Jefferies coverage a "watershed" for UK media, Mirror reporter tells Leveson

Ryan Parry, the Daily Mirror journalist whose byline appeared on the libellous coverage of wrongly arrested Bristol landlord Chris Jefferies said the episode was a “watershed moment” for the British media.

“All we can do is learn from this and improve for the future,” Parry told the Leveson Inquiry. The Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 and The Sun £18,000 respectively for contempt of court over its coverage of Jefferies. It was revealed today that the Sun has withdrawn its Supreme Court appeal against the contempt ruling, while the Mirror’s appeal is ongoing.

Parry said he was pleased with how he had conducted himself on the coverage of Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in December 2010.

“If he came across…as an eccentric, it’s because the evidence suggested he was,” Parry said of the correspondence he had had with Jefferies’ former students. One story carried the headline “Nutty Professor”, while in others Jefferies was referred to an “oddball”.

Gary O’Shea, a journalist at the Sun who had also covered the case, told the Inquiry that their coverage should have been more “neutral and dispassionate”, and said that the paper’s libel settlement with Jefferies was an acceptance of this.

“We don’t often go wrong, we don’t often make mistakes, and when we do they’re honest mistakes,” O’Shea said. The paper’s publishing director, Stephen Waring, also took responsibility for a headline in a story about Jefferies titled “Obsessed by death”, and apologised to the former teacher.

Earlier in the day, 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 the redtops’ page 3 feature existed “for the sole purpose” of women being sex objects.

Van Heeswijk added that violence is often trivialised and eroticised in the papers, and 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.

Heather Harvey of Eaves Housing for Women told the Inquiry that media coverage of women and the sexist abuse they may encounter online “actually curtails and limits” women’s freedom of expression and their ability to engage in public debate.

Overhyped headlines and inaccurate stories were also slammed today. Inayat Bunglawala of Muslim group Engage accused the Daily Express and the Daily Star of being “the most egregious offenders” in relation to Britain’s Muslim community. He and Robert Jay QC read through a series of headlines from the two redtops — one from the Express read “Christmas is banned, it offends Muslims” — which Bunglawala said were aimed at increasing hatred and prejudice against Muslims.

Bunglawala noted that he got a one-paragraph clarification after complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about a story in the Star that claimed remembrance poppies were banned in Muslim areas. He added that it was a “very odd situation” that the Express and the Star are not members of the PCC.

Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre praised Britain’s “excellent” science journalists but blamed sub-editors for writing inaccurate headlines. She cited a report in the Independent today headlined “Once they were blind, now they see. Patients cured by stem cell ‘miracle'”, which describes how two blind people have shown signs of being able to see again.

“Within science extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but in the newsroom it’s the exact opposite,” Fox said, lamenting media reports of preliminary findings. “It would solve a lot of problems if journalists just didn’t over-claim for these stories.”

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from journalists Roy Greenslade and David Allen Green, RMT union leader Bob Crow and further testimony from investigative journalist Mazher Mahmood.

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