Leveson inquiry: Editors laud regional press ethics

 

The UK's regional press has a "very good reputation" for behaving ethically and should not be tarnished by the phone hacking scandal, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.

Editors of newspapers around the country said they had never come across the illegal interception of voicemail messages or the practice of paying public officials for confidential information.

John McLellan, editor of the Scotsman, told the inquiry that the revelations of wrongdoing that resulted in the News of the World's closure were "as much a shock to those of us working outside Fleet Street as for the wider public".

He said in a witness statement: "The press serving smaller communities, while not perfect, has a very good reputation for behaving responsibly and ethically and should not be tarnished by recent scandals involving newspapers with an entirely different agenda."

Several regional editors who gave evidence to the inquiry today said subterfuge was sometimes justifiable to obtain a story that was in the public interest.

Jonathan Russell, editor of the Herald in Glasgow, said: "I would say the potential is there for it to be used and it has been used.

"If I thought there was anything likely to be illegal or in breach of the editors' code of conduct it would be brought to my attention."

The inquiry was told that the regional press was facing a series of challenges, with both print circulation and advertising revenue falling.

Advertising provides a much bigger proportion of the revenue of regional newspapers than their national counterparts, the hearing was told.

Mr McLellan said job adverts, previously a "mainstay" of the regional press, had "all but disappeared" in recent years.

Spencer Feeney, editor of the Swansea-based South Wales Evening Post, added: "The general picture is over the last five years advertising revenues in the regional press have about halved."

He referred to a proposal in Wales to remove the statutory obligation for bodies like councils to place adverts publicising road traffic orders in local papers, a move which could cost the Welsh regional press £1 million a year.

Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson said: "I am really trying to grapple with the concern which has been expressed that all print media are under pressure, but none more so than newspapers that are not London-based."

Mr McLellan expressed optimism that new technologies like the iPad and other computer tablets could provide a "brighter future" for the press.

"The new way of reading on tablets and on phones is that people are now re-learning that they have to pay for some of these services," he said.

Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said the internet meant that his journalists now reached a wider audience than ever before.

He added: "The old inky product is not dead... I think there's still a big, big market for a physical, in-the-hand product, and I am certainly not as pessimistic as some others."

Off the record conversations between reporters and police officers were defended - although Mr Gilson quipped that "in many cases nowadays the chance would be a fine thing".

He said: "The way to that information is closed off these days by organisations employing huge numbers of press officers...

"My experience is of a gradual closing down of these things to the point at which it's bad for democracy."

Lord Justice Leveson suggested that stories no longer have a "shelf life" because they remain forever on the internet, creating among other things a potential risk of jurors being prejudiced by going online.

But the editors resisted the idea that old stories be removed from the web.

Mr Russell said: "As long as archive newspapers are kept, I don't personally see a huge difference, just because it's easier to access it online than go to the national library.

"I don't see why that means we should be taking stories offline when they're still available in other places."

Mr Gilson added that it would be "very hard to put the genie back in the bottle".

He said: "Once it's out there as a story that someone did something 10 years ago, it's just out there, it's a matter of record.

"I'm not so sure that's necessarily a bad thing."

Mr McLellan said the Scotsman considered identifying celebrities who had taken out injunctions in English courts after fellow Scottish paper the Sunday Herald revealed in May last year that Ryan Giggs was the married footballer at the heart of a controversial privacy case.

The paper decided against the move because, although the injunctions did not apply in Scotland, it could still have been in breach of privacy law.

Lord Justice Leveson voiced concerns that regional journalists often do not cover the courts in person these days, leading to situations where reports are published based on one-sided accounts provided by police officers.

"I make it abundantly clear I am a great believer, and always have been, in what local newspapers do," he added.

Mr Feeney said: "If a town loses its paper, then clearly courts and councils are not being reported and held up for public scrutiny."

The South Wales Evening Post editor also issued a plea to Lord Justice Leveson that any new newspaper industry regulator should not be "vastly more expensive" than the current Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

He said: "The regional and local press is in a fragile financial state, its health is fragile.

"Please don't make any recommendations that are going to exacerbate that situation."

Lord Justice Leveson replied: "It may be one has to be more imaginative about the way in which it is all funded."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm - London

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project