Tabloid tactics are a threat to free speech, says Independent chief

 

The British media must beware of being led in "a race to the gutter" by unethical newspapers who have "shown an utter and unacceptable disregard" for the law, the owner of The Independent warned last night.

Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of Independent Print Ltd, spoke of his dismay at the tactics used by some journalists who were putting at risk the freedom of the press. "If we don't act responsibly and ethically, then we have only ourselves to blame. We will be doing ourselves and ultimately society a terrible wrong. A free press is as much a part of our democracy as free elections, the Magna Carta and the unwritten Constitution."

Addressing an audience at Independent Voices 5x15 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Mr Lebedev was taking part in a discussion on free speech that also featured Max Mosley, the former Formula One chief, Charlotte Harris, a leading media lawyer, the actress Ruby Wax and Johann Hari, columnist on The Independent.

In 2008 Mr Mosley won a court victory over the News of the World for invasion of privacy, but he failed to persuade the European Court of Human Rights that newspapers should be forced to warn people before they exposed their private lives.

Mr Mosley, who made a strident attack on the influence over British society of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire, said the revelation that the News of the World had hacked the phone of an abducted schoolgirl would alert the public to the serious nature of tabloid excesses. "Members of the public for the first time see where illegality, criminal activity, leads if it's allowed to go unchecked."

Hari spoke on the threat to freedom of speech from religious fundamentalists. "No one has the right to be ringfenced from offence," he said.

Wax revealed details of her own treatment by the media, including reporting of her mental health problems, and said she hoped the subject would lose its taboo status. "Our day will come," she said. She added that in a society where people were less likely to talk across the garden fence or at church, people would use social media and the tabloid press to feed their craving for gossip.

Ms Harris has represented victims of phone hacking, but she also spoke last night of clients who found themselves being blackmailed with threats that their secrets would be revealed to the media. She spoke of the difficulties experienced in obtaining legal injunctions to prevent publication.

Mr Lebedev complained that in privacy cases judges were "rewriting the law themselves". He said that superinjunctions were "increasingly impractical" in an era of online communication. "I sometimes wonder if the only way to bring this country's judges into the 21st century is to pass a law forcing all of them to join Facebook and Twitter," he said.

Although Mr Lebedev had grown up in a "dark, closed society" in Russia, he had not been prepared for the behaviour displayed by some British newspapers. "I am shocked by the sheer extent of the phone hacking, under car tracking and rubbish sifting of celebrities in this country," he said. "I am equally disturbed by the alleged phone tapping, bank account blagging and email hacking of high-level terrorist informers, intelligence officers, members of the Royal Family, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, a Deputy Prime Minister, a Home Secretary, a Trade Secretary, a Culture Secretary and perhaps even a sitting Prime Minister."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Media & Advertising Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national business publishi...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones