core out there who will go on attacking the PCC, but we just have to live with it. They can
be among the more articulate members of British society and they get a lot of space in the media in some of the newspapers
and among the broadcasters - the broadcasters in particular are particularly snooty about the PCC - and then no one actually
has the courage to say it out in public but there is a kind of suggestion that I am corrupt sitting one part of the week in
Paul Dacre's pocket and the other part of the week in James Murdoch's pocket, so taking gold from them in order to
run the thing in a corrupt way, which of course is absolutely grotesque and ludicrous. We just have to deal with it; it is
out there, it is less than it used to be and part of our permanent campaign - it is why we go around the country - is to convince
people that we are a credible organisation. The more we are used the more our reputation rises, and there is a necessary correlation
in my view in the fact that we are seen more credibly and the fact that more people come to us. I do not think that this increase
in numbers, to echo something that Tim has just said, is a reflection of declining standards. There are certain areas of worry,
particularly online, but above all it is the impact of visibility and credibility. I have to say to you, Chairman, that pro
rata today it looks like we will have a figure of near to 6000 by the end of this year, people who have come to us for help,
and last year's figure of over 4500 was itself an historic record. There is a credibility case launched against us; it
is without merit and without foundation.
Mr Bowdler: If I may, Chairman, just add to that. I really do believe this
is a false perception. In my role as chairman of Pressbof in a sense I represent the industry in its link to the PCC and I
can say categorically at no time do I expect to be able to tell Christopher or the PCC what they should be doing. There is
no sense of any sort of pressure exerted through Pressbof on the PCC. I go and meet the board of the PCC once a year, I go
to listen to their views about the industry and the way it is funded, to issues as they see them in the wider domain of the
press, but there is no sense of the PCC being subject to industry direction, it simply does not hold water. Q357 Chairman: Let me just explore that. The Code Committee which sets the rules used to be chaired by Les Hinton;
when Les Hinton retired and moved overseas he was replaced by the editor of a newspaper which some might say is adept at testing
the boundaries of the Code, and the Code Committee consists entirely of industry representatives. Do you not think that in
order to improve the credibility the Code Committee ought to have lay representation and perhaps it should not have a practising
editor as its chairman?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I think it works perfectly well. It was the original inspiration
of Calcutt and the Calcutt inquiry that if a self-regulatory system was going to work the editors themselves, to use the jargon,
should have ownership of the Code but an independent body should apply it and build up its jurisprudence. That is in effect
what we have. If you have not seen it I really do commend the second edition of the Editor's Codebook which shows
how independently the constitution is applied. In fact, it is not strictly true that only editors sit on the committee, and
I must say they are a mixture of editors from all kinds of different publications but ex officio Tim and I sit on it. One
of the innovations that has been introduced is that first of all there is now a public website for the Code Committee; secondly,
members of the public can themselves put forward in the annual meetings to review the Code proposals for changes to the Code
and we ourselves, Tim and I, bring to the Code Committee recommendations made by the Commission itself for changes to the
Code. We played a very significant role in getting, in 2006, the Code amended to be more precise and detailed on the tricky
question of reporting suicide. If it ain't broke don't try and fix it - I do not think it is broke, the system works
well. There is a multiplicity of views that come into the Code Committee - the editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger
sits on it, whom you might consider to be not exactly in the same camp as the current chairman --- Q358
Chairman: We are going to hear from both of them in due course so we will discover.
Sir Christopher Meyer:
Exactly, you can ask them yourself. It is okay, it works well, and again the proof of the pudding is in this. Q359 Chairman: But you did recognise a few years ago that the credibility of the PCC board would be increased if
you had more lay membership.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Absolutely right. Q360 Chairman: Is
there not a case therefore that the same case could be put for the Code Committee?
Sir Christopher Meyer: You can
make the case, it is not a disreputable argument or anything like that. I certainly thought it necessary to increase the credibility
and the independence, perceived and real, of the Press Complaints Commission, but I thought the most important thing to do
was in the Commission itself, on the board of commissioners itself, which is why we increased the lay majority and we now
publicly advertise for lay members. That has been a great success. It is also the reason why we created the job of a charter
commissioner and the charter compliance panel; their reports are produced every year and you have probably seen them. Tim
and I have absolutely no influence over the way in which they are drafted and published. If you take the balance we have got
to have an editorial voice in the system, but what you must not have is editors ruling on editors, journalists ruling on journalists.
We do not have that because we have a lay majority where it matters, which is where the decisions are taken. Q361 Chairman: Can I just put to you one other criticism which I think you are familiar with. When you were first
appointed and you appeared before the predecessor committee to this one you were asked about corrections and adjudications
and you said that they should be at least as prominent as the original otherwise it would be ridiculous. I do not think anybody
would say that corrections and adjudications are being given equal prominence to the original stories; do you not feel that
that is something which could be improved?
Sir Christopher Meyer: It should have been improved and it has been
improved. I am pleased to report to this Committee that last year - and Tim will correct me if I get this wrong - 85% of all
apologies and corrections either appeared on the same page as the original sin or on a page ahead of the original sin. In
2004 the figure was somewhere around 60% so there has been significant improvement. Room for more improvement: always, yes.
We have to be a little bit careful about making a precise arithmetic or geometric connection between something that has gone
wrong and the necessary correction. You have to make a judgment on how much of the article was wrong, was it one sentence
in a long piece, was it the whole thing, what was the burden of the inaccuracy or the fact for which there needed to be an
apology? The real phrase is due prominence. Q362 Chairman: To what extent do you as the PCC, once
you have reached an adjudication, have any ability to influence the decision of the newspaper as to the size in which that
is given or the position in the paper in which it is printed?
Sir Christopher Meyer: We do, and that is another
thing that has changed. We were quite passive on that before but now we take a violent objection to adjudications or apologies
which, without reference to us, suddenly pop up on page 33. In fact we have had two cases recently where we have gone back
to the publications and said you have not published this in the proper way, including sufficiently prominently, and we censure
you again; this time make damn sure you publish this in the right place. We have done this recently with a regional newspaper
and with a magazine. Q363 Paul Farrelly: Sir Christopher, could you tell the Committee why the
editor of the Daily Express Peter Hill left the PCC board?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I said in an interview
with journalists at the time of the publication of our 2007 report that there was a combination of reasons. There was the
fact that Mr Desmond, because he was not paying his fee to the MPA was not paying his fee to the self-regulatory system,
then there was the affair of the McCanns and then there was the fact that Peter Hill had been on the Commission since 2003
and was due to go. There was a mixture of things there. Q364 Paul Farrelly: My understanding from
within the industry is that during the McCann coverage many editors felt the position of Mr Hill on the board was untenable
and in effect revolted. Peter Hill offered his resignation but Richard Desmond refused in the circumstances to allow him to
carry it out, is that correct?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I would not know; you need to ask Mr Desmond that. I do not
know if you are inviting him to appear before you or even Peter Hill, if you are inviting him to appear before you. Mr Farrelly,
you will have to ask them. Q365 Paul Farrelly: Is it correct that he offered to resign but then
rescinded that offer?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I was under the impression that he did realise that he needed to resign
after the announcement on 19 March of the judgment, and I certainly had the impression that he was going to do that, but that
was an impression that was not confirmed by life. Q366 Paul Farrelly: Events. The answer is yes.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Probably, yes. I think he was going to resign. Q367 Paul Farrelly:
Yes definitely or yes probably.
Sir Christopher Meyer: It has to be yes probably because I am not inside his brain.
I was certainly under the impression immediately after 19 March that he was going to resign from the Commission, but he did
not. Q368 Paul Farrelly: I just want to explore the position of the Express further but
first of all, in retrospect, you are about to leave the PCC after long and distinguished service. On reflection do you think
that the PCC could or should have acted in the McCann case better to restrain the press?
Sir Christopher Meyer:
I do not see how we could and the people out there who say that the McCann case is a failure of self-regulation, I believe
this to be absolutely false and without substance, and I will tell you why. As soon as we heard about the disappearance of
Madeleine McCann - and I am sure you have got all this in your papers but I will repeat it for the record - we got on to the
British Embassy in Lisbon and said "Will you please tell the McCanns and their representatives that we stand ready to
help in any way we can, this is what we can do." We maintained contact with their press representatives --- Q369 Paul Farrelly: You will be aware that Mr McCann told us that that message was not received.
Christopher Meyer: He told me it was not received as well, because I then saw him on 13 July 2007 - he happened to come round
to my house to see my wife who runs a charity that specialises in missing and abducted children - and I took the opportunity
to say to Gerry McCann, "Look, this is what we can do, here is the brochure that explains in detail how you can complain
and the different ways in which you can make a complaint." At that time he told me he had never got the message from
the embassy. Whether that means the message was never conveyed to the McCann party, if you like, or whether he, Gerry, did
not know that their press person at the time had got the message, I do not know and I have never been able to establish. We
continued to keep in touch. At the time his press representative was a woman called Justine McGuiness and we kept in touch
with her, then his press arrangements changed and I saw him again on 29 February last year. By that time he had taken the
decision to sue Express Newspapers and I said to him, "If it is damages you are after, that is what you should do, but
we remain ready to help", and we have been able as you know to help on the separate issue of protecting his children
and family, as I said. With the benefit of hindsight what we would have needed to have acted earlier is for the McCanns to
have come to us and said this or that or whatever is wrong, but we cannot be more royalist than the king, we cannot take action
unless in those particular circumstances the first parties come to us and say something is going wrong. The most we can do
in those circumstances is to say "We are here; this is what we can do" and we can explain it several times over.
But if the first parties themselves do not want to take action with us then there is not a lot we can do because in the end
what it boiled down to - and I take my cue here from the court case - was, was what the British press was reporting accurate
or inaccurate, was it right or was it wrong? Sitting in London I had no way of judging whether what was coming out from the
Portuguese authorities, going into the Portuguese press, being regurgitated by the British press was right or wrong. Unless
the first party comes to you and says we have grounds for complaint there is no way in which we can intervene. Q370 Paul Farrelly: In your evidence you said to us it would have been impertinence by the PCC to have got involved
sooner and contacted the McCanns directly. We put that to Gerry McCann and he told us he would not have felt that an impertinence,
yet you contacted the embassy but you did not contact them directly.
Sir Christopher Meyer: You start off by contacting
the embassy because you do not know how to get through to them. In the very beginning, in the first two days, yes, that was
what we did. For example, if you had a similar case in the UK, say a horrible crime where the victim's family find themselves
the attention of a media scrum, one of the first things we would do is get on to the family liaison officers at the local
police force who already ought to know the drill and say "The family does not want to talk to the press, they want to
keep them away." The family liaison officer will then act on our behalf, that is one way in which we do it. We did not
have any phone numbers in Praia da Luz but we knew that the British Embassy had sent somebody down there from the consular
section of the embassy to keep an eye on the McCanns, so you ring the embassy and say "While you are down there make
sure that they know that this service is available." In due course we made direct contact with Justine McGuiness and
I personally had a meeting with Gerry McCann as I said on 13 July. In all honesty, Mr Farrelly, I do not see what else in
those circumstances we could do. The truth or otherwise of what was written by the press at the time, or at least by the Express
at the time, in the end had to be tested in the courts because the advice that Gerry McCann got was that this is defamation,
this is libel. By definition the Press Complaints Commission does not do defamation, does not do libel. Q371
Paul Farrelly: A lot of people reading the evidence that you have given might find that rather weak, Sir Christopher.
Sir Christopher Meyer: I am sorry, I must come back at you. Why weak? We do not apply the law Mr Farrelly. Q372 Paul Farrelly: Let me just move on.
Sir Christopher Meyer: No, you just said something very significant. Q373 Paul Farrelly: What is your view then on the suggestions that actually the PCC's operations
might be improved if it were more proactive and also acted on references from third parties?
Sir Christopher Meyer:
We are extraordinarily proactive, it is one of the great growth areas over the last few years. We have just of our own volition,
to give you the latest example - you may remember the case of Alfie Catton, a 13-year old boy living down in Sussex who may
or may not have fathered a child with a 15 or 16-year old girl. We have not received any complaint about those stories but
we are now investigating the matter and at the next meeting of the Commission the Commission will take a view on whether there
has been a breach of the Code or not. We do this all the time but we must have grounds for so doing. Where a lot of our critics
go wrong is that they expect us to apply the law, they expect us to be either instruments of the state or to have legal powers
in areas which are reserved for the courts and for the judges. Proactive - what does it actually mean in the case of the McCanns,
what does it mean in real terms beyond making sure they know what their rights are under the Code of Practice. Q374 Paul Farrelly: Can you just clarify how the PCC acted in the instance of the story about Prince Philip in
the Standard; did the PCC act after receiving a formal complaint from the palace?
Mr Toulmin: Yes, through
his lawyer Gerard Tyrrell. Q375 Paul Farrelly: The PCC did not proactively offer its services
Mr Toulmin: No. It is well-known that the Royal Family knows how to use the PCC; Prince Philip instructed
Harbottle and Lewis and they complained on his behalf. Q376 Paul Farrelly: In the McCann case
has the PCC censured the Express?
Mr Toulmin: We did not have a complaint about the Express.
Sir Christopher Meyer: There are two different jurisdictions here. We cannot censure them unless there is a case before
us; there was not a case before us. The McCanns took a deliberate decision not to come to us except on the question of protecting
their children, because they had been persuaded by lawyers - I am not going to quarrel with their decision - that they had
been defamed and they had a case at law. They chose to go down that path. Q377 Paul Farrelly:
On what complaint was any censure made in the McCann case? Has the PCC issued any censure at all?
Mr Toulmin: The
extent to which the PCC was used by the McCanns related to pre-publication work, harassment and so on where the remedy if
you like was the minimising or indeed the cessation of the physical activity. That was the bit that they came to us over.
No investigation was necessary because it was about the whole pre-publication area. They did not complain to us about the
subject-matter of the articles and they went to court instead, as do some people every year. We do not ambulance-chase libel
cases and then go after them. Q378 Paul Farrelly: In conclusion, as an industry self-regulator
after months of false coverage the PCC has issued no comment on the standards employed by the press in the McCann case.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Wrong Mr Farrelly. Q379 Paul Farrelly: It is a question, has it?
Sir Christopher Meyer: First of all you are looking at this with 20:20 hindsight, forgive me for saying it, but what
is obvious now was not obvious at the time. On 19 March when the judgment became public I rose from my sickbed, stuffed myself
with paracetamol, staggered out to a radio car and on the PM programme castigated Peter Hill and Richard Desmond
for a bad day for British journalism. Contrast and compare - I say this myself - with some of the reactions of the BBC Trust
in recent cases. There was no question of us remaining silent; I said it was a bad day for British journalism, that Peter
Hill should consider his position and that Mr Desmond should make a greater effort to ensure higher journalistic standards
across all his publications. Q380 Paul Farrelly: What position does Peter Hill occupy at the moment?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I have not a clue - he is still the editor of the Express. If you think, Mr Farrelly,
that I should march around to the offices of the Daily Express and put my heavy hand on his collar and say "You
are fired" - when you have Desmond and Hill before you, you can ask them these questions. I am not going to sack an editor
but I can sure as hell express my view on the standards of journalism. There was never a question of a formal adjudication
against Peter Hill because there was no formal matter that could come before us under the Code of Practice. I made my views
pellucidly plain and some people in the industry did not like me saying that. Q381 Paul Farrelly:
One of my colleagues earlier asked how the PCC might be strengthened and there was not much beyond advertising the PCC's
services. Sir Christopher, from your diplomatic career are you familiar with the expression "going native"?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I know which way you are going, Mr Farrelly, and let me tell you this. After serving in the Soviet
Union between 1968 and 1970 I have been permanently inoculated against nativeness and it is as strong now as it has ever been.
If your suggestion is - and let us call a spade a spade because that is what you were asking me to do 20 minutes ago - that
I have corruptly performed my job as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission by showing unseemly favouritism towards the
industry, then I repudiate that utterly. I will not say any more because I am getting angry. Q382 Paul
Farrelly: That was not an allegation I made, for the record.
Sir Christopher Meyer: I hope you did not,
but there is no question of going native. Q383 Paul Farrelly: Is there no way the PCC could be
Mr Toulmin: In terms of where we are in the media at the moment - and it is changing so quickly,
we have obviously a digitalised and globalised media now - that has happened actually comparatively rapidly and, clearly,
we have a job to do to adapt to that, and the penetration of the PCC will intensify online. It is only in the last week that
the Sun has announced they are effectively launching a radio station online which the PCC Code will cover; we will
be talking to them about that, how it will work in practice. These are all going to be big challenges for us and growth areas
as well. This will obviously require that we are properly resourced in the future and the industry remains committed to that
and so on. Asking about how the PCC can improve, it is clearly going to be in that area where our lack of statutory basis
is a huge advantage because we can move quickly. There are a lot of conversations that we have with other regulators, of course
- Ofcom - and with the industry itself. Q384 Paul Farrelly: Just going back to the finance and
the position of the PCC does the absence of the Express Group at the moment undermine the principle of self-regulation and
what steps have you taken to get them back on board?
Sir Christopher Meyer: We have taken a very clear policy decision
on this that we operate a public service and it is our responsibility to the readers and viewers of the Express newspapers
to continue to take complaints from them as and when they come in. As far as we are concerned so long as the editors of this
publishing group continue to accept our competence and publish our adjudications or whatever then we will continue that service.
That is the situation right now. There are of course implications for the industry, to which Tim is much better equipped to
speak than me.
Mr Toulmin: Can I just say that this is quite a curious dispute in that they have not walked out
on the PCC - because you asked about the issue of principle here. The editors are buying into this system still, they are
co-operating, they are publishing corrections and apologies and there are adjudications against their titles. As Mr Bowdler
will explain this has its roots in an industry dispute about the financing of the Newspaper Publishers Association. It is
not actually an Express versus PCC issue, we are victims of it really.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Collateral
damage is the right expression for this. Q385 Paul Farrelly: Just one final question, Chairman.
On reflection, Sir Christopher, in the Motorman case the editor of the News of the World escaped the jurisdiction
of the PCC by resigning beforehand.
Sir Christopher Meyer: You do not mean Motorman, you mean Mulcaire and Goodman.
There is a big difference. There is a huge difference.
Chairman: Yes, there is a difference. Q386
Paul Farrelly: Sorry, Chairman, we were covering both at the same time. In that instance - and thank you for the
correction - do you think the PCC on reflection missed a trick by not summoning him anyway and letting him refuse?
Sir Christopher Meyer: You have slightly got the wrong end of the stick here. Indeed, Mr Coulson fell on his sword
and this was after or during a police investigation conducted not even under the Data Protection Act but under the Regulation
of Investigatory Practices Act. It was for a violation of that Act that Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire went to jail. We conducted
afterwards a very thorough investigation, both of the News of the World and of the entire newspaper and magazine
industry of the United Kingdom and came out with a report which set out some very clear principles of good practice for the
industry as a whole, and no lesser authority than Professor Roy Greenslade, who is not always the best friend of the PCC,
wrote that he was surprised by our rigour and thoroughness - if those are the words that were used. We did this by going very
deeply and very forensically, among other things, into the News of the World, into the new editor then Colin Myler,
to find out exactly what had happened. I could see no purpose in summoning - I could not summon him, I had no authority -
an ex-editor, and I really wonder what you think we would have got from Mr Coulson that the police had not already succeeded
in getting. Are you saying to me that Andy Coulson would have come stumbling into my office, weeping, saying "Christopher,
I have got to tell you I have sinned, no I did not tell all the truth to the authorities"? I could see no useful purpose
in talking to him about it. I had an exchange of correspondence with him before he resigned and I also spoke to the then chairman
and chief executive of News International, Mr Les Hinton, about this; so it is not that there was no contact between the PCC
and the News of the World and News International before Coulson resigned and before the courts rendered their judgment,
there was, but once that had happened our view was, yes, there needed to be a really thorough investigation - which we did
- but it would be pointless at that precise moment, even if we had the authority, to call an ex-editor. That was the reason. Q387 Chairman: I want to come back to the Express in particular and the general question.
You will be aware that the PCC's genesis was at least in part in order to stave off statutory regulation. Surely a self-regulatory
system will only ever work if everybody buys into it. If you have a part of your industry that is not fully co-operating with
the self-regulatory system that must pose a real threat to the whole survival of self-regulation.
Meyer: My answer to that would be this is a problem and it needs to be fixed and it is for the industry to fix it, and Tim
Bowdler I am sure will want to say something in a minute. We have been here before, the Mirror Group fell out a couple of
times, I believe, and then were brought back in again, so we have had this problem before; it is not as if it is unprecedented
but it does need to be dealt with.
Mr Bowdler: In answering you I would like first to just go back to Mr Farrelly's
question about funding and the implications of the Express Group not paying their fees and what impact it has had on the PCC.
The answer to that is currently none because the industry takes a very responsible view of our commitment to self-regulation,
so the industry is funding the shortfall. We are doing so at the moment by dipping into our reserves which obviously is not
something we can do indefinitely. The commitment the industry has made to date is to say that despite the fact that income
is not available from the Express we will continue to fund the PCC in the way that it requires, and the relationship
between Pressbof and the PCC is a very open one in the sense that the PCC prepares its budget, it decides what resources it
requires to conduct its operations, of course that budget is discussed with Pressbof but as a matter of telling us where they
have reached in terms of the funding requirements. Naturally we might comment on it, but we have supported those needs and
continue to do so. Coming to the whole issue of the Express and funding more generally, if you take the position
prior to the Express withdrawing we achieved a 98.5% return from the newspaper industry; in other words there was
1.5% which did not pay, so the first thing to say is it has never been absolutely universal. There have been some publications,
relatively small of course, which have remained outside. If you extend that to magazines the return is rather less, something
in the region of 80%, which means quite a few of the smaller magazines also choose to be outside the system. That has not
in any way undermined the validity of self-regulation, it has continued to work very effectively; however, it has meant that
it is not 100%. In the case of the Express when we were told - we being the Press Board of Finance - in early 2008
that the Express through a separate dispute with the industry, the national newspaper publishers, would not therefore
be paying their fees to Pressbof we entered a dialogue. That dialogue has continued, I have mad meetings with the Express
Newspapers' management, with Mr Desmond, we have had a continuing dialogue by email and conversation during that
period. I have not given up, I still think it is possible that they will recognise that it would be advantageous for them
to return, but in the end they have to understand what the implications will be if they do not do so. In practice, at some
point in time, Pressbof might say to Christopher or his successor, Baroness Buscombe, that the PCC should not continue to
adjudicate indefinitely in a way that Christopher has described, and on the board of the PCC that continues to be a difficult
issue for you to grapple with. If they were not covered then they would face additional costs, increased litigation because
complaints could only go through the legal route supported by CFAs. In the end it will be a variety of pressures that hopefully
will bring them back in, but it would be a terrible mistake to suggest that the system itself is undermined irreparably by
the fact that there is one rogue publisher who does not subscribe to it. Q388 Chairman: Would
you like to see more ability to exert influence on him to come back into the fold?
Mr Bowdler: Yes, in a word.
Self-regulation is not helped by their exclusion at their own behest and in the end if they are disadvantaged by that decision
that would be a helpful outcome. Q389 Chairman: But the solution that you are suggesting, which
is that at the moment it appears the Daily Express are willing still to bide by PCC rulings even though their proprietor
is not paying for the PCC, if you were to withdraw that in a sense that is going to undermine the system still further because
you then have a major national newspaper which is not accepting PCC rulings.
Mr Bowdler: Clearly it makes life
more difficult in relation to complainants against Express Newspapers if that were to happen, but I do not see that that undermines
the system because the vast majority of publications, the overwhelming majority, remain part of the system. Simply because
there is a rogue publisher --- Q390 Chairman: We are not talking about the Gardening Times
we are talking about the Daily Express, it is one of the big national newspapers that is outside.
The decision as to whether they would be outside the system in terms of adjudications is a PCC matter and Christopher has
expressed his view. To suggest that even if they were that the whole system was failing would be a huge assumption to make.
The vast majority of newspapers observe, support, fund self-regulation. Q391 Chairman: But you
are still hopeful that Mr Desmond will change his position.
Mr Bowdler: We continue to have a dialogue. Q392 Chairman: That is not the same thing.
Mr Bowdler: I am not in a position today where I could say
I am hopeful though we do continue to discuss their return. Q393 Chairman: Can I just turn to
one other issue? The Committee last week heard evidence in private from some of those affected by the suicides in Bridgend,
and one thing came across very clearly from a family member. This was somebody who was an ordinary person, they had no experience
of dealing with the press, with loads of national newspapers, and he discovered that his child had died and was then told
that within a relatively short period of time this information would become public and he would be subjected to the full glare
and pressure of the media, which obviously was something he had no experience of and did not really know how to deal with.
Is there not a role for the PCC here? I know you take a proactive role but could not more be done, perhaps through the police,
so that anybody who suddenly finds themselves in a position where they are like to be subject to huge media exposure could
be told "This is going to happen to you but there is a remedy or at least there is advice on hand, the PCC"?
Sir Christopher Meyer: When we went down to Bridgend in May of last year - and we had done a great deal before then
to alert people in South Wales to the fact of our existence, not only remind the police of their responsibilities but also
getting in touch with local schools and community organisations, and we were doing that from February of last year onwards
- one of the things we discovered when we got down to Bridgend was that to some extent anyway, particularly when we had a
closed session with about a dozen families who had lost children through suicide, and the police were there, was that the
family liaison officer system that the police operate for families in distress, so far as conveying to them the fact of our
existence had broken down. It had not happened. One of our painting the Forth Bridge tasks is constantly to remind police
forces around the country that they really must, in situations of suicide or murder or whatever, tell families how to deal
with the press. Some people find it cathartic to talk to journalists, others hate it, and we saw that variety of opinion when
we went to see the families in Bridgend. The key thing - and this is where we are dependent on others - is to get it over
to police forces and also into coroners' courts, into the rooms. The coroners themselves make all these people aware that
they are dealing with individuals who have no experience of dealing with the press, so we keep on plugging away and when we
go on our missions outside London we always invite to the events or to a lunch or whatever the local coroner or the local
coroners, depending on how many there are, as well as the local judges. A number of times we have found that the system has
not worked properly and a coroner has said "I did not know about that", so we send them all the stuff and say "Please
make sure that you and your staff know about this". It is a permanent struggle to be perfectly frank. Q394 Adam Price: One of the issues raised by Mr Farrelly was the question of third party complaints.
Christopher Meyer: Sorry, I failed to answer that. Q395 Adam Price: The public may be a little
bit confused because there is Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority, the BBC Trust who accept third party complaints
whereas as a rule the Press Complaints Commission does not. In the case of another Northern shareholder publication, OK
magazine in the last few days, there was the so-called tribute to Jade Goody, which was effectively an obituary, black-edged
cover et cetera, published in advance of her death. That has elicited a large number of complaints from the public and you
are considering, it has been reported, whether to launch an inquiry. Is that true and how do you assess, therefore, when a
third party complaint is legitimate and should result in an inquiry?
Sir Christopher Meyer: I will let Tim say
something about this as well. Let me be clear, we do entertain third party complaints but not all that often, and the reason
for that is because we cannot find ourselves in a situation where the third party trumps the interests of the first party.
Sometimes something will happen, people will be affected, they choose not to use our services but sometimes an indignant third
party sees something reported and will complain to us, but if the family, say, of a dead footballer who was photographed dead
on a pitch, as happened several years ago, does not want to pursue the matter, we are not going to pursue it with a third
party. That is the basic position of principle. The Jade Goody thing is complicated because on the one hand the family - and
we have been in touch with them through their representatives - do not want to pursue any kind of complaint. The issue then
arises whether the third parties - and we have received a lot of complaints - have a justification nonetheless for coming
to us and having the case examined because they have been misled by the front page. Also, are we talking about something that
is taste and decency and does not fall under the Code - there are a number of issues here that need to be considered and Tim
and his team have already put out a statement for the time being. I think what is going to happen is that commissioners will
have to be consulted on this. The next formal meeting of the Commission takes place after I have gone, under Peta Buscombe,
and commissioners will want to take a view. I do not know what that will be.
Mr Toulmin: Might I add on a general
point that actually on a like for like basis we are exactly the same as Ofcom; they will on privacy issues, where there is
a first party for instance, take a complaint only from the first party. Where confusion arises is because the BBC Trust and
Ofcom deal with other issues about the impact of broadcasting on the viewer, such as taste and decency, so anyone can complain
about that because anyone can be outraged, but on a like for like comparison it is exactly the same. What we do also, as Christopher
has suggested in the Jade Goody case, is if we get third party complaints then we will alert the first party. It always has
to be up to the first party to want to complain and there may be all sorts of reasons why they do not want to complain. In
this instance the family of Jade Goody and her representatives do not want to complain about that, and that has to be a matter
for them. As Christopher said, at a later stage the Commission will make an assessment as to whether the members of the public
who have complained also have a right to complain about this but that has not yet been decided. Q396 Paul
Farrelly: Sir Christopher, after your long tenure at the PCC I have no feeling at all from this session that you
think in any way that the PCC either could or should be more proactive in monitoring compliance with the Code of Practice
as other regulators - from the Takeover Panel to Ofsted for example - do. We have discussed the McCann case where the McCanns
were complaining of irresponsible journalism and people like Sir Max Hastings were, at an early stage, professing to hang
their head in shame at the way the press were behaving, and yet you did not step in.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Sorry,
how would we have stepped in? Q397 Paul Farrelly: Can I give you another example of where the
public might well feel that the PCC should be more proactive in monitoring the Code of Compliance. In this day and age it
is the practice now - and Mr Bowdler you would know very well from your group - for newspapers to invite comments on stories.
On New Year's Eve a close friend of mine lost his 16-year old son tragically in an accident and that was covered in the
local newspaper in Sussex, and some of the comments that were written by people on that news were just sick really. I would
suggest that one way we might proactively look at compliance with the Code is to take a snapshot of websites at any point
in time and just monitor whether newspapers are complying with the Code. I do not know whether that is the sort of action
you would ever consider at the PCC.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Of course we do. We do our very best to monitor the
press and, okay, the one charge that cannot be levelled against us in 2009 is that we are not proactive, but there are limits
to what you can do. There are thousands of publications in the United Kingdom with an equal number of websites; there is a
limit to what you can monitor. We have already had our discussion about the McCanns and the Express and I suspect
that you and I are never going to agree on this, but that is another matter. As for the newspaper and magazine industry of
the United Kingdom as a whole of course we do our best to monitor what is going on, but short of employing another 25000 people
to add to the 14 or 15 we have already I do not see how we can do this universally. Q398 Paul Farrelly:
Take a snapshot.
Sir Christopher Meyer: That is what we do, we do take a snapshot. We see a summary of stories
every day but by definition it is not universal and it never will be universal.
Mr Toulmin: Your point actually
illustrates a general advantage of the PCC in terms of its flexibility because this reveals the way in which new technology
is being used. We have seen some appalling examples of comments on news stories, and after our intervention, newspapers have
changed their practice. People can complain about them if the editor is editorially responsible for them and the PCC moves
very, very quickly to sort that out. The example you raise is an absolute classic case where we could have helped very quickly
actually. Q399 Paul Farrelly: If you see an instance like that - and it is replicated across many
websites - and you think it is sick, and you think it is in clear breach of responsibilities in the Code, would you act without
a third party complaint?
Mr Toulmin: We would; certainly if a third party brought it to our attention we would
absolutely be in touch with the first party. What we would not do, as Christopher said earlier, is unilaterally launch an
inquiry because the interests of the first party are actually the whole basis of the PCC, it is there as a form of redress
for people who have a problem with newspapers and magazines. Absolutely, if that was brought to our attention there is no
question about that, and in fact I think we have done that.
Sir Christopher Meyer: I know you want to end but a
tiny codicil? Q400 Chairman: A very, very short codicil.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Just
to illustrate to Mr Farrelly that despite all the technological development we still hold to the principle that the buck stops
with the editor in the sense that the editorial decision on content, be it online or in print, be it static or audiovisual,
the responsibility still in the end falls to the editor, because unless you have that as a cornerstone of this system you
start to get in terrible trouble about who is responsible for what. It may be difficult for an editor now to control everything
that goes on in the empire, but the principle has not changed. Q401 Adam Price: Finally, looking
ten years down the line, we are in the internet age but we are actually moving towards convergence. If you go to most national
newspapers these days they look half like a television studio or a radio studio. Jon Gaunt gets sacked on TalkSport
and now is going to be fronting up the Sun's Sun Talk live morning show where he will probably be reproducing
much of the same stuff. If he calls somebody, as he did, a Nazi or an ignorant pig you will be able to intervene, but if he
offends taste or decency - if he had been on radio of course there would have been an inquiry - you are not going to intervene.
Is that not a contradiction?
Sir Christopher Meyer: There is a big structural question in what you have just said
and also there is an immediate question. I can tell you - and the Sun will confirm this - that the Jon Gaunt radio
show will be under our jurisdiction. We have managed so far to handle the visual side of audiovisual perfectly well and now
we are getting the audio side of audiovisual and I have every confidence we will handle that equally well. Down the line,
ten years from now - and I have said this before - I would be most surprised if the regulatory architecture were the same
as it is today for precisely convergence reasons. I had this dream - which may be no more than a fantasy - that actually in
the end Ofcom will get out of content, will get out of television broadcasting content, because the only way to go in the
digital age is self-regulatory. Only self-regulation has the flexibility and the buy-in from the industry to create clearings
of order in the jungle of the internet.
Adam Price: There is a thought.
Chairman: I am not sure that
at 12 minutes past one we can reopen the entire Communications Act; that is for another day perhaps. Can I thank all three
of you very much.
Max Mosley and Gerry McCann to appear at press inquiry, 05 March 2009
Max Mosley and Gerry McCann to appear at press inquiry Press Gazette
By Paul McNally
5 March 2009
Gerry McCann, the father of missing girl Madeleine, and motorsport boss Max Mosley are to appear before MPs next week
to give their views on libel law and privacy.
Mosley, the FIA chairman at the centre of a tabloid sting operation last year, has been called to give evidence on Tuesday
morning to the cross-party culture, media and sport select committee, as part of its wide-ranging investigation into press
Mosley won £60,000 in compensation from the News of the World last July after the Sunday tabloid published photos and
a video of what it claimed was a "sick Nazi orgy" with five prostitutes.
High court judge Mr Justice Eady said Mosley had a "reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities"
and said there was no evidence of Nazi re-enactment.
The sum awarded was the highest ever given in a UK privacy case, dwarfing the £14,600 awarded to Michael Douglas and
Catherine Zeta Jones from Hello magazine.
Mosley is now asking the European Court of Human Rights to strengthen privacy laws - and make it a requirement for newspapers
to approach the subject of a story before publication.
Gerry McCann - the father of Madeleine, who disappeared on holiday in Portugal in 2007 - will give evidence to the select
committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Gerry and his wife Kate accepted a £550,000 libel payout from Express Newspapers last April for a series of more than
100 articles which Mr Justice Eady said were "seriously defamatory".
The Daily Express, Daily Star and their Sunday sister titles all published prominent front-page apologies for the untrue
allegations, which the McCanns' lawyer said suggested they "were responsible for the death of Madeleine".
Gerry McCann will be joined at next week's select committee by his spokesman, former BBC journalist Clarence Mitchell,
and Adam Tudor from Carter Ruck solicitors, which handled the Express libel claim.
McCann and Mosley To Discuss Media Treatment, 10 March 2009
McCann and Mosley To Discuss Media Treatment Sky News
12:08pm UK, Tuesday March 10, 2009
Missing Madeleine McCann's father and motorsport boss Max Mosley are giving evidence to MPs today about their treatment
by the media.
Max Mosley and Gerry McCann
The MPs are expected to ask why the McCanns chose to sue a number of British newspapers instead of going through regulatory
body the Press Complaints Commission.
In March last year Express Newspapers paid the couple £550,000 in libel damages over false allegations they were responsible
for their daughter's death.
Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal in 2007. Despite a massive police operation and huge publicity worldwide, she
has not been found.
Mr Mosley, 68, president of motorsport governing body the FIA, won £60,000 in privacy damages against the News of the
World last year over a story claiming he took part in a "sick Nazi orgy".
He plans to challenge the UK's privacy laws in the European Court of Human Rights to require British newspapers to notify
people before publishing private information about them.
The meeting before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee forms part of an ongoing inquiry into press standards, privacy
Mr Mosley has been giving evidence to the committee this morning.
Mr McCann will be in front of MPs this afternoon.
Madeleine McCann's father Gerry calls for tighter press regulation, 10 March 2009
Madeleine McCann's father Gerry calls for tighter press regulation Guardian
Tuesday 10 March 2009 17.03 GMT
The father of missing toddler Madeleine McCann today called for more stringent regulation of the press and slammed
coverage surrounding the disappearance of his daughter in Portugal in 2007, calling it some of the most "irresponsible and
damaging" in press history.
Gerry McCann, talking to the Commons culture, media and sport committee looking into press standards, said that
despite an initial desire in some elements of the press to help find Madeleine, her disappearance quickly became a means to
sell newspapers. He added that ficticious stories were detrimental to the search for Madeleine.
"Our family has been the focus of some of the most sensational, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting
in the history of the press," McCann told the committee.
"If it were not for the love of our family and friends and the love of the general public this disgraceful conduct,
particularly in the tragic circumstances we found ourselves in, may have resulted in the complete destruction of our family."
Asked by MPs if he and his wife, Kate, considered a complaint to the PCC, McCann said the outgoing Press Complaints
Commission chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, advised him that his best course of action was a legal claim.
McCann said that the PCC had been helpful in protecting the privacy of his other children. However, he went on
to say that more stringent regulation and a greater level of redress against press stories was required. There were gaps in
regulation, he said.
"There has to be some degree of control, I believe, or deterrent to publising untrue and particularly damaging
stories where they have the potential to ruin people's lives."
Asked by the committee why he and his family only took action against a single newspaper group, McCann said that
Express Newspapers were the biggest offenders by some distance but they could have easily sued more publishers. "That was
not what we were interested in, we were interested in putting a stop to it first and foremost," McCann said.
The McCanns launched a libel action against Express Newspapers for more than 100 articles that appeared in its
A year ago, Express Newspapers published front-page apologies in the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star
and Daily Star Sunday to the McCann family and paid them £550,000 in libel damages over coverage of Madeleine's disapperance.
Flanked by his legal representatives, Adam Tudor of Carter-Ruck, and press representative Clarence Mitchell, McCann
told MPs that it became a cause for concern that he was in dispute with Express Newspapers when the Express editor Peter Hill
was sitting on the board of the press watchdog. Hill subsequently left the PCC board.
"I did think it was surprising that the editor of the paper that had so flagrantly libelled us could be a representative
of the PCC," McCann said.
Page last updated at 19:53 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Madeleine McCann was treated as a "commodity" by the UK press, her father Gerry has told
Some reports about the missing girl had been "embellished" or even made up, the culture, media and sport select
committee was told.
Papers had, without evidence, published stories suggesting Madeleine was dead, which could have stopped people
looking for her, Mr McCann said.
Madeleine, of Rothley, Leicestershire, vanished in Portugal in May 2007.
This happened shortly before her fourth birthday.
Prosecutors initially placed "arguido" - or formal suspect - status on Mr McCann and his wife Kate but this was
lifted in July last year when the case was shelved as detectives stopped actively searching for the youngster.
Mr McCann told the MPs: "Although elements of the media coverage have undoubtedly been helpful in the ongoing search
for Madeleine, our family have been the focus of some of the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting
in the history of the press.
"If it were not for the love and tremendous support of our family, friends and the general public, this disgraceful
conduct - particularly in the tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves - may have resulted in the complete destruction
of our family."
He said: "To be thrust from being on holiday one minute into the middle of an international media storm, and how
to cope with that, was very, very difficult."
He said the media were much more interested in writing about him and his wife - what he called the "Kate and Gerry
show" - than about the search for Madeleine.
Mr McCann also said: "To see a front-page headline insinuating that you were involved in your own daughter's disappearance,
it was incredibly, unbelievably upsetting."
Asked about the coverage of his daughter's disappearance, Mr McCann said: "We saw pressure particularly on journalists
to produce stories when really there was nothing much to report."
He added: "Madeleine was made a commodity and profits were to be made."
Mr McCann said there had to be "some degree of control" over reporting, because newspapers had "the potential to
ruin people's lives".
Didn't watch broadcasts
He told the MPs that immediately after the disappearance the media had shown a "desire to try to help get facts
that would lead to Madeleine's whereabouts".
But he added: "Much of the content in the first few days was highly speculative. It was not at all helpful to us.
"We fairly quickly decided for our own benefit not to watch the broadcasts or, indeed, to read the newspapers."
Coverage had become more "damaging" after the couple were named "arguidos", he added.
Mr McCann was also critical of many of the contributors to newspaper - and other website - chatrooms.
He said many had "too much time on their hands", adding: "I feel very sorry for those people who a need to do that
[write abusive and unsubstantiated comments] and there's something clearly missing in those lives."
The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, told the committee there had been a "churning upon churning of inaccuracy"
by the media.
The police in Portugal made less use of public appeals to gain evidence than those in the UK, Mr McCann said, which
had created a "difficult situation" for the family.
Madeleine's parents, the friends who were with them on the holiday and one-time suspect Robert Murat have all won
apologies and pay-outs from newspapers.
But Mr McCann said: "I can't say that the damage that's been done has been reversed."
He told the committee his lawyers had advised him and his wife against going through the Press Complaints Commission
with their concerns - they took legal action instead.
Madeleine was almost four years old when she disappeared from a holiday flat in Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, on
3 May 2007.
The committee is holding an inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel. Earlier on Tuesday it heard from international
motor racing boss Max Mosley.
Page last updated at 22:58 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March
The father of missing toddler Madeleine McCann has told Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman how shocked he was by the media
coverage of the case.
The Jeremy Paxman interview transcript, 10 March 2009
The Jeremy Paxman interview transcript
10 March 2009
Thanks to Reggie Dunlop for transcript
Gerry McCann pre-recorded interview with Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman
Voice Over introduction What about the case of a person who
actively courts the papers, although for most understandable of motives, only to end up at the centre of defamatory stories.
A person like Gerry McCann, father of Madeleine.
Quote from Gerry McCann cut in "Madeleine, I believe, was made,
was a commodity, and profits were to be made. As far as I could see having front page news stories or indeed any stories in
newspapers on a daily basis, was not helpful to the search. Undoubtedly we could have sue all the newspaper groups, I feel
fairly confident about that. That wasn’t what we were interested in; we were interested in putting a stop to it, first
and foremost, and looking for some redress, primarily with an apology."
Voice over continues Few media outlets emerge with credit from
coverage of Madeleine's disappearance, including the portrayal of the McCann's friends and neighbours in Portugal, according
to one seasoned watcher. We shouldn't restrict this to newspapers, television and radio also. They were jumping on Mr Murat
the neighbour, haranguing him, and also hare hanging the families it was a very difficult situation. It became such a huge
international story that the interest that the McCann galvanised ran out of control. That is wholly wrong. The development
of a privacy right is going to begin to curtail those types of stories, and it is only when that right comes into force, and
is being enforced, that we will begin to see the potential impact that such a privacy law could have on what you might all
stories in the public interest. The old editors' motto, publish and be dammed, looks rather more threatened in Fleet Street
Start of face to face interview.
Jeremy Paxman : Well earlier I spoke to Gerry McCann. I asked him if he'd been shocked by how the
media had behaved.
Gerry McCann : It's more than shocked ... ur ... we were heart ... ur ...we felt that there
has been a complete disservice done to our daughter, who is still missing. And that is the thing which is hardest to actually
forgive. .... er .... There was no regard for that. There was no regard for the feelings of both Kate or myself, ... er ...
our other children, in fact, our wider extended family.
Jeremy Paxman : Do you think you were naive?
McCann : I th ... it ... Of course we were naive in that ... in the sense that we have never been exposed to the media
previously and I ... I think, though, that we were better protected than menemy ... than many, Jeremy.
: But then you had this entire media circus ....
Gerry McCann : It really was a circus.
: .... camped out, around you, but you collaborated with them when it was convenient to you, didn't you? And you would announce
photocalls and whether or not you'd be speaking that day - or maybe tomorrow or the day after. D'you .... d'you think to some
degree you .... you reaped a whirlwind?
Gerry McCann : (smiling) We reaped a whirlwind? - No, (cough).
I presume you're taking a very much a "devil's advocate's" position here on what you're doing. We have very clear objectives
of what we wanted, and any parents would take the opportunity of trying to get information into the investigation that might
help find their daughter. And that's what our clear objectives were. .... Um .... I think the one thing we'd probably do slightly
differently is the .... the dividing line between 'when does media covering a story ... er ... on a daily basis' which happened
and did discuss today about the aspect of when .... um .... we finished our trips ... er .... particularly to Germany, Holland,
Morocco, where we felt there might be information relevant, we stayed on in Portugal because emotionally we were not ready
to leave, and we felt closest to Madeleine there, and we fully expected, at that point, the media attention to die down, and
.... and it didn't. And I think, with hindsight, we probably should have drawn a much clearer line in the sand, and even about
Jeremy Paxman : We, the consumer, of course, see this scrum of photographers and cameramen
and reporters surrounding a couple to whom a terrible thing has happened, and we only see it from one side, but what's it
like when you're on the other side?
Gerry McCann : It's very intimidating, particularly when you've never experienced
anything like that before and I have to say when I came back from the Police station, .... er .... on Friday the 4th of May
and saw the mass of media ... er ... internationally gathered, I ..... it fills ..... the prospect of having them .... um
.... door-stepping, invading your privacy, raking up anything from, y'know, your school days to potentially university, to
things that have absolutely no relevance in the ongoing search, filled me with dread.
Jeremy Paxman : Do you
draw a lesson about what aught to be done? I mean, it's a very broad question, but do you draw a lesson?
: I mean ....Simplistically - and it is simplistically because the regulation and the law surrounding it and self-regulation
is clearly is quite complex, and what we would call for is some move - and if it is a backward step ... We want more responsible
reporting and we want accountability for what's written, particularly when it has the potential to seriously damage .... er
.... peoples' lives, and I don't know how a family who were less supported than we were could have coped, because we had a
point very, very close to completely breaking.
Jeremy Paxman : Can you tell us finally, what's happening with
the search for Madeleine now?
Gerry McCann : I think that one thing, today, we would like to re-emphasise is
the search for Madeleine is very much ongoing. ... Um ... We have .... er .... a lot of activity going on behind the scenes
.... er .... We will become public with the activity when feel we need more information in a specific area . But ... er ....
Madeleine's fund is ... er ... funding an ongoing search. We're very, very keen to work with the authorities both here and
in Portugal, to try at the very, very least to find Madeleine and find who took her.
Jeremy Paxman: Gerry McCann,
Gerry McCann : Thank you.
Papers 'Blatantly Made Up' Madeleine Stories, 10 March 2009
Papers 'Blatantly Made Up' Madeleine Stories
Mar 10, 2009
Max Mosley and Gerry McCann have both been given the chance to hit back at the media. Speaking to a committee of MPs,
they revealed how their lives were damaged by very different media storms. Mark Stone reports.
Madeleine's Dad Says Media 'Made Up' Stories, 10 March 2009
Madeleine's Dad Says Media 'Made Up' Stories Sky News
10:16pm UK, Tuesday March 10, 2009
Madeleine McCann's father has accused the media of making up stories once news of the investigation into her disappearance
McCann says the media was initially willing to help
Gerry McCann said his first instinct when Madeleine disappeared was to appeal for information so people
would come forward.
"At that point we were desperate for information, and desperate for our daughter to be found," he told MPs on the
Culture, Media and Sport committee.
"We were desperate, and that is why we spoke to the media, and did our appeals."
But, he said, once information about Madeleine became more scarce a number of ficticious stories began to surface
and "it became a free-for-all.
"We saw pressure on journalists to produce stories, when there was not anything new to report."
"I would say there were fictitious stories which were not necessarily libellous or defamatory.
"Then clearly there was another turn when we were declared as arguidos, and then it was a free-for-all.
"Our family have been the focus of some of the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting
in the history of the press."
By 2008 stories were being published without any consideration of the McCann family's feelings or Madeleine's safety,
Dr McCann said that early on, in Portugal, there had been "an order" to the media coverage.
"We agreed that we did not mind being filmed going about our normal activity but we weren't going to be engaging
in stories on a day-to-day basis.
"That seemed to work quite well. Both sides seemed quite happy.
"What we envisaged was that demand would rapidly tail off, which it didn't. That took me by surprise."
However he said the most damaging part of the media coverage was the suggestion that there was evidence Madeleine
Dr McCann said he and his wife could not forgive that.
The McCann's spokesman Clarence Mitchell, who is also appearing in front of the committee, said journalists
in Portugal were under immense pressure to deliver stories for their newsdesks.
"We had a pack of reporters in Praia da Luz looking for a front page and we had a pack in Leicestershire trying
to talk to the family, to get an insight.
"All of them were competing on a daily basis to get their version of the story into the paper.
"Sometimes I would have reporters coming to me saying 'I have got to get a front page splash by 4pm or my job is
on the line', if I said 'sorry we haven't got anything', they would say 'we are going to have to write it anyway'."
Mr Mitchell said they had had "anecdotal evidence" that certain newspapers were getting "massive sales" from the
"That is undoubtedly the reason why Madeleine McCann was on the front pages for as long as she was.
"For a lot of the time we were not doing anything, it was the media feeding on itself."
It was a "circle of lunacy", he added.
Dr McCann said the broadcast media had been "by and large, more responsible" than newspaper journalists but he
said they had not been entirely happy with their coverage.
He said he and his wife had decided to take legal action against the Daily Express "as a last resort".
"There is a gap there in the legislation," he said.
"We could have sued all the newspaper groups,"he added, but in early 2008 it was the Express which began to rehash
stories and headlines.
"With hindsight, we should have done this sooner. It changed the coverage dramatically."
Mitchell (left) accompanied Dr McCann
Mr Mitchell said that when the McCann's complaints were first received by the Express, the paper offered to "set
the story straight" in an exclusive interview with OKMagazine which is also owned by Richard Desmond.
He said the McCanns had not gone to the Press Complaints Commission because the Commission itself would have advised
them to use legislation to get compensation.
Echoing Max Moseley who gave evidence to the committee earlier, Dr McCann said: "I complained about stories that
were involving invasion of privacy.
"There has to be some degree of control, I believe, or deterrent to publishing particularly damaging stories, where
they have the potential to ruin people's lives."
Mr Mitchell said he agreed with Madeleine's father.
"I will stand here and I will very much defend freedom of speech, but I think when people's lives are put in jeopardy,
by different mechanisms, then that has to be addressed."
Dr McCann said that in today's "changing media landscape" self-regulation was something that the media needed to
"I'm not sure personally whether self-regulation is keeping up with that technology and it is something they will
need to address in coming months and years," he told MPs.
McCann case sensationalism put us at risk, father tells MPs, 11 March 2009
McCann case sensationalism put us at risk, father tells MPs Guardian
Last updated at 00.27 GMT on Wednesday 11 March 2009
Madeleine McCann was used as "a commodity" by the British press which printed a series of speculative and false
stories following the child's disappearance in Portugal, her father, Gerry McCann, told MPs yesterday.
Press coverage, and in particular some insinuations that Madeleine's parents were to blame after they reported
her missing from the family's holiday apartment in May 2007, had led to hate mail and even to concern for their safety, McCann
told the Commons culture, media and sport select committee.
"Although elements of the media coverage have undoubtedly been helpful in the ongoing search for Madeleine, our
family have been the focus of some of the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting in the history
of the press," he said. "If it were not for the love and tremendous support of our family, friends and the general public,
this disgraceful conduct - particularly in the tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves - may have resulted in the
complete destruction of our family."
With few new facts to report after Madeleine, then aged three, went missing, many British reporters focused on
himself and his wife - "the Kate and Gerry show" - rather than the search for his daughter, McCann told the hearing, part
of an inquiry by the committee into press standards, privacy and libel.
"We saw pressure particularly on journalists to produce stories when really there was nothing much to report,"
McCann said. "Madeleine was made a commodity and profits were to be made. Much of the content in the first few days was highly
speculative. It was not at all helpful to us." It was "incredibly, unbelievably upsetting" to read paper stories intimating
that he and his wife were involved in the disappearance, McCann said, and the family soon decided to stop reading the press
or watching TV news broadcasts.
The family took legal action against the Express group of newspapers and in March last year were awarded £550,000
in damages. They had been advised not to address their concerns through the Press Complaints Commission, McCann said.
Following the coverage the family had received "a substantial amount of abusive mail", he said, with "one or two
incidents" at their home with police involved.
Last week, Robert Murat, the Algarve-based Briton named as a suspect in the case by Portuguese police following
reports about him in the UK press, said he had felt "like a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds". Murat later won an estimated
£600,000 in libel settlements.
The committee also heard from Max Mosley, the motorsports boss who last year won a privacy case against the News
of the World. Mosley told the committee that while he had won his high court action after a judge ruled there was no public
interest in allegations of sadomasochistic sex games with prostitutes, the action had cost him £30,000 and taken away his
Called to the British Parliament to discuss the behaviour of media coverage in the case of the disappearance
of his daughter, the doctor made harsh criticisms.
The father of Madeleine, Gerry McCann, was heard yesterday by the members of the standing
committee of the British Parliament for the matters of Culture, Media and Sport, to whom he explained, for the duration of little
more than an hour, his viewpoint about the work of the journalists, particularly the Portuguese, to whom he has not spared
"Although the elements of media coverage have undoubtedly been useful in the search for Madeleine, our
family was the focus of some of the most sensationalist content, false, irresponsible and harmful in the history of the press,"
lamented the father of the most famous girl on the planet. After expressing its solidarity with Maddie's parents, the members
of the commission questioned the three witnesses about the behaviour of the media, aiming in particular at the Portuguese
Considering that the content of news published in the early days did not help the couple at all, Madeleine's
father failed to explain why the couple did not respect the advice of the authorities to not use the media, putting at risk
the life of their own daughter.
The spokesman of Kate and Gerry even accused his former colleagues of having worked in Praia da Luz in
a "convivial atmosphere" where they spent the time getting drunk, which eventually forced him to intervene on a daily basis
to prevent the journalists publishing whatever they had obtained from the bad translations of the Portuguese newspaper covers,
after they had spent the night drinking in bars.
Gerry McCann also criticised the Portuguese journalists that would be at the origin of news that affected
the couple and that were immediately copied by English colleagues, which would then be quoted on the following day in Portugal.
For Madeleine's father, the fact that Portuguese laws date back to the time of a fascist government and
afterwards of a communist government explains the reasons of the said laws not working, which, according to the doctor, explains,
as well, the existence of the secrecy of justice to which the journalists did not comply without suffering any legal consequences,
stressing that the source of much information was the police.
The British parliamentary committee, consisting predominantly of members from the [Labour] party of
the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who directly interfered in the investigations, is conducting a survey on the standards applied
to the work of journalists in England.
The committee wants to assess whether the media professionals respected the privacy of those involved and
understand what has happened in the cases where the media was accused of libel and ended up paying important sums for cases
that never reached the court rooms.
Along with Madeleine McCann's father, also questioned were Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for the couple,
and Adam Tudor, a Carter-Ruck lawyer which represented Kate and Gerry in the processes interposed against several media outlets
in the United Kingdom. It was equally this lawyer's office which directly threatened several journalists in Portugal and abroad
without ever having taken the case to court.
Gerry McCann confirmed yesterday before the committee that one of the couple's spokespersons met with the
editors and directors of the British newspapers, to control which stories were published.
Moments before, during the same inquiry, Maddie's father told the members of the standing committee that
he never had the impression of controlling the media and that at no time they [the McCanns] interfered with
the "agenda" followed by the journalists who were accompanying the case of his daughter disappearance in Praia da Luz.
The contradiction of his statements was not even target of a request for clarification by the committee and the video of the
interview is going to guard for history Gerry's lie.
Gerry's complaints leave a bitter taste, 13 March 2009
How strange it was to see pale, pugnacious Gerry McCann back in the news this week. It serves as a reminder that
while the world has moved on for the rest of us, time stands still for him.
For the McCann family, the clocks stopped nearly two years ago, on that terrible night in the Algarve when their
three-year-old daughter slipped from public view and has not been seen since.
In their quest to find Madeleine, the desperate McCanns invited the world's Press into their lives. It was a relationship
that was doomed to sour.
For months, the McCanns' efforts to keep their daughter's plight high on the news agenda were intense. Far from
shrinking from the oxygen of publicity, what they feared most was the muffle of public apathy. In the process, they became
experts at manipulating the media to their own advantage.
At one point, Mr McCann even returned to the family home in Leicestershire to tie his own yellow ribbon to the
teddystocked Madeleine shrine that had been hastily erected in the centre of the village.
Then and now, watching Gerry McCann walking the red carpet of his grief, as knowing as a Cannes film star, can
be an uncomfortable experience.
This week, Mr McCann took the opportunity to air his grievances about the Press and its treatment of his family
in front of the House of Commons Culture Select Committee.
For what possible purpose? Certainly, some bad judgment decisions were made by the more excitable newspapers, who
have been punished with hefty libel payments and widespread approbation for their troubles. Surely that is an end to the matter?
No. Mr McCann is not finished complaining. Yet the more and more he complains about what happened in the aftermath
of his daughter's disappearance, the more I feel he is attempting to assuage his own guilt for failing to be there when she
needed him most.
Still, it's not his fault that these useless Select Committees, stuffed with the third rate and the Parliamentary
walking wounded, give an indulgent platform for anyone with a grievance.
MADELEINE McCann's father Gerry blasted the media coverage of his daughter's disappearance when he attended
a Parliamentary committee last week.
Mr McCann says his family "have been the focus of some of the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible
and damaging reporting in the history of the press".
And he criticised the fact that the coverage focused on what he called the 'Kate and Gerry show' rather
than the search for Madeleine.
But let's look at the facts. Yes, the McCanns were defamed by some newspapers - and received huge payments
for the Madeleine Fund in return. But it's also true that they courted the media and by doing so succeeded in raising more
awareness of their little girl than the parents of any other missing child in history.
While my heart goes out to them for the loss of little Madeleine - a loss that they will never get over
- it astounds me that Gerry can talk about the irresponsibility of others without any hint of irony.
Of course the media focused on Kate and Gerry.
Madeleine had vanished - but her parents were speaking at press conferences, appealing for information
about their little girl, meeting the Pope, and going jogging.
And for a time they were official arguidos. To ignore this part of the story would have been irresponsible.
As for Madeleine becoming a commodity?
Newspapers highlight issues that are in the public interest, often exposing wrongdoing, often changing
people's lives for the better. They are a vital part of democracy.
But they don't do it for free - they're a business after all.
And anyone who doesn't understand that is just being naive.
We're all guilty of bad judgement at times. And Gerry of all people should understand that.
PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer criticises media law firms, 25 March 2009
PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer criticises media law firms Guardian
Last updated at 00.18 GMT on Wednesday 25 March 2009
Sir Christopher Meyer yesterday criticised a number of London media law firms, claiming they see the Press Complaints
Commission as their "sworn enemy". Meyer singled out leading law firm Carter-Ruck, accusing it of using a Commons select committee
hearing to lead an attack on the press industry watchdog.
Meyer, the outgoing chairman of the PCC, suggested to MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee that
Carter-Ruck had used a hearing before them earlier this month to attack his organisation.
Gerry McCann, father of the missing child Madeleine and a Carter-Ruck client, also criticised the PCC at the same
hearing. McCann gave evidence flanked by Adam Tudor, a partner at Carter-Ruck.
The Formula One boss Max Mosley appeared before the committee on the same day and heavily criticised the PCC.
"It was a classic Carter-Ruck operation," Meyer told MPs, adding that the session in which McCann give evidence
to the committee had seen "a tendentious onslaught on the PCC".
"There are lots of law firms in London specialising in media matters that see us as their sworn enemy, probably
because we can do the job for free and can provide a degree of discretion," he added.
Cameron Doley, managing partner with Carter-Ruck, denied that his firm had any involvement with Mosley, who he
said was not a client.
Doley also denied that Carter-Ruck had orchestrated an attack on the PCC through McCann, saying his views about
the PCC predated the relationship with Carter-Ruck.
"It is quite insulting to suggest that he's an innocent dupe, it's nonsense," Doley said.
The Daily Politics Show - Transcript, 02 April 2009
Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by Sir Christopher
Meyer and Roy Greenslade to discuss press regulation.
Thursday 02 April 2009 Transcript by Nigel Moore Transcript Jo Coburn:
Now, with recent cases, such as the furore over the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann; Do we need a tighter
rein on the newspaper industry?
The way the press is regulated has come in for criticism - not least from the Media
Standards Trust, which is made up of current and former journalists. It recently said that the current system of self regulation
- run by the Press Complaints Commission - is unsatisfactory.
Well, our guest today is the outgoing chairman of
that commission and we'll hear from Sir Christopher Meyer in just a moment. But first Ann Alexander's been looking
at the issues. (video report...) Andrew Neil:
Ann Alexander reporting. Joining us now, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at the City of London University and a former
editor of the Daily Mirror. Christopher Meyer, obviously former chairman - just stepped down, indeed - from the PCC. Set out
your stall, Roy. Why is the PCC inadequate in regulating the press? Roy Greenslade:
I think there are a number of reasons. First of all it's opaque, it does lots of behind-the-scenes deals with editors,
in a sense that it tries to resolve things rather than adjudicate. So my slogan is 'adjudicate, adjudicate, adjudicate'. AN: Yes, right or wrong? RG:
Yeah, right or wrong... AN: Make a decision... RG: Look, listen to this: There were 4,698 complaints last year; only 45 adjudications.
A very tiny fraction. And you've got to add on to that the fact that many of those adjudications were for relatively straightforward
breaches but really complex matters are not there.
The other problem is they're not proactive enough. They
don't say 'Oh, look, they're mistreating the press, asylum seekers - let's get and deal with that; they're
mistreating the McCann's - let's get and deal with that; they're mistreating Robert Murat - we must do something
about that. It always comes late to the party. So: Opaque; not proactive enough; doesn't adjudicate enough. AN: '15 - Love' to Greenslade, Meyer to serve. Sir Christopher Meyer: Let me give a very diplomatic response to Roy on those points, and we've
debated this a great deal: A load of cobblers! What he's just said. Now where do I begin? RG: No, I think you should be more unequivocal than that. SCM:
No, do you? You've had your say. AN: Sounded diplomatic to me. SCM: Freedom of speech, please Mr Greensl... Professor Greenslade, sorry. AN: Answer one of the points. SCM: Which one would you like? Okay, errm... AN:
That you stitch up deals to protect the press behind closed doors... SCM:
Rubbish AN: ...and are unwilling to slap their wrists often enough. SCM: Listen, I'm now free, I'm no longer chairman of the Press
Complaints Commission. AN: So, tell us what you think. SCM: I can now take my corsets off and say what I think. I think it is an extremely
robust system of self regulation. I think any other form of regulation in the United Kingdom would be a disaster and it has
become much more robust, though I say it myself, over the last half decade.
Roy says, "opaque". We say,
we are respecting the wishes of the very complainants who come to us. We have doubled the number of people who come to us
for help over the last 6 years and what they want is something quick, satisfying - it sounds a bit like sex now - quick, satisfying... AN: You speak for yourself. SCM:
...and which is done discretely. Our primary mission is to resolve complaints between complainant and editor. Almost by definition
this has to be in private. AN: Isn't part of the problem,
you see, the public don't quite... the public think it's an 'inside the Beltway' job, don't they? RG: They do and, not only that, I don't think enough of the public even know about
it, or use it. SCM: No, no. People like Roy Greenslade think it's
an 'inside the Beltway' thing. When I... I mean... I'm, I take... AN:
What Roy thinks... that's where the British people go. RG: But
this is... there is a disconnect. I think that 'inside the Beltway' we are hugely critical of it. Christopher will
say - if he had the chance, and I gave him one - he'd say the public are generally in support. The truth is not enough
of the public even know about it, not enough of the newspapers even publicise it and just... SCM: Fair point. RG: Just... just... just... that's
absolutely true, we agree on that... SCM: Yes, we do agree on that. RG: But the Guardian deals with thousands of complaints ever year -
many, many more that 4,698 and that's a single newspaper which most people would regard as fairly honest. So, it shows
that the level of complaints, even though they've doubled under Christopher, is still not good enough. AN: Why couldn't you stop... why... why couldn't the PCC stop some British newspapers
from implying, almost claiming, that the McCann's had killed their missing daughter, when there wasn't an iota of
evidence to show that was true and, frankly, I can't think of anything worse for parents who have lost their daughter
to be accused in the tabloids of having killed her. Where was the PCC on that? SCM:
The PCC was there all the time. 48 hours after Madeleine disappeared, we said to the parents - through the British Embassy
in Washington - that we were here to help; This is what we can do to help you, if you so wish. We cannot be more Catholic
than the Pope, more Royalist than the King. AN: But you didn't
stop it. SCM: We didn't stop it because they did not want
us to stop it because at that time, and don't forget this, Andrew, they were very busy - and I would have done the same
thing, if I'd been in their position - stimulating publicity to try and find their daughter. I personally met Gerry McCann
in the summer to explain to him face to face, eyeball to eyeball, 'Gerry, this is what I can do to help, if you so wish'. AN: Alright. My memory may be fading here but I know they wanted a lot
of publicity, for obvious reasons. I don't think they wanted the kind of publicity that accused them of killing their
daughter. RG: No, they surely didn't. I mean, I think the problem
was in -and you illustrate it perfectly here - is in the nature of this discretion and done behind closed doors, and so on.
Really, in a sense, there should have been a public statement from the PCC... SCM:
But we couldn't... RG: When... when... SCM: No, Roy, we couldn't make a public statement, while... RG:
...saying that much of this was obviously speculation. Journalists, by the way, there are... there are eight... SCM: You miss out... you miss out one absolutely key fact here; it was the Portuguese
authorities themselves... RG: I know, I agree with you... SCM: ...who made them arguidos and that created a massive complication. RG: There are eight editors on the commission. All of those editors
knew that what was being published in the papers was based on speculation. You could have made a statement, saying: 'Be
warned newspapers, if you go into this area you are doing the wrong thing and you are actually...' AN: Okay, we're going to have to leave it there... SCM: You cannot trump the wishes of the parents. AN:
No, Christopher, we're going to have to leave it there. You've made that point. SCM: Yes. Have I? I want to make it again. AN:
You've made it three times. I'm actually... SCM: But he's
a good man despite everything, Roy Greenslade. AN: ...in my brain,
imprinted. Roy Greenslade, good to see you, thank you for joining us. Come back and see us, again.
BBC Two Daily Politics - Greenslade and Meyer on regulation, 02 April 2009
In the latest public debate surrounding regulation of the UK press, Sir Christopher Meyer, former chairman of the UK
Press Complaints Commission (PCC), today argued that the current self-regulatory system was 'robust, quick and satisfying.'
Meyer, who has now been replaced as PCC chair by Peta Buscombe, was a guest on today's Daily Politics show on BBC Two,
and said that the process worked for many reasons - the body's discreet handling of complaints was just one, he said.
Meyer defended the PCC's role, using the fact that they received a record number of complaints from newspaper readers
last year as evidence that the principle of self-regulation was firmly established in the industry.
He added that the number of complaints to the PCC had doubled during his tenure.
During the debate, however, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University in London, said that the body
was not advertised widely enough. He said: "Most of the public aren't aware of the PCC, and the newspapers certainly don't
The show's presenter, Andrew Neil, asked Meyer where the PCC was during the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Neil also
asked why the body didn't do more to protect Kate and Gerry McCann from the accusations made by newspapers.
Meyer said that Gerry McCann felt that the publicity and coverage of his daughter's disappearance would aid the search
for his daughter. "We told them we were there for them if they wanted help, but they were too busy," Meyer said.
He added that the McCanns were focused on finding Madeleine at the time.
Greenslade argued that a PCC statement should have been issued at the time, warning the newspapers to adhere to the PCC
code of practice.
Daily Mail's Paul Dacre attacks 'greedy libel law firms', 23 April 2009
Daily Mail's Paul
Dacre attacks 'greedy libel law firms' Guardian
Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre tells MPs that 'no win, no fee' deals for libel are hampering press freedom
23 April 2009 14.50 BST
Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor, today attacked "greedy libel law
firms" Schillings and Carter Ruck, while conceding newspapers had made mistakes in reporting Madeleine McCann's disappearance.
Dacre told MPs on the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee that law firms specialising in libel
acted like ambulance chasers in pursuit of cases.
"They [Carter-Ruck and Schillings] are rapacious and greedy
and unscrupulous in the methods they use, and I would be astonished if they were not ambulance-chasing and going to celebrities
and saying 'You see that picture, we think we could do something for you'," he said.
of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, Dacre said it had been a unique case, which prompted massive interest from readers
and boosted newspaper sales when it was put on the front page.
He added that some newspapers had overstepped the
line in some reports about Madeleine's disappearance, but denied a collective failure on the part of the industry.
"Lessons have been learned how very considerable interest in stories still meant the boundaries of correct newspaper
journalism should be observed and those boundaries were transgressed by some newspapers in the industry," Dacre said.
He added that a combination of the Human Rights Act and conditional fee arrangements – the so-called "no
win, no fee" payment system – was having a chilling effect on the UK newspaper industry.
is also editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, highlighted a recent
case that the Sunday paper lost in which it had to pay £5,000 in damages, and yet the total legal cost for the paper
came to £520,000. He called for reform of both the Human Rights Act and CFAs.
"Together they present
a lethal weapon crushing press freedom," said Dacre, giving evidence to the select committee's review of press standards,
privacy and libel.
Dacre told MPs that economic conditions in the newspaper industry were the toughest he had experienced.
"I have been a journalist for 40 years and I have never known such a chilling time for newspapers. The industry
is in a parlous state," he said.
Daily Express editor Peter Hill defends Madeleine McCann coverage, 28 April 2009
Daily Express editor Peter Hill defends Madeleine McCann coverage Guardian
Daily Express editor says he did not offer to resign over stories about Madeleine McCann disappearance
Tuesday 28 April 2009 14.04 BST
Peter Hill, the editor of the Daily Express, told MPs today that he did not offer to resign over his newspaper's inaccurate
reporting of Madeline McCann's disappearance.
Speaking to the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee, Hill also defended the Daily Express's extensive
coverage of conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana. "I do not publish stories that I believe to be untrue,"
Hill added that he had "certainly not" offered his resignation over his paper's Madeleine McCann coverage, because all
other media organisations had reported allegations by the Portuguese police that her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were
suspects in her disappearance.
In March last year Daily Express owner Express Newspapers paid £550,000 in damages to the McCanns for more than 100
"seriously defamatory" stories about Madeleine's disappearance published in Hill's paper and sister titles the Sunday Express,
Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday.
The four newspapers also printed front-page apologies, while Express Newspapers apologised to the McCanns at the high
court in London.
"If editors had to resign every time there was a libel action against them, there wouldn't be any editors," Hill said
today, giving evidence to the committee's inquiry into libel, privacy and press standards.
Had he been forced to resign, Hill said the chairman of the BBC and a host of other media executives would also have
had to depart because they reported that the McCanns had been named as arguidos (official suspects) by the Portugese police.
At the time the Daily Express regarded the police as a credible source of information, he added. "I didn't know that
they were behaving like tinpot Ruritanian idiots," Hill said.
The apologies and damages payment by the Express Newspapers titles last year came after the McCanns' solicitors, Carter-Ruck,
sent a legal complaint.
In evidence to the Commons culture select committee last month, Gerry McCann said that the Express Newspapers titles
had been the worst offenders in the UK media in their coverage of Madeleine's disappearance.
However, today Hill refused to accept that his newspaper's reporting had been worse than other titles'. He said the McCanns
had complained about 38 headlines in the Daily Express but that the paper had published 80 other stories that were positive
to the family.
Hill added that he advocated settling the legal complaint and paying compensation to avoid putting the McCanns through
the ordeal of a libel action.
"I accept that we did libel Mr and Mrs McCann because under the law, we clearly didn't tell the truth about them," he
Madeleine McCann's disappearance generated huge amounts of public interest, with the Express receiving 10,000 messages
a day about the story and its sales increasing by many thousands of copies each time an article about the missing child appeared
on the front page, Hill added.
"You have got to remember that this was the most astonishing chain of events. Nothing comparable to this had been seen
since the Lindberg kidnapping in 1932," he said.
However, Hill said he recognised that the story was not in the public interest. "It was certainly of interest to the
public but I wouldn't say it was in the public interest," he added.
The Daily Express editor also defended his paper's publication of numerous stories on alleged conspiracy theories about
the death of Princess Diana in a Paris car crash in August 1997.
Before the final verdict of the long-running inquest into Diana's death was issued in April 2008, the Daily Express published
numerous stories questioning whether she had died as a result of an MI5 conspiracy.
"Of course we believed it. I do not publish stories that I believe to be untrue. That is something I do not do," Hill
When further questioned about the frequency of Princess Diana conspiracy stories, Hill said that because the inquest
had found no evidence to support these theories that was "pretty much the end of the matter". "It's not a crime to have an
obsession," he added.
Hill said that circulation at the Daily Express had remained steady during his five-year tenure but there had been a
slight reduction in the number of journalists due to difficult economic circumstances.
He also attacked press commentators' use of the word "churnalism" to denote the rewriting of press releases and falling
standards in journalism.
"It's a rubbish word. It's a gimmicky word. The standards of journalism have massively increased over the years," Hill
He also echoed Paul Dacre, the editor of rival title the Daily Mail, who gave evidence to the Commons culture select
committee last week, in attacking the British legal system and the ease with which people could launch libel actions against
"We do not have a free press in this country by any means. We have a very shackled press. We should be looking at freeing
these shackles not imposing more, which seems to me to be the tone of this hearing," Hill said.
Celebrated journalist in urgent call for new press regulator, 27 November 2009
Celebrated journalist in urgent call for new press regulator Bristol247.com
Posted by The Editor on Nov 27th 2009
for a new, independent system to regulate the press is urgently needed to prevent abuses of privacy and improve standards
of journalism in the UK were made last night at a speech in Bristol.
Nick Davies, the renowned journalist and author,
told an audience at the Arnolfini on Thursday night that citizens could not trust newspapers or government to regulate the
Describing journalists saying they could regulate themselves as "rapists saying they believe in free
love", Mr Davies said the current system of regulation allowed, for the first time in history, an industry which "harvests
the private lives of people for profit".
Speaking at the annual National Union of Journalists Benn Lecture,
he added: "Anybody is a potential victim. The news media will crash over the line of privacy for their story, and there
is no regulatory framework to stop them".
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) – the self-regulatory
body set up by newspaper groups – came in for fierce criticism from the former Guardian correspondent and writer of
the celebrated book Flat Earth News, which shone a spotlight onto the murky side of national newspaper reporting.
More than 150 people at the event heard that during the last 10 years, the PCC had received 28,000 complaints regarding
false stories printed in newspapers across the country.
But of these, only 0.69% were successfully dealt with,
while about 90% were dismissed on technical grounds.
Mr Davies revealed that during the media frenzy surrounding
the parents of Madeleine McCann in 2007, the head of the PCC Sir Christopher Meyer had said he had been unable to contact
the parents because he had not had a phone number for them – despite there being hundreds of journalists on site in
Portugal at the time.
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, former ITV West executive James Garrett
suggested a new regulator along the lines of Ofcom – the broadcasters' regulator which has strict powers to demand
balance and accuracy.
"Ofcom has the power, quite draconian, to take a broadcaster's licence away, and
I suspect that's the only sort of language that newspapers understand," he said.
Drawing heavily on his
book, Mr Davies told of the PCC's attempt to whitewash the News of the World phone hacking scandal – in which members
of the royal family and household, and other major figures in public life, had had their mobile phone messages intercepted
by journalists at the paper.
He also revealed that reporters on newspapers were being forced – through cutbacks
– to produce three times as much material as their counterparts had done during the 1980s.
Blaming the "corporate
mindset" of the media, he said that 80% of stories were being created from second-hand sources such as news wires and
press releases which he described as "inherently unreliable".