Afternoon Hearing on 15 May 2012

Adam Boulton gave a statement at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(2.00 pm) Statement by LORD JUSTICE LEVESON LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The terms of reference of this Inquiry mandate, among other things, that I inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts and the relationships between national newspapers and politicians and the conduct of each. The purpose is to make recommendations as to the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press. As a result, notices were issued under Section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 requiring witnesses to deal with a large number of questions addressing these issues. One of the consequences is that, in fulfilling the terms of my requirement, Mr Rupert Murdoch produced a series of emails which related to the contact between News Corporation and the office of the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sports, both before the Secretary of State assumed responsibility for the bid by News Corporation for the remaining shares in BSkyB and subsequently. Conscious of the likely effect of this evidence, on the afternoon of Monday, 23 April, I said: "I understand the very real public interest in the issues that will be ventilated by the evidence. I also recognise the freedom that permits what is said to be discussed and the subject of comment in whatever way is thought fit, and I shall be interested to see how it is covered. For my part, I shall approach the relationship between the press and politicians from an entirely non-partisan judicial perspective, which I have no doubt is the reason that I was given this remit. I would hope that this approach will be made clear." Since he was the recipient of a number of them, it fell to Mr James Murdoch to produce the emails, which, on Tuesday, 24 April, he did. They formed the basis of much immediate comment, and as a result, on Wednesday, 25 April, I returned to the topic and said: "In the light of the reaction and considerable commentary last night and this morning, it's appropriate for me to say a little more. This necessarily involves explaining something of the judicial process. I understand entirely the reason for some of the reaction to the evidence yesterday, and in particular to the emails about which Mr Murdoch was asked, but I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value and can frequently bear more than one interpretation. I am absolutely not taking sides or expressing any opinion but I am prepared to say that it is very important to hear every side of the story before drawing conclusions. In due course, we will hear all the relevant evidence from all the relevant witnesses, and when I report, I will then make the findings that are necessary for me to fulfil the terms of reference the Prime Minister has set for me. In the mean time, although I have seen requests for other inquiries and other investigations, it seems to me that the better course is to allow this Inquiry to proceed. When it is concluded, there will doubtless be opportunities for consideration to be given to any further investigation that is then considered necessary." On the same day, questions were addressed in the House of Commons both to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State arising out of the emails. Further, on the following Monday, 30 April, the House returned to the issue. Prior to the opening of Module 3 by Mr Robert Jay QC on Thursday, 10 May, I took it upon myself to emphasise the approach of the Inquiry. In the context of identifying what Module 3 would not be dealing with, I said: "Although I recognise that some have sought to make political points arising out of the evidence as it has emerged, and I am not so naive that I do not understand that there are elements of what I am doing that are likely to be of party political interest, I have absolutely no intention of allowing the Inquiry to be drawn into such a debate and will vigorously resist any attempt to do so. I am approaching my task in a politically neutral fashion and intend to ensure that the principles of fairness, which I have sought to maintain throughout, apply equally to this module. I will be considering the way in which politicians of all parties have engaged with the press." More specifically, in relation to the BSkyB bid I said: "I will look at the facts surrounded the news corporation bid for the remaining shares of BSkyB. I will do so in order to investigate the culture, practices and ethics of the relationship between the press and the politicians. It was because of the need to examine the facts fairly that on 25 April I spoke about the need to hear every side of the story, and although I had seen requests for other inquiries and other investigations, it seemed to me that the better course was to allow this Inquiry to proceed. That may cause me to look at the Ministerial Code and its adequacy for the purpose, but I will not be making a judgment on whether there has been a breach of it. That is simply not my job and I have no intention of going outside the terms of reference that have been set for me." For the avoidance of doubt, I see the significance of the way the bid was handled both by the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport as evidencing manifestations, to return to the terms of reference, of the relationships between a media interest and politicians and the conduct of each. Meanwhile, on 1 May, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport provided written answers to a number of parliamentary questions raised by Mr George Howorth MP concerning guidance issued to his special adviser on the latter's role as a point of contact between his department and BSkyB and News Corp. In the course of answering those questions, Mr Hunt made it clear that the Prime Minister had indicated that he would consider whether the issue should be referred to the independent adviser following his, Mr Hunt's, appearance before this Inquiry. He was asked to place in the library a copy of all the papers relating to this appointment of his special adviser. This question was followed by other questions asking for documents to be placed in the library. Mr Hunt responded to the effect that he was in the process of preparing his evidence, which would include all relevant information held by him and his department in relation to the bid, and anticipated that as much of his evidence as possible would be published, emphasising that this was a matter for the Inquiry. On 14 May, a number of points of order were raised in the House of Commons. Those that are relevant to this analysis are as follows, see Hansard 14 May 2012, columns 278 to 9. Ms Harriet Harman, Camberwell and Peckham, Labour, on a point of order: "Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson is conducting a public inquiry on the media and will call a number of honourable members including ministers to give evidence. It is an important inquiry and we await the outcome, but will you clarify that while the Leveson Inquiry proceeds with its work, it remains the case that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is accountable to this house? Is it in order for him to say that he will not answer questions from honourable members of this house because he will instead tell Lord Leveson the answers and to say that he will not place documents in the library because he is giving them to Leveson? Will you confirm that he refuses to answer the question not because he is prevented from doing so by the Leveson Inquiry but because he does not want to? Of course the Secretary of State must give his evidence to Leveson whenever he is called to do so, but surely he cannot use that as an excuse to evade his accountability to this house." Mr Speaker: "I am grateful to the right honourable and learned lady for giving me notice of her point of order. My response is twofold. First, as a matter of general principle, I should make it clear that the accountability of a minister to this house is not diluted or suspended by a minister's engagement with inquiries or other proceedings outside this house. When parliamentary questions to ministers are tabled, those questions should receive substantive and timely answers. "Secondly, if ministers are providing written documents to an Inquiry it would be a courtesy to the house and help with the discharge of its scrutiny function if such documents were also provided to the house. I hope that is clear Mr Edward Lee, Gainsborough, Conservative: "On a point of order, Mr Speaker, when we have had scandals or so-called scandals in the past, our select committees have constantly been fobbed off and no information, emails, for instance, have been given to them. Enquiries such as Leveson are given everything. Surely the time has come to proclaim this truth. This house is supreme and sovereign and we should get everything first." Mr Speaker: "I hope that over the last two and three quarter years I have given some indication, not just by voice but by conduct, that I believe that this house should be preeminent. It should be treated by whosoever is in government with courtesy and consideration. It should be regarded as a priority and a matter of honour to keep the house informed and to facilitate the house's discharge of its scrutiny function. So I do not dissent from anything that the honourable gentleman has said Chris Bryant: "Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, can you confirm that article 9 of the bill of rights makes it clear that no other body, including a court, can impeach or question a proceeding in Parliament so the only body that can adjudicate on whether a minister has misled the house, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is this house and that Lord Leveson has no power to do so." Mr Speaker: "I believe the honourable gentleman is absolutely correct in his statement and interpretation of article 9." That ends the citation from Hansard. The first point to make is that I fully recognise the impact of article 9 of the bill of rights. In the same way that I do not consider it any part of my task to determine whether or not any minister has acted in breach of the Ministerial Code so I do not intend to consider, let alone adjudicate, on the issue of whether or not the house has been misled. I'm not implying that Mr Bryant suggested otherwise, but I repeat that my task, simply expressed, is to consider the relationship between the press and politicians and the conduct of each, in order to make recommendations if I consider such to be necessary and appropriate. As for the evidence that the Inquiry's obtained, it is not for me to say anything about what should or should not be placed before Parliament and when that should happen. In particular, I am not in any way seeking to challenge the ability of Parliament to proceed as it thinks appropriate. Potentially, however, its decisions will have a real impact on the Inquiry and it is only appropriate that I illuminate them. That brings me to the substantive point raised by these parliamentary questions. It is, of course, open to the Prime Minister to take whatever step he wishes in relation to allegations concerning one of his ministers, and equally open to Members of Parliament to ask whatever questions they wish in connection with the performance of their duties. When I suggested that the better course was to allow the Inquiry to proceed, that I was anxious to do so in a politically neutral fashion, intending to ensure that principles of fairness were maintained, I had in mind that I intended to require both Mr Frederic Michel and Mr Adam Smith to provide statements and give evidence and that this exercise should be conducted in an orderly fashion so that each, along with the Secretary of State, could explain their respective roles in public before the Inquiry. I anticipate that this will all be done before the end of May. I also had in mind that the Inquiry proceeds pursuant to the statutory authority provided to me by Parliament in the form of the Inquiries Act 2005, which, by section 17(3), makes it clear that: "In making any decisions as to the procedural conduct of the Inquiry, the chairman must act with fairness." Fairness has thus far been behind my approach to disclosure of evidence. My present order dated 26 April 2012 is in these terms: "1. Prior to its publication on the Inquiry website, no witness statement provided to the Inquiry, whether voluntarily or under compulsion, nor any exhibit to any such statement, nor any other document provided to the Inquiry as part of the evidence of the witness not otherwise previously in the public domain should be published or disclosed, whether in whole or in part, outside the confidentiality circle comprising of the chairman, his assessors, the Inquiry Team, the core participants and their legal representatives. "2. This order is made under section 19(2)(b) of the Inquiries Act 2005 and binds all persons, including witnesses and core participants to the Inquiry and their legal representatives and companies, whether acting personally or through their servants, agents, directors or officers or in any other way." I appreciate that this order does not impact on the extent to which matters can be raised in Parliament but I would hope that the respect that I accord to Parliament and the success (with, I hope, mutual respect) that has permitted the various members of the house to pursue their business while I have proceeding with the Inquiry will cause Parliament, when deciding how to manage its procedures, to have regard to the consequences for the Inquiry. As I've already said, I would be very concerned if the advantage obtained by core participants of early sight of statements were used to affect the fairness that I am seeking to achievement. I add immediately, however, that the politician who did disclose such information apologised for so doing and I fully accept was acting without appreciation of the impact of the order. In relation to the BSkyB bid, it is a matter for Parliament to decide how far it is appropriate to require either the Secretary of State or anyone else to go. Suffice to say it is but a small, albeit potentially significant part of the evidence that I have been obtaining on the relationship between the press and politicians, and if I did not think that I could adduce that evidence fairly, I would not do so. Putting it another way, the Inquiry permits the public examination of this material in an independent, impartial manner, visible to all as it happens, after which statements will be published and whatever inquiries or investigations that either Prime Minister or Parliament wish to engage upon will be a matter for them. If, however, the evidence were to have been forced into the public domain and be the subject of argument and debate in advance of the witness's giving evidence so that minds are potentially made up and conclusions reached, my immediate reaction would be that I would consider it unfair to subject the witnesses to further questions before this Inquiry, for that would inevitably require them not only to answer the concerns of the Inquiry but also those of every other analyst or commentator, whether from the political or press arenas. My attempt to maintain political neutrality would have failed. In that event, I might well conclude that it is simply not appropriate to look at this evidence at all, and I would then abandon Mr Michel and Mr Smith as witnesses and restrict the Secretary of State to other areas of his evidence. Over the next month, a large number of politicians are due to give evidence on topics that I have no doubt will engage considerable public interest. One reading of the question posed by Mr Leigh might be a call for all their evidence first to be given to Parliament and then to the Inquiry. I do not know whether that has ever been suggested at other public inquiries of whatever status, but to require that to happen could equally undermine the fairness of the procedure and thus make compliance with section 17, subsection 3, all the more difficult. Again, whatever decisions might be taken for the future, I would hope sufficient respect for my process will allow it to proceed without interruption and without effectively rendering the order which I have made entirely academic. I hope that allowing the Inquiry to proceed as it plans will not amount to a serious inconvenience either to Parliament or to the political process generally. On the contrary, I hope that the process which I have put in place is well placed to assist both. The present problem arises only out of sequence in the evidence, and given the timetable that I have explained, I would hope that the overall period within which the evidence will be heard assuages the concerns which have been expressed. Thank you. Yes, Mr Barr. MR BARR Good afternoon. Our witness for this afternoon is Mr Boulton. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR THOMAS ADAM BABINGTON BOULTON (affirmed) Questions by MR BARR LORD JUSTICE LEVESON May I first apologise to you for keeping you waiting. It may have been of interest to you in another capacity, but I still regret the discourtesy.
A. Thank you. There's no problem. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Can I also express my thanks to you for the care that you've put into the statement. MR BARR Mr Boulton, I understand there are two corrections that we should make to your statement before you attest to its truth. The first is in paragraph 9, on the first line, where we should amend the date from 1983 to 1989; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Secondly, on page 7 of the witness statement following the internal pagination, in the third line of the footnote, where it reads "in 29 years", that should be amended to "23 years"?
A. Yes. Both my errors. I apologise.
Q. Subject to those corrections, are the contents of your statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?
A. Yes.
Q. You are the political editor of Sky News but today it's important that we mark the fact that you are speaking freely in a personal capacity and not on behalf of BSkyB or Sky News; is that right?
A. Yes, that's right.
Q. You've been the political editor of Sky News since the channel was set up in 1989. Before that, you were the political editor of TV AM for six years. You've been an accredited parliamentary and lobby correspondent continuously since 1983, and you were the chairman of the lobby in 2007. Could I stop there just to confirm for how long you were chairman of the lobby?
A. Yes, it's a 12-month appointment, although sometimes elections don't take place exactly on the 365th day.
Q. You tell us that the role of political editor in TV news is analogous to that of political editors for national newspapers. As well as being the onscreen face as a political reporter and interviewer, you're also editorially responsible for the activities of Sky News' political team?
A. Yes, that's right. And I would report to the editor, John Ryley, the head of news at Sky.
Q. In addition to your broadcasting work, you've published two books on Tony Blair and on the coalition, "Tony's Ten Years: Memories of the Blair Administration", and "Hung Together: The 2010 election and the Coalition Government". In addition to your books, you've also written freelance articles, you say, for most of the national press and for two years were political columnist for The Sunday Business.
A. Yes, that's right.
Q. You tell us at paragraph 13 of your witness statement that in 2006 you married Anji Hunter, who has worked as an aide to Tony Blair between 1987 and 2001. Can I pause there to ask you: is this just another example that the Inquiry has heard of the close links which the political world, political journalists and PR professionals with a political interest have?
A. Well, we LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's not quite how I would have asked that question, Mr Boulton. Doesn't matter.
A. How would you have asked it? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Differently. I appreciate that that's what you do for a living, but unfortunately this time we ask the questions.
A. Sorry, I apologise. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no apologies necessarily.
A. Predominantly this is a personal matter inasmuch as we fell in love in much LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's actually why I wouldn't have asked the question that way. The point is that you're operating in the same environments and therefore you meet people who are in the political arena and they meet people who work in the arena of the press.
A. Yes, exactly. I mean, I think that's true, just as judges, lawyers, solicitors, meet each other as well. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I entirely agree. The question that might lead on from that is the impact of the influence of one on the other. That's really what we're discussing.
A. Well, I would make the point that my relationship with Anji Hunter began at the point I knew that she was leaving Number 10 and was going to go into business, and I don't believe our relationship would have been possible in the same way had we both continued in the same job, because I believe it would have been potentially compromising. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That second statement is the important one. We weren't actually and I'm sure Mr Barr wasn't asking personal questions. It's really the interface that is of such interest to the Inquiry, as I'm sure you appreciate.
A. Yes, I understand that. There are obviously other cases of journalists and politicians and indeed politicians from different parties who have relationships with each other. In most cases I think it is perfectly clear in this sphere of activity, just as in any other, that the two can mostly be separated, but I do believe, as I said, in our personal cases, a high profile role for both of us in those two worlds would have been something that would have inevitably have been compromising. As it is, since Anji left working for the government in 2001, it didn't arise. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand. MR JAY You move on to tell us a little bit about freedom of speech, subject to the law, and you have exhibited your interesting Gorbachev lecture on press freedom. How do you see the distinction between an individual's freedom of speech and the perhaps slightly different concept of the freedom of the press, armed as it is with a megaphone?
A. Well, you are the legal experts, so I'll proceed cautiously here, but as I see it, freedom of the press, or indeed freedom of speech, in this country, with the exception of the bill of rights which you've already referred to, is more notional than actual. It's not a similar situation to the United States where we have the First Amendment of the US constitution, so that the press and indeed the media generally operate on a basis of understanding, you know, which dates back to the English Revolution, and my personal view is that in most cases the media, whether press or electronic media, should really have no greater rights than any individual in terms of freedom of speech. I would not want to live in a kind of state corporatist world where we had special permissions to do things because we were the media, because I think that gets you dangerously close to state-licensed media. That said, as you are well aware, in the area in which I have always worked, which is the electronic media and particularly television, we are subject to regulation, currently by Ofcom. That enjoins on us certain ways of behaving, because we are television broadcasters, which don't apply to general citizens. For example, we're not allowed to display political bias or imbalance, and in exchange for that, if you like, we have the protections of a regulator judging our behaviour prior to it getting caught up in any legal proceedings. It's different for the newspapers.
Q. But the freedom of the press, as you rightly point out, is subject to the law, because it's always been understood, even from the 17th century when these debates emerged, that it wasn't an unqualified right to say whatever one liked. For example, it has to be the truth.
A. Yes, indeed. You're subject to libel, slander, blasphemy. I don't know if this is the correct term, but as I see it, that is the common law that applies to everybody, whether it's newspapers or individual members of the public.
Q. You move on in paragraph 17 to tell us about agenda setting and how you have witnessed the press often succeeding in setting the news agenda. How powerful an ability is this for the print media?
A. I think it's probably their single greatest power in comparison to the electronic media, because of the reasons I've already said, of regulation and balance. In the political sphere, the electronic media tend to be fairly cautious, and there are some matters, perhaps matters of a more scandalous and controversial nature, which the electronic media will be very cautious about approaching. However, the electronic media does see it as part of its function to reflect what is being said in the press, and we on Sky, for example, have a number throughout the day, a number of newspaper reviews and look at the headlines. Therefore, it may often be that a story first gets common currency because it has been pursued by a newspaper, and that will, to a certain extent, permit the electronic media to follow up on that story when they wouldn't necessarily have tabled it themselves onto the agenda.
Q. So a decision, for example, as to which politician to attack and for what is something which might set an agenda and thereby influence political life in this country?
A. Well, we would not attack politicians in the electronic media. That's not our job, as I said. It would be regarded as an imbalance. But if one thinks back, for example, to the John Major years, and there was a very prominent article I think in the Times suggesting that he was depressed and had mental problems and all that, that article in the Times led to wider discussion in the media. That's the type of relationship which I would point to.
Q. You move in paragraph 18 to tell us that you think that the first objective of any regulatory framework which seeks to uphold a constructive free media should be to ensure plurality. Where, on your scale of importance, does the objective of ensuring a healthy culture, high ethical standards and sound practices come?
A. I think it is good for the overall conversation, if you like, that different aspects of the media and indeed different aspects of the public discourse have different degrees of responsibility and accountability. For example, I think that satire a political cartoon might be an example which is not necessary fair has a role in the public discourse, but I don't think it would be appropriate for a news bulletin to turn itself into a satire programme so that what I'm trying to say in a concentrated way is that if you have broadcasters who are regulated, it is probably good that you have other sections of the media, in this case the press, which are less regulated and can, if you like, set hares running or make allegations which can then be tested, I would argue, in the more open forum of the electronic media. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Sorry, I just want to go back on that for a moment. The difference between the print media and television is balance, the issue of balance.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And I quite understand, and I understand how it arose historically and how it applies now. But putting balance to one side, do you feel in the electronic medium that you are adversely affected in what you report because your regulator is Ofcom as opposed to an equivalent to the Press Complaints Commission, on the basis I mean, you have to put aside the balance point, because there are reasons for it and that's fair enough. But do you feel inhibited because it's Ofcom as opposed to somebody else?
A. No, I think the words "adverse" or "inhibited" would imply a negative. I do feel that we are held to higher standards of accountability. I think that the newspapers will have a line that a particular government is useless or a particular opposition is useless, and in a way that Alastair Campbell was suggesting yesterday, that line will be then shaped into most of the things that they report. I think that's perfectly legitimate because I think you need a lot of voices. It's not something which I do or which I'm interested in doing. I don't feel inhibited from doing it because I don't want to do it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, inhibited about what you otherwise do do. The business about saying this government is useless or that opposition is hopeless is part of the balance question and I recognise and fully understand that it's different.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But much has been said about how actually the press couldn't possibly be the subject of any sort of regulator that was like Ofcom because that would undermine its ability to express itself. Now, assuming you wrote in the right not to be balanced or whatever, I want to know whether there's any other way in which your experience of being regulated by Ofcom would cause you concern in the print journalism. I appreciate you don't personally want to be starting throwing bricks in an imbalanced way, and that's not what you do.
A. Well, I do think there are different types of journalism. I think, as was made in the statement which I repeat in my statement by Sky News and BSkyB originally, the type of news journalism which we do is less inclined and probably not so well suited to investigative journalism of the type which might emerge in some newspapers and magazines, and so if everyone was subject to Ofcom-type rules, I think that type of journalism might not take place LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It couldn't possibly be, for that very reason.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you have to write into Ofcom-type rules the ability to do just that.
A. Exactly. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But once you've done that, is there any other inhibition?
A. I think there is you know, to go back to Mr Barr's question about freedom of speech, I think there is a place in our society for irresponsibility. I think there is a place for people, as I said, in satirical terms, to go over the top and say things. Now, they should face those are things that essentially face the consequences of the common law, but equally, if I go back to the example of political cartoonists, nobody sues political cartoonists for portraying them in extremely unflattering ways. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that.
A. An Ofcom body or an Ofpress body would probably have problems with a lot of political cartoons. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not so sure they necessarily would. It depends on how you wrote it, doesn't it?
A. No, but how you depicted it, in the case of LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Or how you depicted it. But I'm really testing whether there's anything inherently different. The PCC has its own rules about what's on which side of which line, and if somebody goes on the wrong side of a line, then there's a consequence. Equally, there's a consequence
A. No, it is true that if you take a matter like privacy, for example, there are Ofcom codes, BBC codes and PCC codes which are not so far apart. We all know perfectly well what those restrictions are. They might be implemented in different ways in different levels. I do, however trying to deal with the issues you raise, I do think the fact that the history of broadcasting in this country has been one that, from the beginning, has been regulated and controlled by law, and the fact that the development of press has not been, has been more piratical, a sort of hit and run activity, is actually good. I think it's good that we have the two things. I wouldn't want everything to come under a structure of regulation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it depends what the regulations are, doesn't it? Provided you draw them in such a way that they permit the satire, the ability, subject to constraints to be responsible I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't want it to be without constraints. You wouldn't want the ability of anybody to say what for example, intrusion into grief or dealing with children. You would feel those were proper constraints whatever the medium, wouldn't you?
A. I think there need to be constraints. I'm not sure there need to be absolute constraints in those particular areas, but I still think for example, if you take the famous Daily Mail front page, which I know Mr Dacre talked about, of "Murderers", I think it would be quite difficult I mean, possible, but under an Ofcom-type code, it would be quite difficult for a newspaper to have that sort of attitude. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not so sure. Mr Dacre made it abundantly clear that he was inviting those people whom he listed to sue him for libel, and the libel laws are pretty
A. No, I understand that, but I suppose, going back to your original question, is there a greater caution in what you do because of the existence of Ofcom regulation? Yes, I think there is. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. Well, I've probably coped with some of the questions you were going to ask. MR BARR You have indeed, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry about that. You carry on and do it in a rather more ordered way. MR BARR I certainly won't presume to be able to do that, but perhaps I could put these propositions. Putting aside the duty to be impartial, recognising that satire, news, what's acceptable in one may not be acceptable in the other, you would accept, wouldn't you, that it's important for the print media to have a set of ethical standards, which we see at the moment in the PCC Editors' Code, and to live up to those? Do you agree with those propositions?
A. Yes, I think it's important to have ethical standards. I mean, I would make the point that in all media, we are also subject to the court of public opinion and our readers, and if we behave badly, there can very often be adverse consequences and indeed directly adverse commercial consequences as well.
Q. There you're moving the debate into what mechanisms are there to ensure the good behaviour that we are agreed is desirable. Obviously one is the court of public opinion. Another which you touch upon in paragraph 18 is the press' ability to regulate itself by scrutiny. But what I'd like to ask you and I'm picking up here on material later in your own statement is about what limitations there might be on that. First of all, it's not necessarily commercially the most attractive copy to print stories about media wrongdoing, is it?
A. No, it's not something which necessarily interests the general reader a great deal. The fact is it interests journalists a great deal, so it probably ends up being done disproportionately in the printed media, which does have the effect of, at the very least, I suppose, making people in the news business aware that they are being invigilated by their colleagues in terms of their behaviour.
Q. An example might be the phone hacking scandal out of which this Inquiry was borne. It got some coverage from some quarters of the media but not really a great deal until the summer of 2011.
A. Yes, but I think that is not because it was suppressed in any way but precisely because of the nature of the allegations, and as I think everyone in this Inquiry will know, the substance of the allegations changed out of all proportions with the "false hope" stories of early July last year, and that to go back to the point I was making about being invigilated by the public, that fed into a mood of public outrage, which had the consequences that we are all aware of and are still dealing with.
Q. It's certainly right to say that things shifted up in the summer of 2011 with that story, but the allegations that were made in 2009 were very serious and they didn't really find much traction in the wider media, did they?
A. Well, I think the original allegations which led to prosecutions and imprisonment were reported. I think within the news business as a whole, there is a sense sometimes that when convictions are secured, an editor resigns, you then move on to the next thing. Now, with hindsight, people are taking a different view, but I'm not sure that that was such an unreasonable position for everyone to take at the time, although, as you say, through the diligence of Nick Davies and the Guardian and the time issue relating to the Milly Dowler trial and that having to be concluded before some of the key allegations could emerge did mean that there was a delayed effect. I'm not sure you can build a case against either the electronic media or the press for being negligent of those allegations.
Q. 2007 was the convictions. 2009 was the Guardian story explaining that the problem was much more widespread than simply a rogue reporter. It might be said, mightn't it, that that story didn't get as much traction as it should have done?
A. I think with hindsight, but I still feel that had it not been for the Milly Dowler allegations we wouldn't have had the watershed moment which we have had. I mean, I and I think people were you know, certainly we reported the developments on Sky News. Certainly I was aware of what was being written elsewhere, but I have to say, I felt after one session and I think I commented about this on air I have to say that after one session of Mr Davies before the culture, media and sport committee, I really didn't think that he had unearthed any new information at all at that stage beyond what we knew. Subsequently he did, but at that time I felt the sense of "nothing to see here, move on" was perfectly reasonable.
Q. Perhaps another limitation to self-scrutiny in the press is the commercial rivalries, which you yourself point out lead to a lack of objectivity when one title is criticising another. That is a serious restriction on the press' abilities to self-regulate, isn't it?
A. Yes, I would certainly agree with that. I think, generally speaking, most outlets don't look at their own affairs and do tend, sometimes, to distort what's been going on at their competitors. I think in the electronic media both the BBC and Sky and ITV tend to sit out a lot of this stuff. I mean, there have been various attempts to have media programmes but they haven't, by and large, been particularly successful, possibly with the exception of the media show on Radio 4 at the moment, so we don't get involved. I would say, however, within the business of television, the Guardian, because of its Guardian media section and all the rest of it, has had a focus on the activities of the media and a willingness to listen to arguments from other competitors and to air their views, which has not been followed elsewhere in the industry.
Q. Moving on now to your experiences of the sorts of contacts that you've witnessed between actors in the media and politicians, you tell us first of all about semi-frequent, semi-social contacts between proprietors, executives and senior journalists on the one hand, and the Prime Minister and other ministers on the other. You describe private dinners, lunches, reciprocal summer and Christmas parties, meetings with editorial boards and cosy chats with columnists. All of this, of course, is paragraph 22 of your witness statement. Can I ask you to help us with the sort of information that, in your experience, is being passed the sort of media-relevant information and story-relevant information that gets passed during the course of these semi-social contacts.
A. Well, I should add that a lot of them I'm not present at. I don't know what happens when a newspaper proprietor dines with the Prime Minister or whatever. I think my assumption is from the limited number of contacts which I've had is, as you've heard from other witnesses, it's actually very rare that there is a direct transaction or would even be sought a direct transaction of business. Normally, these sessions are sounding out sessions where both sides are trying to work out where the other one is coming from, what the other one's concerns are, and I think in most cases trying to develop a "semi-social" is the expression I use a familiarity with each other such that when, certainly speaking from a journalistic perspective, it becomes necessary to comment or pursue a particular line of enquiry, you're not entirely cold calling someone. I mean, I would regard that as what goes on in almost any sphere of work which involves interaction, you know. I don't know, a salesman will probably occasionally have a drink with the people he's trying to sell stuff to. It doesn't necessarily mean that they spend the whole meal trying to strike that deal.
Q. You get to know what makes each other tick?
A. I think that's the aim, yes, because what we then, in the case of journalists, are trying to do further is to inform our public with information in the round about the people and what they're doing that we hope that you know, that would be news to them, rather than what they'd assume themselves.
Q. Putting this point at its lowest, it would mean that the senior politician gets to understand precisely what it is that would please a media proprietor?
A. That I cannot speak for. I think they would get an idea. I mean, you know I don't know, if a proprietor had an obsession about passports for pets or something, the politician would presumably become aware of that.
Q. You talk in paragraph 24 about it being perfectly legitimate for politicians to try to curry favour with the press. Can you help us with how that actually happens in practice?
A. Well, I am talking here about the press, which take an editorial position. So at the very least, a politician might say, "I want to have this campaign. Would you write an editorial in support of it?" Going further, it might be that a series of stories based on a political concern might arise, I suppose, but basically, in the end, it seems to me that because newspapers can take positions on matters, by "currying favour", I mean, urging the newspaper to support your particular position.
Q. And that is regarded as being very important indeed, isn't it, by politicians? Has that been your experience?
A. Well, many politicians, if they get something in the newspaper that they like, will draw your attention to it. You know: "Have you seen this editorial? Have you seen this article?"
Q. I'm interested in your choice of words because it's very indicative, in graphic terms, of the politician going to the press for a favour, and it tells us something
A. Well, I meant "favour" in terms of favourable support rather than a favour in terms of a quid pro quo.
Q. The favour being the support?
A. Yes.
Q. But that tells us something, doesn't it, about the dynamic of modern relations between press and politicians?
A. Is it not the nature of argument? Politics is about making arguments, and ultimately those arguments are tested by the public and the newspaper is a window to the public, so you want your argument to be made as effectively as possible, both by yourself and, if journalists are willing to support it, on your account.
Q. But we have, don't we, the position of the politician wanting something from the press, namely the coverage, having gained, through the sorts of contacts you've described, an understanding of what would please a particular proprietor, and whether or not there's a deal or not, we have here, don't we, fertile territory for quid pro quos?
A. As I say in this statement, the greatest power that any news outlet has is not so much what it says about something but in whether it choose to cover it or not, and I think it's perfectly understandable that politicians, non-governmental organisations, private citizens, seek to draw the attention of journalists to issues which are of concern to them.
Q. You recognise a need for transparency in recording the sorts of meetings that you describe. At paragraph 23, you say you think it would be wise to publish regularly a record of such meetings, especially with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. You are, of course, aware that steps have been taken in this direction since last summer. Can I ask you: in your opinion, what level of detail is appropriate in the sort of disclosure that you're envisaging in order to ensure proper transparency and engender sufficient trust?
A. I think that all these codes only work if they are clearly defined and they are the people who have to disclose information know that they will be held accountable on a regular basis, and I think you know, thinking not just of recent events but in previous governments, the problem is that there tends to be a hurried statement, a hurried list of meetings, published when a particular government feels under pressure and then there may be revisions or adjustments to it. I think, just as in some other countries there is a full list given of the head of government's meetings, other than those that relate to security or whatever, as a matter of automaticity, I think that is how the system should work, because otherwise I feel it actually can be worse than useless sometimes, that partial information is given which is carefully crafted to conceal particular facts.
Q. So if you support an automatic disclosure of the fact of meetings, subject, as you say, to security exceptions, in terms of the level of detail we're given about a meeting we've seen in certain recent disclosures long lists of "general discussion, general discussion, general discussion", which is pretty meaningless. Where would you set the level of detail?
A. I would set the level of detail I don't you know, I think people government needs a certain level of protection. I think fact of meal, you know, dinner, Chequers, plus Lord Rothermere, or, you know, drink, whatever, with Rupert Murdoch at a particular location, I think those sort of things should be disclosed. But I should add I don't think this simply applies to the press. I think this should apply to other captains of industry and, as I say, I personally would lean to a more extensive disclosure than the less extensive disclosure.
Q. Moving to your own experiences, you tell us that you've never enjoyed an exclusive Sky News-only briefing from any minister, but you do describe going to Chequers with a small group of media professionals and you've exhibited an extract from your book which sets out the details of that encounter. I don't need to go to the details of that. Perhaps if I can summarise it. Suffice to say that you felt that you and your colleagues' comments were slightly misused by Mr Campbell. Was that typical of the New Labour government or not?
A. Well, it's the only time that I've been invited to lunch at Chequers, so whether it's typical or not, I don't know. But I think we were all and one of your lay assessors was also present, Elinor Goodman. I think at the time we were all a little bit puzzled as to why we had been summoned, particularly since, to be frank, the Prime Minister didn't appear to have a great deal to say to us, and it was only subsequently, when we were drawn into conversation about some of the foibles of our press colleagues, which we did which we engaged in fairly freely and then found subsequently that those comments had been cited by Alastair Campbell you know, I've talked to some of the senior broadcasters and they agree with me for some of the changes he wanted to make in terms of policing his interactions with other journalists. Had we known that was on the agenda, it would have been a rather different discussion, I think.
Q. My question is not so much whether a visit to Chequers was exceptional but whether the sort of experience you had in dealing with the New Labour publicity machine, was that an exceptional example or was that typical?
A. As you know, in my statement I argue that there was a change in the equilibrium, if you like, or an introduction of a disequilibrium during the Blair and Brown years because I'm not about apportioning blame. I believe that in that period the politicisation of the power of information, if you like, was recognised by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and other people working with him, and so all interactions with the media became negotiable. "Do we want to tell him or her this because they're on our side? Or maybe if we give that to that other journalist, they will give it to us more favourably. Should we even give them access at all?" In other words, things which I think, if we're to do our job properly, should be accepted as a right became things that were handed out as favours of one kind or another. Secondly and again, I don't want to dwell on this to any great extent I think the obligation to tell the truth at all times was not felt by the Blair government or indeed by the Brown government, and you know, one could go into examples. I know you're going to have Peter Oborne giving evidence later in the week, but increasingly there was a sense that one could not really trust what one was being told by people who were being told you know, had the job of communicating with the press, and that, I think, is one of the things which has led to the breakdown of political confidence in our culture, and I don't think that's a good thing.
Q. I'll be picking up that theme in a little while, but for the moment, can I move now to what you tell us about BSkyB's corporate events. You explain that they're unusually informal and matters of record where current events are discussed. At the time that the BSkyB takeover bid was live, do you recall that being discussed?
A. Well, the meetings which we had, or the ones I particular mention with prospective parliamentary candidates from all the different parties, mainly preceded the 2010 election, when the bid was not really on the agenda. Certainly one of the reasons one of the issues that we were willing to discuss, if raised, was to clarify to politicians and prospective MPs the nature of our relationship with News Corporation; in other words, to make it clear to them that BSkyB was an independent company, regulated in the same way as ITV and in a similar way to the BBC, and was not part of News International or the newspapers in any way, simply because you know, people sometimes make or have made in the past the wrong assumption, if you like, about that, and obviously it's very important to our reputation that BSkyB's integrity as an independent body and Sky News' integrity as an independent news broadcaster should be well understood.
Q. It's been said that the shareholding which News Corporation already had in BSkyB gave it effective control anyway. Did you notice that?
A. No. I think, on the contrary, Rupert Murdoch recently wrote on Twitter saying, "I have absolutely nothing to do with the editorial policy at BSkyB", and I was able to tweet: "I agree with Rupert Murdoch." The fact of the matter is I have, over a 23-year period of working with Sky, possibly had three discussions with Rupert Murdoch, all with other people present, just about general world affairs. Never anything about my work or the editorial approach of Sky News, and it was the same in terms of any interactions which I might have had with editorial personnel or executives from News International.
Q. Did BSkyB lobby, either overtly or covertly, one way or the other in relation to the bid?
A. On the contrary. I remember that we received emails from the CEO and Jeremy Darrett(?) making precisely that point, that it was not our business to lobby or to take sides in this, that we were subject to a takeover bid and that therefore we should be more careful than ever in terms of saying anything that might be construed as expressing an opinion.
Q. Moving to the question of exclusive off-the-record editorial briefings with Number 10, which you deal with at paragraph 29 of your witness statement, you say that you never participated in any such briefings. That rather begs a question: who did?
A. I believe it is quite a common practice for so-called editorial boards of newspapers or groups of senior current affairs editors of the BBC to be invited in for a lunch with the Prime Minister, perhaps on an annual basis. I say I believe this because I've stood in Downing Street and I've seen so-called editorial boards going in, which would often comprise the editor, maybe the news editor, some of the columnists or whatever in the case of the newspapers. As it happens, Sky News has never sought or, to my knowledge, been invited to go to such a lunch or such a meeting.
Q. That type of lunch in your view, does it fall into the category of an acceptable way in which the media can become better informed about politicians and vice versa or do you see it as problematic?
A. I think provided it's done on an even-handed basis and a range of news organisations have access on that basis, I think it can possibly help them better inform their readers or their viewers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So that means BBC, ITV, Sky, all those who are engaged in the dissemination through television of news?
A. Well, various organisations. I mean, again I have not been party to any of these, but, for example, I know that the intelligence services periodically entertain newspapers or news organisations for off-the-record briefings LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, my question was rather different. It was: what you're saying is there is no reason why it shouldn't happen, because understanding the problems that other people face allows the press to do their job rather better.
A. Yes, exactly. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But if it's happening, it should happen evenly, across the piece.
A. Yes, it should LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It shouldn't just be the BBC.
A. No, exactly. It shouldn't just be the BBC or the Daily Telegraph or whatever. The question then follows on from that, I suppose: why am I not particularly bothered that Sky has never attended any of these events? It's not particularly as far as Downing Street's concerned, it's not particularly our style. We're quite busy and sometimes they take up more time than they're necessarily worth, in my judgment. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You've already said it, Mr Boulton. Those words don't necessarily detract from that. MR BARR Luncheon groups. You tell us at paragraph 30 that almost all print journalists at Westminster and some broadcasters belong to small groups which aim to take senior politicians out to lunch on shared expenses on a regular basis, in return for which they hope to get a story.
A. Mm.
Q. You say that they often get modest stories. Do you regard this type of contact has it got to the stage where it's too cosy or not?
A. Well, I do know from colleagues they find it increasingly difficult to get luncheon partners and there are quite a lot of politicians now, particularly the younger generation of politicians, who try to avoid such regular encounters. I think one of the points I do make in this statement is that print colleagues did not have the same sort of regular face-to-face contact with senior politicians that television interviewers or television reporters do, for the simple reason that, you know, if we can't get an interviewee there or get them on camera, which involves us dealing with them, we can't really report a story. Now, obviously in print you might have contacts with a special adviser, you might have contact with a departmental spokesman, you might have contact with the minister, but I imagine that on a lot of the policy stories, at the very least you'll get a quick comment. Therefore, I think for print colleagues in particular, it is a constructive way of establishing a relationship with politicians, which again, I think, probably better informs their readers. I should add I think a couple of my colleagues in Sky News who come from print, I think, do go on lunches of the type I describe.
Q. Are these the sort of meetings that you would expect to fall within the transparency arrangements that you're encouraging?
A. Certainly in the case of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and if it applied to secretaries of state or ministers I don't think there would be any problem in disclosing that, and generally speaking, I am in favour of transparency.
Q. Would that extend to special advisers, who might otherwise just become a secret conduit?
A. Yes, I think it probably should. I mean, certainly in my case and my colleague's, such meetings I would itemise by name on my expenses, which would then obviously pass through whatever the verification approval process is of Sky. So it's open in that sense.
Q. Which takes me on to the next part of your statement, where you LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you're moving to something else, let's give the shorthand writer just a few minutes' break. Thank you. (3.16 pm) (A short break) (3.23 pm) MR BARR Moving on to your own entertaining of politicians, you tell us that on average about half a dozen times a month you use expenses to entertain contacts, especially if they've asked for a meeting or if you want to repay hospitality. Do you ever feel that as a result of that type of hospitality there is the risk of an obligation or a sense of obligation arising to those people to spare them when it comes to your interviews, and if so, how do you guard against that obligation arising?
A. Well, quite often they ask to have lunch after an interview or something I've done hasn't gone particularly well for them and in those circumstances, to a certain extent they're saying, "Why did you give me such a hard time over this?" and I'm in the interests of transparency, I'm perfectly willing to explain my position. Likewise, as I say, when it comes to repaying hospitality, I think if anything, that is trying to dispel any sense of obligation rather than engender it. As I also say in my statement elsewhere, I don't think you want to become too pally with politicians if you're interviewing them or interacting with them on a regular basis, because obviously it's not your job to sympathise with them in that way, although I would say I think the first function of any interviewer or any television news reporter is to understand what a politician is saying and proposing doing and to help them, if they like, explain that position before you then move on to examining and questioning it.
Q. In terms of those types of meetings, do politicians ever try to seek to influence the areas which you might touch upon in a future interview, in precisely perhaps the way you've explained, by saying, "I'd like you to interview me about this next policy so that I can get my message across"?
A. It has to be said we are using politicians and advisers or their handlers, sort of interchangeably, or I am, at least, in talking about this. It is not uncommon for a politician or adviser to say, "Well, you know, I'll only come on if we're talking about my health campaign and I'm not going to talk about whether minister X should resign over something", and in those circumstances, typically we either won't give an undertaking that we'll ask we'll say, "We're going to ask what we feel like, you can come on or not", or, if a politician insists they won't answer questions about something, it's not uncommon to say, "In that case, we'd better not do the interview."
Q. I'm moving on to paragraph 35 where you say: "Broadcasters' greatest power is choosing who or what to cover and place on the national agenda." Page 7.
A. Yes.
Q. You go on to say: "These conflicting forces drive the daily bargaining of what gets onto the air waves."
A. Yes.
Q. I'm interested in exploring that bargaining process. What is it that the politician is offering in you, as his side of the bargain?
A. Well, I mean, at one level there's a bargain if we say, "We'd like you to come on to talk about this subject", and the initial position might be: "We don't want to put anybody up." So you might then go pack and you say, "Well, are you sure you won't want to put anybody up, because we are going to have the opposition spokesman on this particular subject and we want to give you the opportunity to balance that out." So that's the process of bargaining. But yes, there are occasions where there will be a pressing issue of the day, yeah, and a minister may also be starting a particular initiative or campaign and he may well he will know that there are items on the agenda that you will ask him about, but he will also feel that he'll have the opportunity to advance the issue which he wants to talk about. So, I mean, you know, there can be discussions can take place at that level, you know. "I know you want to talk about this particular aspect of government crisis, but will you give me the opportunity to say my bit about what my department is doing in this area?" That type of discussion LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That sounds perfectly
A. will take place, yes. But that's what I mean by LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, that's the quid pro quo of discussion.
A. Yes, but it is a bargaining about access where, if you like, we are agreeing to discuss something in exchange for discussing what we may think is more pertinent. MR BARR Has that perfectly understandable negotiating process ever been abused in your experience or does it work effectively?
A. I think there have been occasions, although I hope not when I have been personally involved and not particularly at Sky, where ministers have felt that they've struck a bargain that they would have an opportunity to speak on something and have not been given it on air, and that they've felt they've been let down. I mean, in the past, certainly anecdotally, that is an explanation which politicians from both sides have given me about why they're not keen to appear on Newsnight, for example.
Q. Moving back now to the Blair era, you've already explained in some detail concerns that you've had about that era. Can I put to you, please, the other side of the coin and move to tab 5 of the bundle. Here you've helpfully exhibited chapter 6 of your book, "Tony's Ten Years", entitled "Feral Media". Following the internal pagination of the book, can you start, please, start at 178. About a third of the way down the page, there's a quotation. This is from Tony Blair: "I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging and persuading the media." Is that an insight which you would agree with?
A. Yes, I would. As I also say, there was a reason for it, as has been cited elsewhere in the Inquiry. The soreness which Labour felt about the 1992 treatment of Neil Kinnock and the feeling that they needed to turn the media around if they were going to have a chance of getting their message across in 1997, but it struck me, reading that again, how remarkably close that is to some of the remarks that the current Prime Minister made last summer.
Q. At the end of the paragraph, there's another quotation: "You can't let speculation stay out there for any longer than an instant." Is that still a prevalent view amongst politicians?
A. I think it's a bit paranoid, to be honest, but I think that particularly when people get in the Downing Street bunker, they do tend to feel a little bit paranoid, and certainly I can't think of instances but I've had instances where I've had phone calls about something we've said and I have felt: "I really don't know why you're bothering with this because I don't think anyone would notice what we said or felt what we said was particularly damaging."
Q. Moving now to page 179, where you quote a substantial section, which you describe as being central and argued with real emotion, here we see Mr Blair making four points about the newspapers. He says: "First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down." Do you agree with that proposition?
A. No, I don't, but I do think that news, what is new, what is different, what is going to engage the viewer or the reader, will win out over regurgitation of known facts or known positions of the government, which by definition often isn't really news.
Q. Reading on in the quotation: "News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light." Is it right that newspaper reporting in this period was seeking to generate heat as much as light?
A. I don't believe so. I mean, my feeling, as I argue in this chapter later on, is that Mr Blair was speaking after the very painful experiences of post 9/11, of the Afghanistan and Iraq, and what happened then was (a) very important and (b) was a national controversy, and I think that as they wear on, in particular, governments very often feel that seeing things their way is the only way, and I don't think, certainly in an issue as important as that, it's the job of the media to simply repeat the views of the government.
Q. Isn't he saying rather more than that? Isn't he saying that even with a story of immense importance, as that one was, one way of reporting it is without making it sound excessively scandalous, but reporting it objectively, with opinions.
A. Well, I well, you know, I don't want to reopen the Hutton Inquiry but the 45-minute claim was certainly something which I had my attention drawn to by Downing Street as something that was worth reporting, and I think with hindsight one would say that that was sensational, so you know, obviously, as we know elsewhere from Mr Blair's writing, he wanted to be associated with eye-catching initiatives. I don't know whether you would class that as heat rather than light.
Q. The second point he makes is: "Attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error; it has to be venal, conspiratorial." What we're talking about here really is a form of exaggeration, isn't it? Did you sense that that was in fact the way that press reporting had gone?
A. I have to say, reading that again, I have some sympathy with the way in which some people have reported and examined the matters now under examination by this Inquiry and elsewhere. In other words, the assumption or the implication that meetings and contacts between press and journalists are necessarily venal or conspiratorial. Certainly some people are implying that. If you look at some of the evidence before this Inquiry, what you've called the bargain or the quid pro quo nature of interactions between journalists and the media is not, in my view, an accurate reflection of most of those interactions. In that sense, now, with hindsight, I can sympathise somewhat with that point made about what the press have said about meetings he'd been involved with elsewhere. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. One of the great problems for the Inquiry is to distinguish between what is sensible and professional relationship and intercourse, whether it's over a drink or whatever it's over, and that which tips over.
A. Sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's a mistake to assume that all of the former is necessarily the latter.
A. Exactly, and I think that's the point Mr Blair was making. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It may very well be, but I mean, it's the same point as conspiracy is always better than cock up.
A. Better than? What, to report? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it's always a better story, isn't it?
A. Well, I don't know. There have been some pretty good cock ups over the years. Again, I think you know, conspiracy might read better over three pages of a Sunday newspaper, but on television, a cock-up, genuine mistakes, can often make extremely good news reporting and extremely interesting news reporting. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, I understand.
A. For example, things going wrong in the health service are generally cock-ups but they are things which we pretty relentlessly focus on in television news. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand and don't in any sense dissent. I'm merely giving you an example of possibly the first two of Mr Blair's observations.
A. Yes. As I say, I have some sympathy with those observations and as I've already said, the third one about Watergate I mean, there's no doubt that there is a sort of myth of investigative journalism and scoops which I think is probably dying out a bit now, with the growth of digital media, but certainly for the period I've been a journalist I don't think has always been particularly helpful, and I've already drawn the distinction between the type of journalism I'm involved with and electronic journalism and newspaper journalism in that respect. MR BARR I think the Watergate example is an adjunct to the second point. If we move to the third point, which is in the next paragraph: "Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out." Is that a picture that you recognise?
A. I think there are two things that have being confused. I don't think that the media, and certainly the electronic media, necessarily always join in the hue and cry after people who are in trouble. However, physically I would see it as part of the function of television, if someone is in the news for whatever reason, to try and get pictures and, if possible, words from them on camera so that in physical descriptions we will be involved in staking out outside people's homes, not breaking the law but in trying to get pictures of them. And again, I think one of the things that I remark on in this chapter is how, when I started out in political journalism during the Thatcher era, a very common way of getting reaction from politicians was doorstepping them, basically shouting questions at them when they were going in and out of meetings or Downing Street, and some of the quite famous quotations of that era, like "Rejoice, rejoice" or "We are a grandmother" or whatever were acquired in that way, and one of the things on my record is I'm the only person ever to doorstep the Queen and got her to talk about politics. Now, I regard that as legitimate television journalism, but it is, to a point, confrontational, and it's something which the news managers of the Blair era tried to stop, inasmuch as Tony Blair did not do doorsteps. You could shout at him as much as you liked as he was going in and out of things. He would not respond.
Q. The doorstepping is a slightly different point
A. It's slightly hunting
Q. Pack instinct and the pack attack on a personality leading to the destruction of that person's reputation absolutely. Is that the picture that you recognise?
A. No, it's not. I think generally, if people's you know, people resign or people's cease go down the drain, it's because of what they've done; it's not because of incessant focus by the media, although I do accept, as I do in my witness statement, that sometimes the news agenda can work in your favour or work against you. You know, if big events happen elsewhere, a tight moment can be survived, whereas if big events don't happen, sometimes an excessive focus on an issue can lead to an outcome that might otherwise have been avoided, but I don't think that's controlled by anyone. It's just fate, almost.
Q. Moving to the fourth point: "Rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more, important than the news itself." I think that runs into an allegation that there's been a confusion of news and comment. Do you think there's been a lack of attention paid by the print media to separating news from comment sufficiently?
A. I think there has been an inevitable process whereby, because primary information has been conveyed electronically, print media have been forced, to a certain extent, into a secondary market of comment and disclosure. For example, when there were regular Prime Ministerial monthly news conferences, they were things that television, both rolling news and news bulletins, used quite extensively. They were largely overlooked by many of the newspapers because they felt that that material had already been on the record elsewhere. Therefore I think there was a natural tendency to look for secondary matters or controversy, but I you know, I think that's a product of what I believe you're calling the elephant in the room, the competitive pressures which are threatening the viability of the print media. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's presumably got worse, not merely because of the Internet, the elephant in the room, but also as, for example, government departments put more material out electronically themselves.
A. Exactly. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's all very well handing out a press release to the journalists in the room, but if they can press a button and send it to every journalist in the country, then you need something different. I'd not really thought about it.
A. The point is they don't even send it to every journalist in the country; they send it to every member of the public. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. So if you like, the traditional way that a lot of people started out in the print media of sort of rewriting press releases and making a phone call, you can't do that any more because it's already out there. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So it's critical that the press look for some other way of adding value to the story.
A. Exactly, yes. And that I think in some areas, perhaps some pertinent to this Inquiry, that's led to a degree of desperation in the pursuit of getting something different. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's interesting. MR BARR Moving now to your analysis of Tony Blair's speech, you point out that the example he gave was of the Independent, whereas you believe that his real target was the Daily Mail. I'm looking now at page 180, the penultimate paragraph: "Out of office, Blair conceded that it was a mistake to single out the Independent. His real target had been the Daily Mail but he feared what the paper would do to him and his family should he have targeted it."
A. Yes.
Q. Obviously that's a rather arresting assertion. Can I be clear. How sure are you that this accurately reflects Mr Blair's thinking? Is it your analysis of things he's said or do you have this on hard authority?
A. As I think I say in my statement, in the course of preparing this book, my researcher and I did have a meeting with Tony Blair where we discussed these matters.
Q. Accepting that this is an accurate analysis, is this an example of perhaps the most potent weapon that the press have, namely the personal attack?
A. Well, what I mention is that in a sense the speech turned out to be a bit of a damp squib because it went after the Independent and I make the point that it mentioned neither News International nor the Mail. It's a matter of record that Alastair Campbell and others have been most excoriating about the Mail and its activities, and it's a matter I think I also discuss in one or two of the lectures. A number of politicians have expressed to me their fear of intrusion and exposure, and very often they mention the Mail in connection with that. I'm not suggesting that the Mail does anything illegal, but, you know for example, when my own first marriage broke up, my house was rung, their reporters attempted to talk to my children, relatives of both me and Anji were pursued, a journalist went to local restaurants showing a photograph, claiming to be an old friend of Anji's, did the restauranteur know anything us? As it happens, I make no complaint about that. I think that is if they believe it's of genuine interest, I think that journalists do have to go to quite long quite great extent to try and get stories.
Q. If I could just stop you there and come back to
A. But it's not a pleasant process, and I can well see why some people might feel intimidated by that.
Q. Because what I'm getting at is if the position is that an outgoing Prime Minister is not able fully to speak his mind because of a fear of press retribution, whether or not that press retribution is legal or not is perhaps not the point. The point is: doesn't that speak to an unhealthy state of affairs in the relationship between politicians and the media?
A. Well, it certainly speaks to the fact that the two sides are not friends. You could argue that the ability of a news organisation or a newspaper to scrutinise and to pursue beyond bounds which many people might consider decent a story is precisely a legitimate democratic function, and indeed, you know, in one of the lectures I talk about the Daily Mail question and in the end, having an organisation that is prepared to examine and debunk the powerful in society may be it may not be pleasant, it may not be something I personally would want to do, but I think it can be quite salutary overall for society.
Q. It's one thing to righteously investigate wrongdoing and expose it for example, the MPs' expenses scandal but isn't it quite another to use personal attacks on a politician's family as a form of revenge?
A. Oh, hang on, I'm not sure I mean, I'm not sure that's what I am reporting the Prime Minister as saying.
Q. Well, you
A. He is saying that he felt that if he "went to war with the Mail", there would be consequences inasmuch as they would look at him and his family in a way, and he's saying he felt intimidated by that.
Q. So that is what he was saying? He feared what the paper would do to him and his family, should he have targeted it. So he was afraid of intrusive coverage in response to his criticism on an entirely separate point?
A. Yes.
Q. And that is, isn't it, a matter of concern?
A. It's a matter of concern, but as I say, it's also a matter of balance of power between different pillars, if you like.
Q. Moving to page 181, the quotation there really summing up the state of affairs: "This relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair. The damage saps the country's confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions, and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions in the right spirit for our future. I've made this speech after much hesitation. I know it will be rubbished in certain quarters but I also know this has needed to be said." So that picture of a damaged relationship which needed repair, is that something that you, looking back, would accept?
A. Yes, and I think I believe I accepted it at the time in what I said to the Phillis Inquiry and elsewhere.
Q. Moving now to the lobby, you've already told us you were the chairman for a year in 2007. You tell us that it is a parliamentary institution and that status is obviously important. Moving from its status to its practical importance, would it be right to glean from your statement that its practical importance to a member is the access it gives to political information?
A. Yes. I mean, physical access originally, as in access to the lobby where you could exchange face-to-face have face-to-face exchanges with politicians. That's what it involved. Membership of the lobby also means access to the vote office, which means automatic access to published government papers, and it means access to twice-daily briefings, Monday to Thursday, when the House is sitting, from the Prime Minister's spokesman, one on Friday and other contacts. It means less now than it did back in the 1980s, because one of those briefings has been put on the record by the government, originally by Alastair Campbell and followed by others since, and is open, but there is an afternoon briefing which is still a closed briefing to members of the lobby.
Q. We will come back to what might be the best way of presenting information to the press lobby, but before we do that, can I ask you about the quotation that you've attributed to Roy Hattersley, the then Labour deputy leader, who you say told you: "If you do right by us and treat us fairly, we'll do right by you." Assuming that you had and I'm not suggesting you would have done, but assuming you had treated him unfairly, what did you think the consequence might have been?
A. Well, going back to the bargain we were talking about earlier on, the consequence or the sanction which anybody in any political party has against any broadcaster is not to participate in their programming, not to agree to do interviews with their cameras and to exclude them from party events, such as party conferences, and I report that in the context of having been through the TV AM dispute when, at the urging of the ACTT, the Labour Party had done precisely that. They had blacked, as it was then called, TV AM so we could not take our cameras, for example, into the Labour Party Conference of that year so that we their spokesman would not appear on our programmes. And of course, the immediate effect of that is that it means that your offering is weaker than the offering of your competitors, who have full access to all the political parties. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Is it worse than that? I'm just interested. If one party says, "I'm very sorry, you're not going to come to us", how does your impartiality kick in in relation to everybody else?
A. Well, what I did at the time was I did go to the Labour Party Conference, because journalists physically were not excluded from the party conference after a decision, and I reported on what was being said in the conference without being able to have access to pictures of people saying it directly, but it did mean in order to preserve impartiality and balance LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You had to do that.
A. Yes, exactly. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So it's a piece to camera rather than
A. Willingly, yes, in those circumstances, but obviously it's less interesting hearing me say it than hearing Neil Kinnock say it. MR BARR Moving back to the question of how the lobby system ought to work, and there seemed to be two questions: first of all, who should give the briefing, and secondly, whether it should be on the record or off the record. You've explained a moment ago what happens now. You argue that you think it's best delivered by a non-civil servant and you speak favourably of the days when Alistair Campbell gave the briefings. But isn't the danger of having a politicised briefing that you may be subject to spin and you don't get an unvarnished, objective view?
A. I think the biggest danger is that if one accepts that these are important exchanges of information, then you want them to be given by an authoritative person and I heard what Lord O'Donnell said yesterday. When Lord O'Donnell was the Prime Minister's spokesman and a civil servant, he was the most authoritative person in Number 10 dealing with relations with the media, and the same would go for Christopher Meyer or Jonathan Haslam or, before that, for Bernard Ingham. I think the problem was that with the arrival of special advisers given the responsibilities of Alastair Campbell, that when Alastair Campbell ceased to do briefings because he felt that he was overexposed and handed the role back to civil servants, the civil servants and this is basically the situation which pertains to this day never really had the authority to convincingly brief on behalf of the government, both in politically and in informational terms. An early example of that was during the whole question of Cherie Blair and her flats when Godric Smith, I'm sure, absolutely with total integrity, briefed that there had not been contacts with the swindler because that was what he was told to say, and it transpired that it wasn't true, and even if you go to the recent experience with Gordon Brown, you had a very distinguished public servant, Treasury official, in the role of Mark Ellam, who I think would admit that he was uncomfortable in his role because he knew that there were a series of special advisers who spoke with greater authority about Gordon Brown's intentions and about the government to journalists than he did, and I think a particular problem with this is that those spokesmen are unaccountable, and to this day I see that Steve Field, the current Prime Minister's spokesman, has announced he's stepping down. To this day, most journalists, if they wanted to know what the Prime Minister was up to or what the Prime Minister was thinking, would go to someone like Gabby or Steve Hilton or whatever, behind the back of the official spokesman. So my argument is that the official spokesman has really become a bit of a front guy and is actually being put in a very uncomfortable position. I know that Lord O'Donnell suggested that probably we should go back to the position of a civil servant having that responsibility. I take the view that that genie is rather out of the bottle, and what we should go back to is having an authoritative and politically accountable spokesman, more on the model of a White House spokesman, but we can disagree about it, but at the moment I think it's a corrupt system, that there's an official spokesman who is not the authoritative figure in terms of communicating the government's intentions to the media.
Q. Can I draw out of that answer that perhaps a cure to the underlying problem is more accountability for special advisers?
A. Yes, I think that would be one way. I mean, another way I think things like monthly news conferences by the Prime Minister, debates at election time, are also examples of unmediated direct accountability which are healthy for the democracy.
Q. On the question of whether the briefings should be on the record or off the record, are you content with the current situation or do you think there is room for improvement?
A. I think off the record is this is somewhere where I'd agree with Alastair Campbell or most senior ministers. I think it is no longer a distinction which is respected or widely understood by the public. I think the reason for off the record was largely a convention of not naming civil servants, to protect civil servants, that what they said was off the record, but in the way over 30 years, the way in which I reported what Bernard Ingham said without naming him was no different from the way in which I reported Alastair Campbell, and generally I didn't do it without naming him either. The problem is although I think it's a minor problem, but it is the fear of sort of if you put spokesman on the record, you create mini celebrities in their own right which or in the case of Alastair, big celebrities in their own right, but also it would be not to the advantage, I think, of the public discourse if, because you have regular access to a named prime ministerial spokesman, you had less access to the Prime Minister himself.
Q. One of the features of the current operation of the system which seems to have irked you is the setting of deadlines and releasing of information to benefit press print deadlines on foreign trips. Is that something that you think arises from an overcosiness in the relationship between Number 10 and the print media or is it simply a pragmatic recognition of the fact that if they got to pay to go on a foreign trip, they want at least to have a story before their deadline?
A. Yeah. There, I think, you have got your bargain or your quid pro quo, that they want to hold something back to give to print, to sort of justify the trip for print on both sides. I just don't see it as a recognition of the modern realities of the digital media. I've had situations where I've been asked not to report on television a story from America which was already appearing on the website of the newspapers on the front pages of tomorrow's papers. I accept sometimes there is a need for embargos but I think they should only be there for very practical reasons. I think it's almost impossible, with 24-hour media and with the Internet and all the rest of it, to try and impose artificial embargos to benefit one medium or another.
Q. Can I now ask you for your view on what you describe as a Masonic conspiracy. We've heard some evidence from Mr Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, in Module 1, where he suggested that the relationship between the lobby and politicians was so cosy that a blind eye was turned to the MPs' expenses scandal. Is there anything in that?
A. Well, I think on various occasions Mr Staines has applied to become a member of the lobby. Certainly when I was chairman, it wasn't necessarily something I opposed. The I don't I think there were consistently stories in the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times and elsewhere about MPs' and peers' expenses and I think it was a newspaper, the Telegraph, which exposed it, so I don't really understand the point. I think it's very easy you know, in my experience, the lobby is simply a means of briefing specialised journalists in a way that, as far as I can tell, all other groups of journalists showbiz journalists, economic journalists, whatever form groups and are invited to meetings LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The CRA, the Crime Reporters Association?
A. Exactly. I would imagine something similar to that. So and I can assure you I've never been told any Masonic secrets in the lobby. I think the only two secrets I can recall in 30 years were both from John Biffen, then leader of the house, one, admitting that the Conservatives were indeed going to lose a by-election that day, and the other was actually Bernard Ingham, where he got his ups and downs muddled up on the movement of interest rates and managed to put a large hole in the sterling exchange rate by mistake. MR BARR So can I take it from that that you're telling us that the lobby did not know about the expenses scandal?
A. Well, I'm saying that journalists, who include members of the lobby, were working on the expenses scandal. What I'm absolutely saying is I can't see any evidence of a cover-up by journalists on that.
Q. Before we move to the future, just a miscellaneous point. At paragraph 50, right at the end, you say: "It has subsequently emerged that the decisive allegation against News of the World was untrue." You wrote this statement before the Inquiry adduced further evidence about the state of investigations about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone. You're not seeking to suggest, are you, that the phone was not hacked?
A. No. I was referring to the deletions and the "false hope" in the Dowler family as a result of the deletions which were alleged or reported in the Guardian as to be the consequence of objection as by the News of the World, and I think the Guardian now accepts that evidence for that is inconclusive. That was the point I was making, and I personally feel that without that allegation, subsequent history, possibly including the existence of this Inquiry, would have been very different.
Q. There are still factual disputes and it wouldn't be right to say
A. But I'm happy to clarify the word "untrue" to whatever the appropriate phrase of what the Inquiry has discovered is. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Boulton, I don't know whether that's right or wrong about whether this Inquiry would have started. I just don't know.
A. No, I raise it as a question. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There were lots of things happening, as you will well remember. But I would be interested in your view and you are able to stand a little bit aside as a broadcasting journalist rather than a print journalist whether you believe that what has been discovered over the last six months has been a journey that has been worthwhile to undertake in the public interest.
A. Well, clearly breaking of the law is something that we all disapprove of and should be investigated, and clearly there are issues that we're discussing about, whether you're talking about media organisations or politicians or indeed the police, people who are in positions of power and authority, and they should probably be invigilated more than the activities of others. But one has to place, as you say, all the matters that are being discussed and uncovered in this particular case in the context of all the other evils in the world: wars, famine, robbery and all of that LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I quite agree, I quite agree, and I'd be very grateful if you wouldn't suggest I tackle any of them, but I am concerned to know whether you, from your perspective, think that what has been revealed has been worth revealing and does itself indicate that there is a need for some change.
A. Well, as I say in this section, question 2.8, I make the point that already what has been revealed outwith your Inquiry has had very severe consequences for a number of individuals and for a number of businesses and organisations. So the point I'm trying to make there was even before we come to your recommendations there are parts of the system that appear to be working in terms of the specific wrongdoings. And I do think it is important because that those matters should be discussed and should and should be aired, but as I also say elsewhere, my understanding of the law is you can't frame law to prevent crimes happening. You have to deal with the consequences of what happened. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, but you don't also just want to rely on the criminal law, do you? I mean, the criminal law will always suffer from the problem, as was revealed in this very case you have some activity that is potentially criminal and could be very serious, but, however odious, which I think was the word Deputy Assistant Commissioner Clarke used, nobody died as a result, and you have 70-odd terrorist incidents. So there's a balance.
A. There is indeed. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Don't we need to be able to look to the industry to some extent to step up to the plate of having a mechanism, whether it's policing itself or in some other way, to ensure that the public can be reassured that actually the press is doing its job in a proper, appropriate way and always in the public interest?
A. Yes, I think we do. I think we, as journalists collectively, have standards. I think organisations as I tried to make clear, I think there are reasons why they behave in different ways, but they should have standards as well. But what I also believe and it's a point I make very strongly in the two lectures I've made is that ultimately the point professional journalism will only thrive if people want to consume it, and they want to consume it, I hope, because they trust what we are saying and trust their relationship with us as decent people or people who they believe they can support, and if they don't, then I think (a) in the electronic media you're subject to regulation, in the newspapers you're subject to not just the criminal law but losing your livelihood as well. So I don't think it's not just a question of being pious. I actually think there's quite a strong commercial imperative to behave in the right way and to LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And also for the public to see that those who don't behave in the right way are exposed and in some way dealt with?
A. Yes, I would agree with that, although I think in most cases what should normally happen is that journalists who are responsible for professional misconduct would be dismissed by their employers and are unlikely to be employed by other people. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But then you might ask how many people were dismissed in relation to the stories about some of the issues we've heard, whether it be the McCanns stories and the Portuguese problem or the Chris Jefferies stories. Or possibly you don't think those are worthy of the same sort of criticism?
A. I think that well, I think certainly in the case of Chris Jefferies, he had legal redress, and he's received compensation of what's been done, apologies have been made, and I don't know whether newspapers have disciplined LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not asking for a witchhunt, but I have been told that the reputation of journalists on polls or studies at the moment is pretty low. That may or may not be true.
A. That's certainly true. I'm glad to say broadcasters are rather higher. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Therefore it's quite important that something is done to make the very point you're making, to create the commercial imperative that you've identified, something is done to boost that, to improve it, so that the public do say, "Well, actually, if it's in the paper, we can rely on it."
A. Well, I think if it's not in the paper and I think Ian Hislop made this point: the reason why people don't buy newspapers, he said, is because people don't believe them, and if they don't believe you, then I think your business is at stake, and I certainly what I've seen of people like Paul Dacre or Rupert Murdoch or whoever appeared before you, I don't think that they've disputed that question, that this is an existential reputational question and something needs to be done about it. Whether in my view, it may well be able to done by a mixture of self-regulation and the law. That may well be the solution. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, that's the issue. MR BARR I noted some of the terminology in not only your witness statement but in some of the other witness statements of witnesses we've had. You talk, at paragraph 51, of how the Inquiry has asked how politicians may "constrain media practice", and then you talk later on in your statement about "curbs on the media", and you did also in the Greenwich lecture you exhibited
A. Yes.
Q. to your witness statement. Can I take it that there is a fear out there at the moment amongst journalists that what's coming is a curb on the freedom of expression?
A. I think that there are some politicians in some circumstances who have been quite open that they would like to curb freedom of expression. I mean, I know on the left and indeed, Paul Dacre raised it as well there's a question about whether journalists should have to be registered to have access to public media, whether it's print or whatever. So that, I suppose, is a fear. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think Paul Dacre raised it as a possibility.
A. Exactly. I would be very hostile to that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, what it smacks to me of is licensing people to be journalists, and the whole point about a journalist is that he is a person exercising the right of free speech that we all have; he just has a larger well, he used to have a rather larger megaphone to do it. It's not quite the same with modern modes of communication.
A. I would entirely agree with you on that point. I remember the days of the NUJ closed shop, which I don't think were particularly happy because I think you need access to a lot voices should have access to the media. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But I wouldn't want you to misunderstand me. Whereas I entirely agree with you on that, I'm not at all sure about the mechanisms that should be brought to play to regulate the way in which those who publish news or views by way of a business should take place. I'm just not sure that we've got there.
A. No, I'm not entirely sure. I suggest in my witness statement later on that belonging to a regulatory organisation self-regulating, possibly backed up by statute is something which, for newspapers and magazines, I think would be desirable, and I think there should be, if possible, some consequences for major news organisations that don't participate in that, such as commercial registration, whether they can have an A, B, C listing, those sort of things, because, as we know, there is certainly one newspaper group at the moment which is not subscribing. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. All right. MR BARR Perhaps we can agree on two propositions. I'll take them one at a time. First of all, the last thing that needs curbing is freedom of the press. You would agree with that very readily, I imagine?
A. Yeah, although I would call it freedom of speech.
Q. However, what does need urgent improvement are cultural standards, practices and ethics in the press?
A. Yes, I agree with that, although I think part of that process is inevitably under way, given the disaster of the last year.
Q. You describe transparency, where possible, as being desirable. Could I suggest to you that in fact transparency, where possible, is in fact essential?
A. I think there are obviously degrees of transparency and who you are transparent to, whether you're transparent to the public or whether you're transparent to, in our case, in broadcasting's case, to the regulator, and there may well be a role for that in whatever replaces the PCC for newspapers, on a private basis, to be accountable to the regulator for some of their activities.
Q. You say that it would be unfair to say that the PCC had failed, and I understand that behind that is you're picking up on the evidence that in some areas, at least, the PCC was succeeding, but equally it wouldn't be right to say that it had succeeded as a body either, would it?
A. Well, yes, indeed. I was referring to the evidence from Christopher Meyer, the former chairman of the PCC, amongst others, that my understanding is that the number of complaints from ordinary citizens about the way they've been treated which were dealt with by the PCC had gone up quite dramatically. Clearly, in the role of invigilating the behaviour of internal behaviour of major newspapers or replacing the need for prominent people to go to the courts to get satisfaction clearly there the PCC wasn't fulfilling that function. I think certainly in the case of dealing with phone hacking, the argument the PCC makes is that it was never its role to deal with that sort of thing.
Q. Moving now to paragraphs 68 and 69, where you explain the powerful point that Andrew Gilligan made in a debate against you by reading out the long list of campaigns and demands by tabloids which in fact had never been acceded to, and making the point again that media power lies in agenda-setting and acting as a conduit for public discourse, does it amount to this: that the media's power vis-a-vis politicians is a matter of influence rather than control?
A. Yes, but it's not always on a particular issue. The media may raise an issue, but, if you like, the public view on that issue may not necessarily go in the direction that the media necessarily thought. To give an example drawn from my own experience, when I and we on Sky News were the first people to report the Prescott punch, I generally felt at the time that this was a career-threatening incident for the Deputy Prime Minister to go around punching members of the public. Now, the public clearly saw it in a different way. It wasn't my intention to get John Prescott sacked but I did think it was a very serious issue. The public took a rather lighter view.
Q. If the press has influence rather than control over politicians, would you agree that the degree of influence which the media, some parts of the media at least, have had over politicians in recent years has been a high degree of influence?
A. Could you give me an example?
Q. I'm thinking in terms of the efforts that have been made by political parties in recent years to curry favour with media figures, to get support of their newspapers and so on. Has that phenomenon resulted in the press having a high degree of influence over politicians?
A. I'm not sure certainly, you know, politicians like to have the press supporting them behind them, and they go out of some way some way to court them, but whether it actually has led to transforming their behaviour otherwise than perhaps getting them to do things rather more quickly than they might have done otherwise such as, for example, the Sarah Payne campaign on paedophiles I rather doubt, and conversely the other way you know, I note the point made by Alastair Campbell about the wide range of issues on the News Corporation agenda which, even during that period of alleged closeness, did not come to pass.
Q. One can certainly find examples against, but the examples for are there too, are they not? For example, the parties' stances on European matters, policies on media regulation and so forth have often moved so that they have not been offensive to the newspapers being courted by a political party.
A. I certainly think you could say that on the European question there have been times when newspapers have helped keep scepticism alive, if you like, but if you look at present circumstances, I don't think you can necessarily say that scepticism about Europe now is fuelled by anything the newspapers are saying.
Q. You say that it may be that the present cooling-off of the courtship between press and politicians will restore some sense of balance naturally, and of course we all hope for that, but that begs a question is: do you think it's going to be sufficient on its own or is more required?
A. Well, we've discussed already questions around a strengthened or a beefed-up PCC, and clearly I think that would be an important matter. I suspect that the whole question of media cross-ownership and media ownership and how government deals with that question will be revisited as a result of the fallout of the proposed merger between News Corporation and BSkyB. My general feeling and, I suspect, most journalists' general feeling is caution about excessive regulation, and as I talk in a fairly doubtless legally illiterate section in the lectures, I'm cautious about the idea of a privacy law even if balanced against a public interest defence, because I think it would be very difficult to establish a meaningful sense of public interest and freedom of speech in our legal system. But what I think is already apparent is that things are never going to be the same again for a lot of the key actors caught up in this affair, and to that extent, effectively the scandal itself has been self-policing, if you like.
Q. My final question this afternoon arises from paragraph 79 of your witness statement, page 17 following the internal pagination. At the top of page 17, you say: "In recent times relations may have got too close, as David Cameron now admits." I don't want to limit this question just to the current government, but to cover recent years and both the current coalition government and the previous Labour administrations. Does "may have got to close" qualify the position too much? What is your opinion, as an experienced political editor? Did relations get too close?
A. I say "may have got too close" because I think if it comes to the relationship between a proprietor and a Prime Minister, it's for them to judge, and both of them both Tony Blair in the thing we cited and also David Cameron have used that expression. You know, if you ask me for an honest opinion
Q. We prefer those.
A. Yeah. I don't blame the people on the media side excessively, because I think one of the things about the media is seeking access, and I think if you're pushing at an open door, it's quite difficult to know when you should LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It may be that the press aren't at all to blame.
A. when you should pull back. Well, I think you can be blamed with hindsight if a lot of people think it looks wrong, and you know, the famous Wendi Deng pyjama party, for example. I remember a then member of the cabinet telling me about that at the time and I just thought: "This is completely bonkers that this sort of intimacy is being indulged in between the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's wife and a senior proprietor's wife", and I thought at the time, you know, it will end in tears. But we all find ourselves in social circumstances or awkward social circumstances which we perhaps have been recruited for, which we didn't seek out but we've ended up in. But, yeah, I think was there a carelessness? Did it become too excessive? Yes. When you know, last summer, I was at the News Corporation party and one saw the leader of the opposition, the Prime Minister and all the other people turning up, as it were, to pay court. I see nothing wrong in holding a party or inviting people to it. I was a little surprised that they all felt the need to turn up. I'll put it like that. And people looking from the outside would draw their own conclusions. MR BARR Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Could I ask two questions? You've made a couple of speeches on the subject, which I've read with interest. I'm going to quote two parts of them.
A. Oh dear. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON "In this talk, I want to argue that it is not the time for fresh restrictions on the British media. In my view, the status quo ante Leveson was working. Rather than curbed, we should, if anything, be wondering how we make the media more free so the quality of the national discourse can be enriched." Do you think that sentence clearly squares with some of the discussion we've had this afternoon?
A. In terms of obviously I've qualified it, because I've been talking at greater length and that was you know, I was making a point around that's the one about Milton, isn't it? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, there's plenty of Milton in this.
A. Okay. I was stretching it perhaps a little bit. I mean, I think my point is that yes, as I've agreed with you, I think there is room for LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. I just wanted to make
A. improved regulation of the press. I think my worry at the time, and as that speech is about, as I say, these areas of privacy and statutory curbs on media LORD JUSTICE LEVESON This speech was only less than two months ago.
A. Oh, that's the Greenwich one? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. Yeah, okay. I did have I did have some concerns, and I'll be honest, I I you know, Module 1 of your investigations, I didn't feel it quite got to the bargain, if you like, between celebrities and sections of the press. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand the point. It's been made very clear to me and you make it in this speech too. The second quote, which actually comes both in that speech and in
A. There's a degree of recycling, I admit. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, that's entirely understandable. You say this, about the Inquiry and I'm not being sensitive about this at all.
A. Yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You say: "Why do we need it? Certainly there was some spite. As the former chairman of the PCC Sir Christopher Meyer has eloquently explained, the facts of more complaints than ever being satisfactorily settled certainly do not support the cross-party near universal assertion that the Press Complaints Commission has failed." Are you therefore expressing merely or repeating what Sir Christopher Meyer says, or are you identifying that you yourself have a firm view that the Press Complaints Commission has not failed, not least because I think I'm right in saying that Sir Christopher is the only witness in the months of evidence that I have heard that has so categorically asserted that fact.
A. Well, I did feel, as I've already explained, that to a certain extent the Press Complaints Commission was somewhat railroaded, and I was surprised when it became a truism, that from the Prime Minister down, people were saying the Press Complaints Commission had failed, whereas, as I think I made clear in the extract you've read out, I think in significant areas of its responsibility exactly the same areas, as it happens, that Hugh Grant and others said they were most concerned about I think there is evidence that the Press Complaints Commission, you know, was doing its job. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well
A. What I'm really saying is: was what went wrong at News International, which I agree is as yet not fully proven, the responsibility of the Press Complaints Commission? It may have failed to detect it, but if it wasn't its function to detect it, is it fair to accuse it of failing? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If then goes on to make pronouncements on the subject without investigating it, then those pronouncements may indeed attract concern if they're proved to be without foundation, as indeed was the case. So, for example, it was the Guardian that was criticised after September 2009 by the Press Complaints Commission. That doesn't look very satisfactory, does it?
A. No, it's not satisfactory, and if the explanation I would take from Christopher Meyer, that it wasn't his area of responsibility, I would also agree that it should not have pronounced in that area. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But Sir Christopher himself was approached by the Information Commissioner after Motorman and didn't disabuse the Information Commissioner that he was acting as a regulator.
A. As I said earlier I mean, look, I LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right.
A. I'm no great expert on the PCC, but as I said afterwards, it seems to me, in fairness, the point has to stand that if the PCC did not have an investigatory function, it can't be accused of not having conducted an investigation. But likewise, it shouldn't have pronounced on an investigation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Of course.
A. I will entirely concede that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And if they were set up in response to Calcutt, which was concerned about all sorts of things, and it wasn't doing what it was thought that it was doing, then there's something wrong there.
A. Well, I mean, Calcutt didn't really go anywhere very much, did it? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, because the government accepted
A. But that was really pursuing the privacy law. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not just that. The Press Complaints Commission was thought to be doing a sufficient job. If I give you another example, do you think that it's appropriate I'm not having a go at you, Mr Boulton. I'm really not. What I'm really doing is testing whether you are, as it were, recycling Sir Christopher's view or whether this is an independent freestanding view. Let me give you one other example. There has been much evidence, which I mentioned this morning to Lord Wakeham, about the decision that unless you are yourself the subject of the complaint, no complaint will be considered. So if there is a general complaint that, for example, Muslims are being unfairly treated in an article, the Press Complaints Commission won't even think about whether that's right unless you are a Muslim who is named in the article and about whom complaint can be made. Or other groups.
A. Yes. Look, perhaps I would agree I would concede I was overstating it in LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right.
A. in the lecture, and I was overstating it for effect, partly because, you know, it's become a truism that the Press Complaints Commission had "failed". I agree it didn't do some things. I agree it was I do I was recycling what Christopher Meyer said to a certain extent, but I would have to say, in the case of Lord Wakeham or indeed I think he's now Lord Black or indeed those people I know involved in the running of newspapers and in the writing of newspapers, the notion that the Press Complaints Commission it was a complete straw man and nobody cared about the Press Complaints Commission and it was treated with contempt was not true. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I have never quite said that. You've redefined the question, and if you redefine it in your words, I might not disagree with you. I truly am not trying to take easy pot shots at you.
A. Yeah, no, I don't imagine LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But had there been something else, then I would have wanted to explore it because I want to be fair to them too.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I've understood the position.
A. That's basically the position I take, and I think the reason why I was trying to make it is that although and again, I'm not an expert on this I can see the need for a statutory basis, I can see the need possibly to bring in people from outside of the industry and there is the problem of getting everyone to comply with it, I don't see self-regulation or as a first step, as being something which should automatically be thrown aside because "the Press Complaints Commission failed". It made mistakes, got things wrong, couldn't do things, but it may be a model that could be built on. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Let's say that we would agree that independent regulation, independent of government
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON is absolutely critical.
A. Yes, I think we both agree on that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. Mr Boulton, thank you very much indeed.
A. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry to have kept you waiting at the beginning of the afternoon.
A. That's all right. It's interesting. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right, 10 o'clock. (4.43 pm) (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)


Gave a statement at the hearing on 15 May 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 8 pieces of evidence


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