The editor of the Independent has told the Leveson Inquiry that the paper’s reputation has been “severely damaged” following revelations that one of its star columnists, Johann Hari, had plagiarised articles.
Chris Blackhurst denied there had been a cover-up at the paper, noting that no-one had ever had any “inklings” or made complaints about the reporter, who is currently undertaking ethics training at Columbia and New York University at his own cost.
Blackhurst stressed that the “scandal” caused “enormous” and “profound” shock to himself and his colleages. Hari was publicly suspended without pay for four months last year, having confessed to inserting quotes from other published work into exclusive interviews.
Blackhurst added that an absence of complaints meant Hari did not believe he had been doing anything wrong, but noted that there are “plenty of journalists who haven’t had training but recognise the difference between right and wrong”.
Blackhurst said if it had been within his remit to pass the Hari case to the Press Complaints Commission for judgment, he would have done so.
Blackhurst said he was “profoundly against state intervention or state control of the media”, but reiterated his support for a more “proactive” body, possibly with statutory backing. He added he would “certainly advocate” the fining of newspapers for breaches.
Lord Justice Leveson responded that a balance needed to be found, noting, “when you’re writing something you’re doing nothing more than exercising right to free speech.”
Praising the News of the World for exposing match-fixing in cricket, and the Daily Mail’s controversial coverage of then-suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case, Blackhurst said he would be “very worried if the outcome of this Inquiry was an ability of this industry to investigate to be curtailed.” Leveson agreed such a result must be avoided.
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