Times editor apologises to NightJack blogger

The editor of the Times has admitted to the Leveson Inquiry that a reporter at his paper used email hacking to reveal the identity of anonymous police blogger, NightJack, in a 2009 story.

James Harding was discussing an incident which former Times reporter Patrick Foster had identified the blogger as Richard Horton by gaining access to anonymous email account run by Horton.

Harding, recalled to give further evidence, said he had “learnt a great deal more” about the circumstances surrounding the event since his last appearance at the Inquiry a month ago.

He revealed that he and senior management figures at the Times only became aware of the email hacking after Mr Justice Eady had begun hearing the case at the High Court — to overturn the injunction Mr Horton took to protect his identity — but before a judgment was made.

The inquiry heard that the paper’s lawyer, Alastair Brett, “tore a strip off Foster” when he learned of the email hacking, telling him that “if he wants to pursue this story he has to do it by proper journalistic endeavour”.

Emails shown to the Inquiry today reveal that Foster asked his then news editor, Martin Barrow, to “leave a little space between the dirty deed and publishing”.

In another email from Foster to the Brett, the reporter said he could build his story with publicly-available information. This, Brett replied, may be the “golden bullet”.

Harding said he took the view that the story was in the public interest, though stressed it did not warrant Foster’s unauthorised access to the email account.

“I squarely do not approve of what has happened”, he said.

“If Mr Foster had come to me and said he had done this,” Harding said, “I would have taken the disciplinary action and I would have told him to abandon the story.”

“I sorely regret the intrusion into Richard Horton’s email account by a journalist in our newsroom. On behalf of the newspaper, I apologise”, he told the Inquiry. Harding also said he has written to Mr Justice Eady to apologise that the full details surrounding the story were not disclosed to the court in 2009.

Horton, who won the Orwell prize for his blog describing a PC’s life, closed down his site and removed its content.

Email hacking constitutes a breach of the Computer Misuse Act, for which there is no public interest defence. Foster was given a written warning for professional misconduct over the incident.

Also recalled today was Sun editor Dominic Mohan, who was quizzed about his paper’s page 3 feature, which since late 1970 has printed photos of topless women.

Mohan called the feature an “innocuous British institution” that celebrates natural beauty and represents youth and freshness. He said the feature does not contain models who had had plastic surgery, and that the women photographed were healthy and “good role models”.

Last month the Inquiry heard from a selection of women’s groups who discussed the sexualisation of women in media. Anna Van Heeswijk, of pressure group Object, said page 3  existed “for the sole purpose” of women being sex objects. She also pushed for “consistent” regulation of print media, arguing that the press should abide by the taste and decency watershed that determines what can be broadcast on television before 9pm.

Mohan also refuted claims the paper was sexist, arguing that it had campaigned for a range of women’s issues, such as speaking out against domestic violence in 2003 and raising awareness of cervical cancer screening following the death of reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow and will include evidence from Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer; Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust and political blogger Guido Fawkes.

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

Sun editor calls for "level playing field" between print and online

Th editor of the Sun has called for a “level playing field” between the press and the internet at the Leveson Inquiry today.

Dominic Mohan, who joined the paper in 1996 and has been its editor since 2009, said the combination of an over-regulated press with an unregulated internet was a “very, very worrying thought”.

Mohan said that at the moment, “it feels like every story has to be considered in terms of the Bribery Act, privacy, the PCC.” He added that statutory regulation filled him with “fear” and revealed that he had had discussions with a senior executive at the paper over appointing an ombudsman to deal with readers’ complaints. He said it could be “useful in terms of self-regulation”.

Mohan said the Inquiry itself may have made him more cautious about publishing certain stories. He reiterated that he had “seen mistakes made” at the tabloid and was keen to learn from them. He said his staff will be advised on language use regarding issues such as HIV/AIDS, gypsies and travellers later this year.

He added that, since the Press Complain Commission’s adjudication on a story by the Sun about singer Charlotte Church‘s pregnancy — published before Mohan became editor — he has “not run stories on females under 12 weeks pregnant”.

A new system on paying sources requiring four signatures from managers was instituted in September 2011, which Mohan called “sensible” and “good governance” following the closure of the News of the World after phone hacking revelations.

Earlier in the day, The Sun’s head of legal called prior notification “absolutely correct journalism”, adding that it can go some way in avoiding libel by informing “the other side” of a story before publication.

Justin Walford told the Leveson Inquiry he could not recall an occasion when it was in the public interest to not inform someone of a story involving them.

Ex-Formula One boss Max Mosley, who sued the News of the World for breach of privacy in 2008, has also championed the cause. Yet he lost his bid impose a legal duty of prior notification last May, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling that such a system would have a ”chilling effect” on the press.

Walford described his own role at the tabloid as “risk assessment”, noting that he would deal with legal issues in the following day’s paper, but that it was the editor who would make the ultimate decision of whether running a certain story would be worth the risk.

The hearing continues tomorrow, with evidence from editors of the FT, the Independent and the Telegraph.

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