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Original Source: EXPRESS: WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
By Damon Wake
SEVERE: Mr Hill talked about British media laws at the House of Commons

THE media is "shackled" to such an extent that the UK does not really have a free press, the editor of the Daily Express said yesterday.

Peter Hill told a committee of MPs examining standards in journalism that they should be looking for ways of removing constraints on the media, not imposing new ones.

Mr Hill also apologised again for printing inaccurate stories suggesting Kate and Gerry McCann were responsible for the death of their daughter Madeleine, but said they had come from what he believed were credible sources in the Portuguese police.

The idea that newspapers could print whatever they liked about "people with impunity was mistaken, he said.

"We have got the laws of libel which are the most severe in the world," he told the House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport.

"We have got the law of confidence, which is now being used extensively by celebrities; we have got the law of privacy which is coming in; we have got European law; we are pretty much up to our ears in laws."

Legal firms who went round offering so-called "no win no fee" deals " technically known as conditional fee arrangements (CFA) " on libel actions had created a "ridiculous" situation and people came from all over the world to sue in British courts.

The constitutional right to freedom of expression in the US ensured a genuinely free press across the "Atlantic, he said.

"We do not have a free press in this country by any means " we have a very, very shackled press," he said.

"You should be looking at means of removing those shackles, not imposing more." A genuinely free press is essential to the proper functioning of a democratic society, he said.


In March last year the McCanns accepted a "550,000 payout from Express Newspapers over false "allegations that they were responsible for the death of their daughter, who disappeared while the family was on holiday in Portugal in May 2007.

Mr Hill said he did not consider resigning over the matter, saying there would be no editors left if every one who faced a libel action resigned.

"I accept that we did libel Mr and Mrs McCann because under the law we clearly did not tell the truth about them," he said.

"Very few people apologise for anything these days, but I have apologised for it and I sincerely apologised and I apologise now."

Mr Hill stressed that the stories were published in good faith as he believed them to have come from a credible source.

"I was not making these allegations. I repeated the allegations but I was not making them," he said.

"The allegations were made by the Portuguese police, who appeared to be very confident of the rightness of what they were saying, but of course it turned out to be nonsense.

"This was a reputable police force of a reputable country, a reputable, civilised country."

The media covering the McCann case had a genuine wish to find out what had happened to her, he said, and were not solely motivated by the desire to sell copies.

Last week the committee heard from Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, who also voiced serious concerns about the effect CFAs were having on journalism, and the "insidious" "imposition of a privacy law in High Court rulings.


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