Lebedev and Barclay – media owners on the stand at Leveson

Two media barons took to the stand at the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon as the first day of “proprietors week” continued.

Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Independent and the London Evening Standard stressed the importance of maintaining a free, strong and robust press, describing it as an “element of British democracy which needs to be preserved at any cost”.

He added: “Those who have committed crimes need to be punished. As we’ve seen in recent revelations there’s been an extraordinary abuse of power by the press and I think the outcome of the Inquiry should prevent that from happening again.”

Lebedev also expressed concerns that intense regulation of meetings between proprietors and politicians risks creating a society where elements become feeble. He said: “If the press becomes too feeble, we end up with a tyranny of consensus.”

He added that this kind of scrutiny would “completely change the balance of how things work in Westminster,” and agreed when asked if Lebedev meant that meetings between the press and politicians was “part of the discourse of politics”.

Lebedev explained that both the Evening Standard and the Independent both aimed “to support and champion world class journalism that is ethically sound, in the public interest and an aid to Britain’s democracy”, despite their differing political leanings.

Counsel Carine Patry Hoskins read the court an excerpt from an article published in the New Statesman from July 2011, in which Boris Johnson “gushed” about the oligarch: “I’m proud to call him a friend”. Lebedev told the court “there are varying degrees of friendship, but yes, I would consider him a friend.”

Stressing that he considered himself to be a Londoner, Lebedev added that he and Boris Johnson only discussed topics that “any Londoner would be interested in”.

Lebedev added that as they were operating within “the same sphere of existence” it was important for him to maintain relationships with politicians, including the Mayor of London, and the Prime Minister. He described meeting with Johnson, along with David Cameron, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and explained he would soon be meeting newly-elected MP George Galloway.

Despite his relationship with politicians, and his interest in politics, the proprietor told the court he had never been asked by the Prime Minister to support a particular political party or policy.

In terms of the future of media regulation, Lebedev supported the concept of a statutory underpinning, and said that every part of the industry needed to be involved, and added that “self regulation should not be shrouded in impenetrable jargon”.

Also appearing before the court, Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Daily Telegraph publisher Telegraph Media Group (TMG), described his relationship with politicians.

Accepting that the Telegraph is unapologetically Conservative “with both a small and large C”, Barclay described a “cordial business relationship” with David Cameron.

The court heard how Barclay sent a series of texts to Cameron, congratulating him on the birth of his daughter, and referring to a “daily call” to the paper during the elections.

Barclay described his relationship with Tony Blair as “relaxed and social” and added that despite Blair’s interest in the press, there was never any discussion of topics of an editorial nature.

He added that being in touch with politicians enabled newspapers to do their jobs properly: “It’s very important to me that the Telegraph is involved in everything that goes on. In 2004, when we arrived at the Telegraph, it was in a situation where it never spoke to the Labour party and had fallen out with the Conservative party.”

Barclay also explained that even though the Operation Motorman leak table contained no entries in relation to TMG, the organisation took steps to make sure no journalists had been involved with payment to private investigators.

In terms of regulation, Barclay said it was necessary to strike a balance between “some standards of operations”, but it was important not to destroy the industry through “regulation creep”.

He added: “I’m concerned that we don’t go too far in the proposals, rules and regulations can layer on top of one another”.

Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson

Leveson hears details of Telegraph expenses scoop payments

The former editor-in-chief of the Telegraph told the Leveson Inquiry he felt it was his duty, not a choice, to publish the paper’s revelations about MPs’ expenses in 2009.

Will Lewis said it was his “ethical obligation to bring this profound wrongdoing at heart of House of Commons into public domain.”

Lewis said it was a topic that was “laced with risk all round”. Having worked for the Sunday Times when it printed the fake Hitler diaries in 1983, Lewis also said he was concerned the expenses story was a hoax.

He described the steps leading to publication, an initial £10,000 for a sample disc was paid to an intermediary, with a further £140,000 once it was verified that the leaked documents were genuine. Lewis said it was only when Jack Straw had confirmed the details of his expenses that he gave the green light to publish.

Lewis described the role of an editor as risk mitigation. “At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, ‘does it feel right?'” he said, adding that mistakes he had made in his career came about because he had not followed his instincts.

He urged for a greater focus on a more transparent newsroom culture, noting that “sunlight is a fantastic disinfectant.”

The paper’s current editor, Tony Gallagher, also testified today, arguing that the best outcome of the Inquiry would be an arbitration system for resolving legal disputes and complaints. “The chilling effect of libel on small media organisations has to be seen to be believed,” he said.

Earlier in the day Lord Justice Leveson also spoke in favour of a low-cost libel mediation system. He cautioned against government involvement, telling Telegraph Media Group CEO chief executive Murdoch MacLennan, “I would be surprised if government regulation ever even entered my mind.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from Associated Newspapers.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson


Clarkson comes clean

Today’s interview with Jeremy Clarkson in the Daily Telegraph provides an interesting line on living with an injunction.

Clarkson had an injunction on stories detailing his relations with his ex-wife, Alexandra Hall.

They are incredibly expensive to maintain and there’s an assumption of guilt about which you can do nothing because I’m as bound by it as everybody else.

So you sit there with everyone and you go, huh, ex-wife, and you can’t say anything, so I just thought I wanted to get rid of it and it will save us a hell of a lot of heartache.

I must admit it’s something I’d never really thought about. Once you have an injunction concerning an area of your life, you are subject to it just as everyone else is, and have added a layer of censorship to something that probably already causes you considerable anguish.

I am the world's worst tennis player

I’m rubbish at tennis. Really, embarrassingly bad. To be honest, it’s never really bothered me. Don’t even like tennis. And I certainly have no intention of making money from my tennis skills or lack thereof.

It’s a different story for Robert Dee, who is a professional tennis player. Unfortunately for Robert, his tennis skills have been derided by more than one media outlet. He’s even been called the world’s worst tennis pro.

I know nothing about tennis, so I couldn’t possibly comment. He’s probably better than me, anyway. Read about his record here and judge for yourself.

Anyway, Robert Dee objects to being called the world’s worst tennis player. He says it could damage his prospects for future employment. So he’s threatened to sue the various media outlets who have described him so. Many of them have apologised. And paid Mr Dee remuneration.

The Daily Telegraph has refused to apologise to Mr Dee. They are now in court, defending a libel action.

So is this a matter of truth, justification, or fair comment?