Injunctions lull is an "outbreak of sanity", editors tell Joint Committee
Alice Purkiss: Injunctions lull is an "outbreak of sanity", editors tell Joint Committee
01 Nov 11

The celebrity trend of taking out injunctions to prevent publication has calmed, according to some of Britain’s top editors. Giving evidence at the joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions yesterday Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor; Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye; John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times and Jonathan Grun from the Press Association, explained that he felt the balance between freedom of expression and privacy has been restored.

Speaking at the committee, Hislop called the lull in injunctions an “outbreak of sanity,” whilst John Witherow said superinjunctions had been “scattered around like confetti,” and added that the mood now seems to have changed. Hislop attributed the decline to a number of “spectacular own goals” and said the “worrying” trend had caused a “real chilling effect” on free speech. Witherow agreed, and cited the recent case of Jeremy Clarkson as a deterrent.

Following the recent press scandals, Grun explained:  “All of the furore we’ve had with super injunctions and phone hacking has created a distorted lens on the media.”

Grun added: “It does misrepresent the day-to-day activities of hundreds of newsrooms across the country. In newsrooms across the country journalists take decisions beneath the radar but those decisions tend to guard the privacy of what you would describe as ordinary people.”

When asked if declining sales was the reason behind the publication of sensationalist articles, all of the editors disagreed. Hislop said “printing the truth is the way to sell papers,” whilst Grun advised that “accuracy underpins everything we do at PA.” Rusbridger added that using “commercial consideration” when deciding whether to run a story is dangerous.

He explained: “If you’re going to lessen standards or become lax because you think that’s a route to better sales, it’s a slippery slope.”

Similarly, the editors all agreed that defining the public interest for editorial decisions was clear, with Hislop adding that it comes down to “common sense.”

Ian Hislop suggested that “the libel business dried up, and privacy became the next avenue,” whilst Rusbridger named the breach of confidence as his biggest issue as a newspaper editor, describing it as an “ever present threat” which can hit you, commenting “I’m much more worried about confidence.”

But the editors added that it was unclear how many injunctions still stood. Witherow said:  “We may never know how many stories have not been covered, or how many people who have been up to no good will sleep a little easier.”

Earlier in the day,  Joshua Rozenberg, a legal commentator and journalist; Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at Westminster University and Professor Brian Cathcart, founder of the Hacked Off campaign and professor of Journalism at Kingston University, also gave their evidence to the committee.

Alice Purkiss is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship