Sir Harold Evans: a staunch advocate for free speech


Index patron and friend Sir Harold Evans, photo; David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0

On Wednesday evening a legend passed away. Sir Harold Evans.

Harry wasn’t just a proper newspaper man, he was the staunchest of advocates for free speech both in the UK and across the world. But, most importantly, at least for us, he was part of the Index family, as a long-standing patron, friend and supporter.

Many people have written their personal stories of Harry in the last 48 hours, their experiences of a great man who embodied the best of journalism. A journalist who was fearless in challenging the establishment and shining a light on some of the most appalling scandals of his age, re-inventing investigative journalism, ensuring that his work changed minds and the law.  A publisher who changed the political landscape.

Very few of us will leave such an awe-inspiring legacy.

Most importantly Harry was brave and was prepared to use his position to not only help others by exposing injustice but by ensuring that the voice of the victims was heard – most notably in his work with survivors of the thalidomide scandal.

From an Index perspective, Harry didn’t just seek to protect free speech, he relished using it. He was the first editor in British history to ignore a government D-notice, when he believed that the government were seeking not to protect national security but rather their own reputation. It’s because of him that we know the name of Kim Philby, the traitor who acted as a double agent. He stood up to the government and exposed a national scandal. In this, and on so many other issues, he published without fear or favour.

You can read Harry on the pages of Index writing about the censorship of photographs, anti-Semitism in the Middle East and forgotten free speech heroes. We were honoured to have his support and we are so saddened by his loss.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Harry’s family, friends and colleagues – may his memory be a blessing for all of them.[/vc_column_text][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”13527″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Sir Harold Evans warns against statutory press regulation

Veteran newspaper editor Sir Harold Evans attacked the “excesses” of the British press and called for more external control while warning against introducing regulation by statute.

Appearing via video link at the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, Sir Harold said his evidence, in which he largely detailed Rupert Murdoch’s bid for control of the Sunday Times in 1981, was relevant as it was a “manifestation of too close a connection between a powerful media group and politicians”.

Evans, who edited the Times from 1981-2 (having edited the Sunday Times from 1967-1981) and whose feud with Murdoch is well-documented, said he was “disgusted, dismayed and demoralised” by the “vindictive and punitive atmosphere” at the title.

He left his post at the Times after a year of being made editor.

Evans, who has lived in the United States since the mid-1980s, heralded the country’s reputation for accuracy and fact-checking in journalism but said the United Kingdom was “superior” in its style. He spent the early part of his evidence reflecting on his time as a journalist in the 1970s, a time he described as Britain having a “half-free press” and that “almost every investigation ran against external restraint”, such as the Official Secrets Act, libel and contempt.

He lamented what he termed the “excesses” of the British press, namely the “persecution of individuals for no public good whatsoever”, telling the Inquiry we were now in a “situation where papers are hiring private detectives. We used to hire reporters.”

He slammed the Press Complaints Commission as not having the powers even to “frighten a goose” and recommended a press ombudsman with the power to subpoena, punish and “hold the press to the very highest standards.”

While Evans warned it was “dangerous to bring a statute to bear on these matters”, he stressed that there was a need for “some extra authority to clean up the mess we’re in”.

The Inquiry continues on Monday.

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