Paul Staines accuses Sunday Mirror editor of authorising hacking

Political blogger Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes took the stand at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, and made numerous allegations relating to phone hacking. Appearing before the court, Staines, who is well known for his website’s “tittle tattle, gossip and rumour”, accused politicians, journalists and editors alike.

Staines told the court that two journalists had confirmed to him that Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver had authorised phone hacking and blagging, and went on to accuse Telegraph journalist Gordon Rayner of using private investigator Steve Whittamore. The blogger said that the journalist’s name appeared 335 times in  Operation Motorman files, and 185 of those appearances were in relation to alleged illegal transactions.

The allegations continued, as Staines described selling a series of photographs to the News of the World of Chris Myers, special advisor to Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a gay bar, following his publication of a story on Hague sharing a hotel room with Myers. Staines said the pictures, which were sold for £20,000 but were never published, were bought to take them off the market.

Describing “lobby terms”, a term applied to off the record information divulged to journalists by politicians, Staines said that it went “beyond off the record” and often resulted in “journalists complicit in politicians’ lying.” Staines added: “Journalists shouldn’t accept anonymous briefings, because most of the time it is used to besmirch other politicians, without them getting their fingerprints on it”

With regards to the attacks from the press on people such as Chris Jefferies and Kate and Jerry McCann, the blogger said:

“I think ultimately, the McCanns and Chris Jefferies have been able to get reparations through the courts. Stopping these abuses from happening means you’ll lose the freedom of the press.”

Staines added: “Phone hacking is against the law and criminal sanctions are available to deal with that. We don’t need press reform to deal with that.”

In reference to his Irish citizenship, the blogger also said: “What I think you’re missing is that I’m a citizen of a free republic and, since 1922, I don’t have to pay attention to what a British judge orders me to do.”

Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust and Will Moy from Full Fact also appeared before the court.

In a lively and entertaining submission, the pair, who gave their evidence together, discussed PCC data and gave their suggestions for regulation of the press.

Moore explained that most often problems with dealing with complaints do not stem from the PCC, but from news organisations dragging their feet: “through all my experience the PCC secretariat have been very helpful and done the best they can. In many cases the problem is with the  newspaper outlet, not the PCC.”

Moy suggested that regulation was necessary to “counteract market failures” and added that publishing accurately was “a matter of basic civic responsibility.”

Moy added:  “If a newspaper has been told that there is a serious problem with a headline, if a complainant goes away, it doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away. A regulator would pursue the problem, a complaints handler pursues the complaint.”

Helen Belcher, who appeared on behalf of TransMediaWatch described the issues surrounding media coverage of trans people to the court.

“Most trans people now, when they’re the subject of an article they deem worthy of a complaint, don’t bother, becausd the PCC has received a number of complaints and it appears that nothing ever changes as a result of those complaints.”

She explained that the use of the single word “tran” caused great distress to a number of trans people: “The word ‘tran’ dehumanises an individual. Trans people are not solely trans, they have other interests they do other things. They have different categories, and to constantly reduce trans people to one category dehumanises them.”

Belcher described the routine misgendering of trans people within the media, and the use of intrusive “before and after” photographs which are “incredibly offensive” to the subjects. She said: “It’s routine. It happens today in the press, despite the editors’ protestations that everything is sorted out.”

Editor in Chief of online newspaper Huffington Post, Carla Buzasi explained the importance of consulting digital media on the Leveson inquiry, describing it as “the future of the media in this country.”

The editor suggested that some news organisations were not interested in being a part of the PCC because they did not “hold it in high regard,” and suggested that a future regulator would need to be sufficiently respected that it would be “foolish” not to be a part of it.

Buzasi said that no phone hacking, blagging or subterfuge took place at the Huffington Post.

Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions also appeared, and advised that a policy specifically for journalists, on what a prosecution will consider when investigating a journalist in doing their work as a journalist will make things clearer. Starmer advised that an interim policy would be drawn up in a matter of weeks.

Pam Surphlis of Support after Murder and Manslaughter in Northern Ireland (SAMM NI) gave evidence to the court via video link.

Surphlis explained that SAMM NI was set up after she read “salacious gossip” about the death of her father. The group went on to conduct a study into  the relationship between journalists and the victims’ families; and effects of press coverage on the victims’ families. The study found that journalists were “intrusive and insensitive in their approach.”

She added that the PCC code relating to dealing with deaths is not “user-friendly.”

Surphlis said she was grateful to the inquiry for enabling SAMM NI to have a voice that someone is prepared to listen to.

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


Blogging the Leveson Inquiry: Paul Dacre goes on the attack

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.