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Leveson Inquiry: What The Editors Said

Original Source: THE HUFFINGTON POST: 23 JANUARY 2012
First Posted: 23/01/2012 07:44 Updated: 23/01/2012 07:44

The last two weeks have seen almost every national newspaper editor give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. Here is what they said:


:: The Sun editor Dominic Mohan insisted the paper could be a "powerful force for good" through its campaigns, support for charities and efforts to explain complicated stories in a clear way.


He said: "At the moment I feel almost every story has to be considered in terms of the Bribery Act, privacy and, of course, the PCC (Press Complaints Commission)."


Managers at The Sun are discussing the possibility of appointing an ombudsman to deal with complaints about stories, he told the hearing.


:: Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher told the inquiry the PCC was "clearly not fit for purpose" in its present form.


He called for the regulator's replacement to have powers to launch its own investigations.


"I think the PCC has never had investigative powers and I'd very much like it to have those, to be able to - when there's been a systemic breakdown in standards - go into newsrooms, interview staff, seek emails, demand an audit trail to see how decisions have been taken," he said.


:: Former Daily Telegraph editor-in-chief Will Lewis, who broke the MPs' expenses scandal, said the story was "laced with risk" but he felt a duty to make it public.


Exposing the abuses of parliamentary allowances was "one of the most important bits of public service and public interest journalism in the post-war period", he said.


He confirmed that the Telegraph paid about 150,000 for a computer disk containing four years of information about MPs' expenses, but insisted that it was not stolen.


:: Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright said the paper continued using private detective Steve Whittamore for 18 months after he was raided in an investigation into the illegal trade of personal information.


"Effectively he was used only on very rare occasions from February 2004, and virtually stopped altogether in September 2004," Wright said.

 He confirmed that the paper paid about 20,000 to Whittamore over a number of years for information that "might be illegal".


:: Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace conceded that phone hacking may have occurred at the newspaper without his knowledge.

 But he insisted there were "significant positives" in tabloid journalism and said he was confident that reporters who worked at the newspaper acted within the code of practice.


He apologised to Chris Jefferies, who was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of the murder of architect Jo Yeates, for causing him "great distress" through the paper's coverage.


:: Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver said she was not aware of phone hacking at her newspaper but there was no guarantee it had not occurred.


But she told the inquiry that the story the tabloid published about Cherie Blair's pregnancy in 1999 came from public relations guru Max Clifford.


Tony Blair's former communications director Alastair Campbell had previously told the inquiry he believed the story might have been obtained from phone hacking.


:: Daily Express editor Hugh Whittow said he supported Express Newspapers' withdrawal from the PCC, partly because of its failure to intervene over the paper's Madeleine McCann stories.


Journalists at the paper were expected to show both sides of every story and not every article was written "to please the readers", he told the hearing.


"We don't twist anything, we just present the news of the day," he said. "We present the truth, hopefully."

 He would never break the law intentionally, he added.


:: The People editor Lloyd Embley categorically denied hacking had occurred at the Sunday tabloid.


He said: "I do not believe that hacking has ever occurred at my newspaper. I have never asked anyone to hack a telephone, I have never seen anyone hack a telephone."


:: The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger criticised new rules requiring Cabinet ministers and their opposition counterparts to keep a record of every meeting they have with newspaper editors.


He also said any Guardian reporter who wants to access information using subterfuge needs to justify that the story is in "exceptional public interest" and they need prior consent from their department head.


The question of how Milly Dowler's voicemails came to be deleted was not a "primary issue," he said, adding: "I think when you trace back the reasons that were given for the closure of the News of the World at the time, they certainly weren't that."


:: The Times editor James Harding defended the paper's coverage of the phone-hacking scandal, which was first broken by the Guardian in summer 2009, but said he wished it had pursued the story more vigorously earlier.


"The reality, of course, is that both News International and the police poured cold water on it at the time, and we went to the sources that we had to try and chase it up, and ran off those," he said.


"It was only later that we could fully get to grips with it, but of course it was and has proved a very important and significant story."


:: Sunday Times editor John Witherow said someone working for The Sunday Times called Abbey National pretending to be Gordon Brown to obtain details about the former prime minister's finances.


He confirmed the paper "blagged" information from the bank as part of an investigation in 2000 into the then-chancellor's purchase of a flat from a company owned by the late media baron Robert Maxwell.


He said the broadsheet sometimes used subterfuge for stories in the public interest but did not carry out "fishing expeditions".


:: Financial Times editor Lionel Barber described the phone-hacking scandal as a wake-up call that made British newspaper executives realise they must change how the industry is regulated.


He recommended that the new press regulator be compulsory and something that online news sites such as the Huffington Post would want to join.


He acknowledged that the Financial Times's focus was on business and financial journalism but said this did not mean it was not interested in people's private lives.


:: The Independent editor Chris Blackhurst said editors recognised the PCC needed substantial reform.


"What I am personally against is state intervention, state control of the media," he said.


He told the inquiry the paper was plunged into profound shock after journalist Johann Hari was exposed for plagiarism but defended the disgraced reporter, who subsequently announced he was leaving the Independent because he did not want others to "take the flak" for his actions.


:: Daily Star editor Dawn Neesom told the inquiry that entertaining readers "doesn't necessarily mean you can just make a story up", insisting stories have to be "accurate and true".

 She said it had come as a surprise to her that the paper used search agencies, and said she had never heard of private investigator Steve Whittamore's company JJ Services.

 Asked if documents suggesting JJ Services was used until 2010 caused her concern, she said: "Yes, I didn't know we did."

 :: Former Daily Express editor Peter Hill told the inquiry the paper ran stories suggesting Madeleine McCann's parents could be responsible for her death because at the time "there was reason to believe" they might be true.

 He said some articles were "deeply sympathetic" and some were not.

 "This was an unprecedented story that in my 50 years of experience I cannot remember the like," he said. "It was not a story that you could ignore, and we simply had to try to cover it as best we could."


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