Ian Hislop: 'Privacy is the new libel'

This is a guest post by Katriona Lewis

The Culture, Media and Sport committee met yesterday in parliament where MPs quizzed key figures in the press such as Private Eye’s Ian Hislop and the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger press standards, privacy and libel.

‘Privacy is the new libel,’ said Ian Hislop. ‘I am less sued,’ he continued. ‘There are fewer libels but each one is a lot more expensive and you can run into huge figures on one story.’ While libel is becoming harder to accuse privacy is not. Hislop attested to being sent fortnightly injunctions against privacy by the notorious Schillings law firm. He claimed to have had three privacy cases against him just this year. ‘It’s time to say: “What is privacy law?”’

MPs were surprised to hear of the growing trend of lawyers requesting ‘prior notification’ of story details before they go to print. Hislop classed this as ‘censorship by judicial process.’

Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, refused to comment on the cost of the settlement in legal action following two mistakes printed in a story about Tesco’s tax dealings. However, he did say that after the incident they spent £90,000 on legal advice in advance of printing a tax avoidance supplement. ‘If you hit newspapers in this way the media won’t write about it.’ Rusbridger commented in a discussion of Tesco’s motivation to sue. ‘Confidence is an issue for us.’

The editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler said that they now talk to the Press Complaints Commission up to the publication of most stories. ‘No editor wants an adjudication against them,’ said Myler. ‘I’ve had three.’

Rusbridger suggested the PCC clarified it’s position saying: ‘They are more of a mediator and less of a regulator. The PCC needs to acknowledge that we take privacy seriously and make it clear that people don’t need to go to the courts.’