The CEO of Trinity Mirror, Sly Bailey, told the Leveson Inquiry today that she has seen no evidence of phone hacking at Trinity Mirror, only “unsubstantiated allegations”.
When pressed by counsel David Barr why the group had not conducted a detailed investigation, Bailey argued that by investigating claims without evidence of hacking was not a way to run a healthy organisation.
She called claims made by a BBC Newsnight programme that the practice took place at the Sunday Mirror a “terrible piece of journalism”.
Bailey said she had heard the evidence of ex-Mirror reporter James Hipwell, who told the Inquiry that phone hacking was a “bog-standard journalistic tool” used by the paper, but added she was “not sure” whether she knew of his allegations at the time.
In her testimony Bailey also detailed the “intense cyclical pressure” facing her company. “It’s like a falling knife that is getting sharper on the way down,” she said, noting the collapse in recruitment advertising and increasing pressure from digital news platforms. “Our strategy is to build a growing multi-platform business,” she said.
Also speaking today, Tina Weaver, editor of the Sunday Mirror, said privacy injunctions brought by rich, powerful men “rained down on us like confetti” a year ago.
Weaver said she “wrestled with competing tensions” over a kiss and tell story published in the paper involving Rio Ferdinand in April 2010. She said editors now spend a “disproportionate” amount of time balancing Article 8 (private life) and Article 10 (freedom of expression), to which Leveson asked, “isn’t that exactly what you should be doing?” Weaver agreed it was.
“It’s where the line is being drawn that concerns me,” Weaver told the Inquiry.
Weaver added that she felt the perception of public interest was at times too narrow. “I think what readers deem to be in the public interest is deemed by judges to be private,” she said.
The Mirror’s investigations editor Andrew Penman discussed his reservations about prior notification. He told the Inquiry he feared the policy becoming compulsory, leading to crooks and fraudsters becoming “the ones you can’t write about.”
He added he believed in a right to “publicity”.
“If the press are stifled, the public is stifled,” he said.
Editor of the People Lloyd Embley told the Inquiry that the varied nature of stories meant he could not see prior notification working in practice.
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The hazy terrain of press regulation formed the core of discussion at this morning’s Leveson Inquiry seminar.
Eve Salomon, chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, kicked off the session by making the case for self-regulation, arguing that the PCC’s successor should be an enhanced model that both raises standards and deals with complaints. Salomon argued the current Press Complaints Commission is merely a mediator,and that having investigative powers that would characterise it as a regulator. Referring to the phone-hacking scandal, she added that “no amount of regulation” will deter criminals.
Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre was scathing, his speech attacked the “anarchic” internet and “elite” journalists who have “disdain” for tabloids, Dacre said the press is already “on the cusp of being over-regulated” due to the courts’ use of the Human Rights Act.
Though Dacre largely defended the PCC — he maintained it was “not a failed organisation” — he did concede that it needed reforming in order to regain public trust, and claimed it had “blunted the Sunday papers’ ability to find sensational stories.”
Any notion of licensing journalists or imposing fines was condemned; of “experts” in favour of licensing reporters, Dacre said: “my own view is they should emigrate to Zimbabwe.”
He added that the press are better behaved now than in the 1970s, during which time “harassment was rule rather than exception.”
Dacre went on to reveal that his newspaper, as well as its sister titles the Mail on Sunday and Metro, will introduce a corrections and clarifications column on page 2 of the paper next week. Currently no other tabloid runs such a column.
Will Moy of independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact followed Dacre, noting that, while some newspapers and journalists are “excellent” when confronted with mistakes, they are the “exceptions”. Citing the Daily Express’s twisting of house price quotes, Moy added that “newspapers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves”, arguing that a regulator was “essential.”
He did see potential for “indirect regulation”, such as a readers’ editor, and added that the PCC needs to have more effective sanctions for dealing with repeat offenders. The readers’ editor of Observer, Stephen Pritchard, also made the case for more internal news ombudsmen, arguing that they could enhance trust (there are currently only two of them in the UK, at the Guardian and the Observer).
Later, the role of corporate governance in maintaining standards was discussed. Labour life peer Lord Borrie made the case for stronger ethical standards, arguing that they should not merely be “something that slips off the tongue of chairman at the annual general meeting.” Non-executive director of Channel 4, Stephen Hill, spoke in favour of “scrupulous” corporate governance, while Trinity Mirror‘s Sly Bailey argued that “no system of corporate governance” was bomb-proof: it could not stop a determined wrongdoer, but may “minimise wrongdoing.”
Damian Tambini, a lecturer on media policy and regulation at the London School of Economics, said it was unhelpful to oppose statutory regulation as a sort of “ogre”, noting that self-regulation might need statutory back up. Cardiff University journalism professor Ian Hargreaves also noted that we cannot compel individuals to join a system, and can only “create a system that’s so good most people want to be part of it.”
For Index CEO John Kampfner, the challenge of the Leveson Inquiry will be “setting out strength of corporate governance and ensuring that regulation doesn’t chill speech.” He added that any future regulation must not lead to any “excess of caution that damages investigative journalism.”
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.
Click here for the full text of John Kampfner’s speech at this afternoon’s session of the Inquiry.