Press feel wrath for failing to put house in order
Senior executives protested their ignorance – but Leveson said those claims did not square with the facts
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Thursday 29 November 2012
Although phone hacking ultimately led to David Cameron ordering a public inquiry on the ethics and practices of Britain’s press, Lord Justice Leveson criticises the press for failing to fully investigate what went on beyond the jailing in 2007 of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire.
His report says that editors from different titles “talked and joked about information which must have come from phone hacking”.
The report says there was a “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories” by national newspapers that was “heedless of the public interest”, adding: “Families, including their children, are pursued and important personal moments are destroyed.”
Although the report says it recognises that journalists have to be “persistent”, it says this virtue has been taken to the “point of vice” where it has become “harassment”.
Blagging and illicit collection of personal data
Leveson is scathing in his criticisms of the Information Commissioner’s Office in its handling of the evidence from Operation Motorman, which showed how the media had been using private detectives to obtain the personal data of thousands of individuals.
High-profile victims included the Duchess of Cambridge and Chelsea Clinton. Some of the data was obtained by the process of “blagging” information by posing as someone else.
The judge said that Motorman was “one of the biggest cases of deliberate and systemic data abuse” to have come before the ICO, and upheld the evidence of former police officer and ICO whistleblower Alec Owens, who was involved in the Motorman inquiry and revealed to The Independent in September 2011 that his seniors were nervous of taking on the press. Despite the evidence, no journalists were prosecuted in the case.
“The course of conduct of the criminal investigation was unsatisfactorily managed,” said Leveson. “With the result that opportunities were missed to address potential criminality in the culture.”
With the Metropolitan Police’s investigation of email hacking ongoing, Leveson found it difficult to reach a complete conclusion about its practice. However, his comment that “it remains possible that a considerable quantity of criminality will be exposed in due course” suggests Operation Tuleta will deliver another devastating chapter on malpractices.
Persuasion and harassment
The report states boldly that “not everybody is always keen to cooperate with the press” and says that some journalists have developed “methods of persuading them to talk”.
The report examines the experiences of the former international motor racing boss, Max Mosley, and the attempts by the News of the World to “blackmail” women involved in a story which wrongly wrongly claimed he had engaged in a Nazi-themed orgy.
Evidence on the episode given by the former NOTW editor Colin Myler, and the testimony of Rupert Murdoch, News Corp’s chief, was criticised. Leveson says Mr Murdoch’s evidence is “revealing”: “That Mr Murdoch was not apparently familiar with it [the costs, and details of the Mosley case] says something about the degree to which his organisation engages with the ethical direction of its newspapers.”
Witnesses to the inquiry, the report states, have suffered “distress, anguish and pain” from damage done by inaccurate reporting.
The experiences of Margaret Watson, who gave evidence to the inquiry, are cited. Mrs Watson’s son committed suicide. She told the inquiry that reporting of the murder of her young daughter contributed to her son Allan’s death. The report states: “This evidence chimes with a number of submissions and witness statements received by the inquiry from ordinary members of the public who have reported their experiences of inaccurate reporting and subsequent refusal by the press to correct those inaccuracies.”
Leveson adds that evidence given to the inquiry suggests that “inaccuracy” is “sufficiently serious and or widespread to be classified as systemic, cultural and generic.”
The report focuses on the use by the News of the World of an undercover investigator to carry out surveillance on subjects of interest to the paper, including celebrities and, later, two solicitors involved in bringing phone hacking damages claims against the title.
Leveson is particularly critical of the decision to follow lawyers Charlotte Harris and Mark Lewis, who were among the lawyers to lead the first set of legal claims arising from phone hackin.g: “The use of covert surveillance against solicitors representing the opposition in damaging litigation is dubious at best, particularly when it seems clear that the surveillance was commissioned in order to put pressure on the solicitors to withdraw from the litigation.”
Paper talk: Conclusions
Former editor of the Daily Mirror and the News of the World
On Mr Morgan’s knowledge of phone hacking following evidence from alleged victims of the practice and from BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman about how he was allegedly shown by the former editor how to access messages:
“This evidence does not establish that Mr Morgan authorised the hacking of voicemails or that journalists employed by [the Mirror Group] were indulging in this practice.
“What it does, however, clearly prove is that he was aware that it was taking place in the press as a whole and that he was sufficiently unembarrassed by what was criminal behaviour that he was prepared to joke about it.”
Former editor of The Sun and chief executive of News International
On the circumstances which led to The Sun publishing a story in 2006 revealing that then-Chancellor Gordon Brown’s baby son had cystic fibrosis:
“Mrs Brooks is to be criticised in two interconnected respects… I do not find [as Mrs Brooks asserted] that the Browns were absolutely committed to making the fact of their four-month-old son’s illness public… However, it should be made clear that I am not thereby holding that Mrs Brooks deliberately misled the inquiry… Mrs Brooks should have asked a series of direct questions of Mrs Brown to satisfy herself that consent was fully and freely given, and should have given her the option of vetoing publication.”
Owner of the Express and Daily Star titles
“Mr Desmond revealed what I consider to be a very disturbing philosophical approach to the concepts of free speech and a free press.
“For him, the issue was about free speech and the threat of excessive regulation. On this approach, press standards and ethics were close to being irrelevant”
On the explanations provided by Mr Desmond and former Daily Express editor Peter Hill for their coverage of the McCanns:
“Overall the justifications advanced by Messrs Hill and Desmond for the frankly appalling treatment of the McCanns were, as has been clearly demonstrated, both self-serving and without foundation.”
Editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail
On Mr Dacre’s insistence that he believed his journalists were acting lawfully despite the revelations of Operation Motorman, which exposed the purchase by Fleet Street titles of confidential information:
“[Mr Dacre’s] belief that his journalists were acting lawfully is… a concern.”
On the publication of two separate stories alleging drunken behaviour by actor Neil Morrissey and an attack on a mother, Abigail Witchalls:
“The concern related to Mr Dacre’s unwillingness to entertain the idea that these stories might have been hurtful, upsetting and/or damaging to the individuals.”
On Mr Dacre’s decision to accuse actor Hugh Grant of issuing a “mendacious smear” against The Mail on Sunday concerning alleged phone hacking:
“Mr Dacre accepted that his principal objective… was to get out a… denial which would safeguard the reputation of his newspapers. However, he acted precipitately… A response which defended the Mail’s position in regard to phone hacking… would have achieved the same outcome.”
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