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Transcript of evidence to Leveson Inquiry (of which straightest reporting is in the Mail SHOCK)

Posted on 1 December 2011 | 8:12am

Technical hitches earlier. Here is link for transcript of my evidence to the Leveson inquiry. And here is the submission I made.

And with thanks to one of my twitter followers, who has sent me cuttings from today’s papers, I can say something I never thought I would say – that the straightest reporting of my evidence is probably in the Daily Mail.

Ok, it is not very big, (which means it went well from my perspective), needless to say there are no mentions of what I said about the paper and its hideaway editor, and the picture makes me look mildly pyschotic; but it does at least focus on my general attack on the press and what it has become. Most of the others, including the Star and the Telegraph (page leads) and the Sun (short piece) go on the already well ventilated issue of my concerns about how stories about Cherie Blair and Carole Caplin got out.

The Mirror finds no room for my mention of their use of private detectives to target me an Peter Mandelson (though the Times does in a small piece) and in terms of the substance of my argument refers only to my ‘extraordinary mononolgue’ (sic) without saying what it consisted of. And its report concludes ‘The Daily Mirror is happy with how the Cherie Blair pregnancy story was obtained.’

The Independent has a few pars inside a story leading on the evidence of the former police officer Alex Owens, who gave fascinating testimony on the failure of the authorities to follow up evidence of huge-scale criminal activity for newspapers.

The Guardian is an interesting one. I had several messages yesterday from Guardian journalists telling me how much they enjoyed/agreed with/supported my basic arguments. ‘I agreed with every word’ said one. And whilst I accept they gave huge online coverage yesterday, as did others, in the paper today there appears to be a couple of paragraphs tagged on the Owens stort, and a gently pisstaking sketch. Old habits die hard.

Interestingly, nobody mentions the PCC anywhere and nobody covers the part of the evidence and statement where I talked about the kind of changes the Inquiry might think about making to the government when its report is completed. So here is a summary.

– The goal should be transparency and information for the public/accountability of people at the top/and empowerment of good journalists to take control of journalism back from the bad.

There have been too many last chance saloons and they’ve got drunk in every one of them. The good have nothing to fear from regulation.

PCC replacement body shoudl be established by Parliament but independent of all political and all current media interests. No serving political or media figures on it.

The PCC code is an excellent basis for a new code of standards, but should be reviewed to take account of the technological changes, eg internet, and of recent events examined by the inquiry.

It should have the responsibility, and the power, to see that the code is upheld. Including the power to fine owners, editors and journalists for serious breaches of the code. It should have the power to order placement and wording of corrections and apologies, and to adjudicate in cases where a right of reply is being refused.

Apologies should be given the same prominence as an inaccurate story, and the victim given a major say in how it is presented.

The replacement body might be the body to pre-adjudicate on privacy/public interest cases. I supported the idea Nick Davies of The Guardian had mentioned of a pre publication arbitration body to which journalists and the subjects of their stories could go for an opinion on the public interest.

The PCC replacement should be able to investigate without a complaint from an individual, and investigate themes as well as stories. Eg Islamaphobia. MMR. The use of papers to promote commercial interests.

There should be an annual report to show how each paper is adhering to an agreed code of standards and values, with league tables rating them according to standards they are expected to uphold.

On the other side – external limits on press freedom need to be examined, eg case law on confidence and defamation. Genuine investigative journalism should be boosted.

Journalism should be seen as a profession with professional standards and qualifications.

The tax status of media owners should be reviewed. They are major political players but with no political accountability. They might be subject to the same taxation status rules as MPs and party donors.

Cross media ownership needs to be re-examined. We should have done it and never did. In fact, we should have done a lot of the above.

  • RichardT

    I would never accuse Labour of failing to tackle off shore press ownership or cross media ownership as it was clearly never in the mind of the party leadership to do so.  After all, when Tony Blair danced off to Australia at the click of Murdoch’s fingers, I always thought he would behave exactly as the Tories did and I was not disappopinted.

  • I’m not a fan of the particular political dogma you follow. That said, I think your evidence to the enquiry was excellent.  A shame that the news channels thought it and the previous day’s journalists’ important evidence far less important than  vox-popping the people on the march; all with similar opinions throughout the day.  Yet, curiously the TV media thought celebrities giving their evidence was far more newsworthy the previous week.  That sums the distorted and crazy situation up completely

  • MicheleB

    I don’t think Labour’s other achievements could all have happened if they had been distracted by attempts to also clean up the Press as they would have received the typical predictable yawn-y accusations about restrictions on ‘freedom of speech’.

    They’ve been expressed at you, personally, a couple of times in the past week here by someone that I daresay describes him/herself as a ‘libertarian’.  Was there ever such misuse of a quality as there is of that one by people like hecklers here and certain Toxigraph bloggers?

    We can’t underestimate the power of the news about Milly Dowler and the velocity that injected, or the honesty /revenge/whatever quality it is of Paul McMullan and the driven-ness of Tom Watson.  I’m sure that somewhere there’s an account of how Nick Davies got his evidence, I ought to do some catch up.

  • Stan Rosenthal

    You have done a great service to the nation, Alastair, in setting out so clearly how our media falls short in so many ways. Let us hope the inquiry acts on your recommendations but I’m not holding my breath.

    I have made my own submission to the Leveson inquiry about the way the Guardian and the Observer failed to adequately correct highly damaging stories involving Lord Goldsmith and Hazel Blears. The first concerned an allegation in the Guardian that No.10 drafted Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice on the Iraq war which was later found to be based on an error in the transcription of Lord Goldsmith’s evidence to the Butler Inquiry. The Press Compaints Commission refused to take up the case citing the “third party rule” and the story is doing the rounds to the
    present day.

    Look out for it when it’s published.

  • Simon Landau

    I hope that Leveson will work more on the theme of the tabloid press is as trusted as the usual anonymous commentator on the web i.e. zero trust.  Perhaps a way forward would be for news organisations to publish bylines with clearly troll identities rather than give some spurious respectability to their journalists.  Effective regulation is the only way to regain trust levels, especially given the noise on the web.  Some kind of kite scheme might help.

  • It would have been oh-so easy for you to enter that inquiry and just speak from your own perspective. But, in my opinion, you have delivered a thoroughly researched and thought-out paper about the press today and how it should be tomorrow.

    Not many folk will have taken much notice but even those that seek to jeer will have listened and read your words. What happens as they internalise your opinions and experiences, and advice, is up to them and their souls.

    For you now, I hope some well-earned rest and personal reflection can follow because, in terms of the past few weeks of mourning and evidence gathering, you have earned it, Alastair. In fact, were I your GP, I’d prescribe R&R for you. Take it. Like medicine if you have to!

  • Ehtch

    With the Daily Mail, that goes without saying – when you stand up to a bully and expose them, they always back down. But don’t hold your breath, they have a very thick black book, which they tend to bring out now and again while your back is turned.

    But I thought it was a pitiful attempt on reporting your appearance – on the bottom of page 20, wasn’t it?

  • Neil Lawrence

    Alistair. Had to offer my thanks for your evidence and testimony. I have become used to your excellent writing generally, but felt this really went beyond that. A well-balanced and well argued position which I hope will go some way to addressing the problems with today’d media.

  • MicheleB

    …….. not disappointed…….
    You mean you were pleased?  You revel in your version of negativity? 
    ‘head’ would have been a better new suffix to your ID.

    My grandparents read the NoW and the Mail, they regarded the latter as respectable merely because they were traditional and anything right wing was discrete from working class which, as self-employed people, they felt superior to.

    The only way to reach people like them was through the rags that they read.

    Murdoch was used for such access; sort out your take on things and stop being a bandwagoner.

  • MicheleB

    You’ll have to excuse the vulgarity of my last post RichT, I’d got home soaked through after a pig of an afternoon but that’s no excuse for letting my ladylike-ness slip.

  • Richard

    You should sign up for literacy lessons and stop making an arse of yourself.

  • Richard

    Congratulations, your deposition and your evidence were brilliant Al: what a pity your evidence was not televised.
    The fear of the pendulum swinging too far is however a very great worry.

  • Ehtch

    Richard, you come across as a bullying tory twat. Am I right? If not, come after me, and let me see how big you are.

    A short poem for you Richard, because that is all you seem to be worth, so here goes, ahem!,

    Richard, turd,

    told you it would be short.

  • Richard

    What a debater you are, Ehtch, a credit to your Nation. Whatever party you belong to must be proud of your support, your manifesto a sure winner.
    If you find yourself sober one morning and can re-read your posts on here over the months, even you may find enough self respect to cringe.

    “You’ll have to excuse the vulgarity of my last post RichT, I’d got home soaked through after a pig of an afternoon ……..” Even Mrs Etch sometimes recognises her excesses, perhaps you may do so when you reflect upon it.

  • I’m interested in your idea about “pre-adjudication” – I didn’t know you or Nick Davies had floated this before, but it’s something I’ve been arguing for for some time, from my perspective as a lawyer. I think uncertainty about the risk of being sued must make editors “gold plate” privacy and libel law to some extent. I’d like to remove that chill on free speech by allowing editors  – voluntarily – to obtain prior clearance of stories based on their being “responsible journalism” in the Reynold sense. The incentive for editors would be that, once cleared (and it would have to be a very fast system, I realise) the story would then enjoy complete legal protection in privacy, libel and maybe contempt of court too.

    There are lots of detailed questions raised by this, I realise – but it seems to me an idea worth considering.

  • MicheleB

    Anyone know the collective noun for a pair of Richards?

    For someone that’s so pedantic Richard (I’m presuming you’re the original in the sense of the first if not of the quality), wot’s wiv da N for nayshun?  Wales is a nation.

    I usually find that if two posters are in direct (as in REPLY heading mode) it’s best to leave things 1:1 unless actually contributing on the topic (as opposed to merely taking sides in personal clashes when there’s no need).

    If I’m wrong and you’re also RichT, can you say so?

  • Whatifwhatif

    Tsssssk ….. I meant overestimate.
    100 lines for me!

    Have a good weekend all 🙂

  • Ehtch

    You flatter me Dicky. There is no Mrs Ehtch by the way.
    So, MicheleB – How you doin’?
    as in Joey, (always gets the ladies),

  • Ehtch

    Don’t worry at all  MicheleB – ‘ow you doin’?