Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)|
TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2003
420. I am going to upset the Chairman again
but if you go to the Matthew Kelly issue, some tabloid screamed
"Not quite guilty" but nevertheless screamed the headlines,
and when he was not guilty at all they then screamed "Not
guilty". It is quite hard to take and I have some sympathy
for Matthew and his familyas much for Matthew's family
actually. Where is the balance? The previous editor said he weighs
it up but there does not seem to be much of that going on.
(Ms Wade) I think the police arrested a well-known
TV star in the middle of his panto, in front of the public. What
are we supposed to do? It was perfectly reasonable to report the
(Mr Coulson) Also, in that particular case, the news
broke on television first.
421. I am sorry that we cannot name them because
they have asked us not to but some of the groups of people have
written to us and also come to give evidence in camera, and to
say they were bitter is an under-statement: they were not only
bitter but they were angry, upset and distressed because they
could get no redress. What should they be able to do? They have
not got the money to go to court; they cannot take the system
or you to court, they do not have that resource. What should they
be allowed to do, given that the PCC let them down, in their terms?
(Mr Coulson) Is that directed at me?
Mr Wyatt: Anyone.
422. Can I make it clear that when questions
are put, if any one of the four witnesses feels that she or he
would like to answer, they would be very welcome to do so.
(Ms Wade) Perhaps it would be easier if you direct
the question depending on which newspaper you are talking about,
or is it a general question?
423. Generally. They were distressed, angry
(Ms Wade) Who?
424. The people that came to see us, the ordinary
(Ms Wade) And they were distressed about their treatment
425. The way the PCC treated them, the way the
case went on and on, the fact that it was made worse, actually,
by the PCC. They are asking us to say "This cannot go on"
so I am saying to you that these are ordinary people who have
written to us and we have interviewed them; they are distressed
by the current system; you all seem so thrilled with it, so there
are some dilemmas here.
(Ms Wade) I think we are very proud of the PCC definitely
and self-regulation. I would not particularly use the word "thrilled".
We are very proud of it and the way it has changed our industry
over the last 10 years. Self-regulation is working and I think
what Piers Morgan was talking about, in his own way, was that
a lot of the language that has been used here by previous witnesses
and not by the Committee has been quite aggressive towards the
press, and you have generalised. I think Rosemary McKenna said
in front of one of the witnesses quite blatantly, "Well,
we all know that press standards have deteriorated over the last
10 years", and that is a blatant lie. So you can understand
that we are here to tell you that that is wrong and that the PCC
and self-regulation has changed the culture in every single newsroom
in the landnot just in Fleet Street but every regional
newspaper tooso when you tell me about these people who
have been to see you and that they have not received the right
treatment from the PCC we have to say that they are very much
in the minority, and the majority of people who go to the Press
Complaints Commission are ordinary people and receive a first
class service from Guy Black and his team. The lay members are
very distinguished ladies and gentlemen; Guy Black and his secretariat
are the finest that you can find, and we have a great system,
so forgive us for promoting it but that is the truth.
(Mr Coulson) The only thing I would add is, there
are always going to be occasions where people are dissatisfied
and that is the case in law. That is human nature and I do not
know how we are going to guarantee that everybody who has a complaint
against the newspaper is going to walk away satisfied. What the
PCC gives them, however, is the perfect platform for their problem
to be investigated, and when we are wrong we correct it.
(Mr Crone) Mr Wyatt just said there is no redress
in law and that is just wrong. There is redress.
426. No. They do not have the wherewithal to
(Mr Crone) Listen, if you are talking about harassment,
which I think you are, the correction of harassment lies in the
protection from Harassment Act for which there is legal aid.
427. As they said to us, it makes it worse for
them to go through that.
(Mr Crone) I am just picking up on that one small
point. It does not cost them a penny, if you are talking about
(Mr Kuttner) By virtue of my age and experience in
Fleet Street, as must be obvious, I have been around quite a long
time from local papers up to national papers and throughout the
media, and when I came into the business it was almost entirely
unregulated. Journalists would go to the home of perhaps a bereaved
person, would see a photograph of somebody on the mantlepiece
and think "We can use this in the paper" and help themselves,
they would climb over back walls into people's gardens, they would
go into hospitals wearing white coats and pretend to be doctors
to get interviews, and much else besides, and through a process
of the long disbanded and somewhat discredited Press Council,
through Calcutt 1 and Calcutt 2, through your own former hearings
and through, as my colleagues have said, the establishment of
the PCC, the climate, the environment, and the working practices
have changed beyond recognition. So far as our newspaper is concerned,
no article or photograph goes in the newspaper these days where
there may be an argument about it being contentious or an invasion
of privacy or anything of the kind without the most thorough internal
debate in the office involving almost invariably the editor and
heads of department and others. I understand the purpose and thrust
of your work but I would say that we are living in a different
age and in an industry that bears no relation to its previous
428. Could I follow up a question that Derek
Wyatt, has put and also something that Rosemary McKenna said when
she was questioning Piers Morgan, and I apologise for the fact
that she and John Thurso have had to leave but there are Scottish
Office questions at the moment and we do now have this terrible
conflict of different things going on. Some forms of self-regulation
impose penalties. The FA, for example, through its own system
of self-regulation, can fine and does fine players if it decides
that they transgress. The BMA can strike a doctor off if they
decide the doctor has transgressed. Rosemary McKenna spoke about
people who, even when they had gone through the whole process
and perhaps been successful in the process, still feel aggrieved.
Do you believe that it might be useful if the PCC could order
compensation to be paid to someone whose complaint was upheld
and who had been severely affected? Do you believe it might be
a useful idea to fine a newspaper which has transgressed the PCC
codeI am not saying the Government or Ofcom or anything,
but the PCC itself
(Ms Wade) I disagree with fines, for two different
reasons. Firstly, if you introduce fines or compensation you are
introducing or turning the PCC into a semi judicial body. By the
very nature of financial compensation being involved there will
be lawyers. The fact is that the PCC and self-regulation is the
perfect solution for ordinary people, which is what we are talking
about here. If people want to pursue financial compensation for
what has been written about they can pursue newspapers through
the courts, and as you know apart from libel laws there is now
Article 8 and lots of areas in which people can do pursue us through
the courts and be awarded, as you say, a fine, but I do not think
it would work in the PCC. The fact that it is quick, fast, free,
easy to use and efficient is perfect for ordinary people.
(Mr Coulson) I would add that you perhaps under-estimate
the kind of humiliation that comes with the PCC adjudication.
The News of the World has had some in the past and has
been very quick to publish those in the right way, not least on
our front page, and I think that the power of that kind of humiliation
in what is a very competitive market, especially in the Sunday
newspaper market, carries an enormous amount of weight and far
more significance than a fine. I would also refer back to the
earlier point that you are not going to please everybody, and
if you think that by giving them a cheque at the end of it they
are going to feel slightly less aggrieved, I just don't see how
that makes any difference.
429. The problem with libel law is you have
to be rich to use it. Mr Peck, to whom we referred, is not able
to use libel and sometimes it is not libel when there is grievous
media intrusion, and when libel law is used it is very hit and
miss. Jeffrey Archer won a libel action. When I went on the Daily
Mirror, Liberace sued Cassandra and won his libel action for
implications which later turned out to be absolutely true, so
it is very hit and miss. On the other hand, do you not think,
taking into account the massive resources of many newspapers including
your group, that compensation being paid to somebody whom the
PCC has found had a justified complaintand I do not mean
in every case by every manner of means but in certain appropriate
caseswould be a useful thing to do?
(Ms Wade) No. I think it works as it is. As Andy Coulson
just pointed out, the threat of a complaint being upheld by the
PCC is what terrifies editorsnot particularly a financial
sanction; it is the actual adjudication. More importantly, the
reason it is not about fines is that self-regulation is not just
about an adjudication but it is raising press standards, and that
is what the PCC has done, and the last 10 years have seen those
press standards steadily become higher and higher and higher.
We are not saying the PCC is perfect; we are saying while we are
here today you will make recommendations but all the time we are
evolving the PCC. Someone made the point of why editors should
be on the PCC. The fact is the lay members outweigh the editors
in the interests of fairness, but what happens is that as a group
we spend a lot of time evolving the code. There have been 31 changes
to the code since its inception and when a big case happens, not
just for the royal family or a celebrity case but a big case,
then for example clause 4, the harassment clause, has been one
of the most effective ways of withdrawing journalists from an
aggrieved situation. For example, in the Soham murder case in
the summer this year the PCC were contacted and immediately the
entire press withdrew from the village in one phonecall. Unfortunately
the broadcasters and the BBC and ITV and all the news channels
stayed because the PCC has no jurisdiction over them, but the
press moved and that was an effective way of clause 4 working,
and that has been evolved over the last 10 years and now is pretty
efficient in controlling the press.
430. I think we accept, at least I do, that
there have been massive improvements over the past 10 years and
I think Mr Kuttner's evidence earlier was quite compelling and
ties in with the evidence we have seen, but the simple fact is
that if the regulation system which the press has created for
itself is operated by lawyers, dentists, doctors and teachers
you would be attacking it every day in the newspapers because
it would be seen to be inadequate. So why should the press not
be regulated in a similar way?
(Ms Wade) I think we are regulated effectively. I
am sorry because I am repeating myself and I do not mean to, but
I think the PCC works. Piers Morgan referred earlier to the constant
discussions, and as you heard from Stuart Kuttner, and he will
forgive me for mentioning the generation gap between us, but I
do not recognise that picture that Stuart portrays. Because of
my age, in the time that I have been in newspapers I have always
been aware of primarily the Press Council but certainly the PCC
and the way in which I was a reporter, and stealing photographs
off people's mantlepieces I find quite shocking but I am sure
it did go on. We have all read the great hospital case about Gordon
Kay which was appalling and you would not even dream of doing
it now, so all I can say from starting off as a reporter to becoming
the editor of The Sun is that all I have seen is constant
improvement. Forgive me for repeating myself but it works.
431. I think we accept that and I have said
it several times in today's hearing, but do you accept that we
have a situation where the very rich can go to court because they
can afford it, and there are some ordinary people who can afford
to go to court, but the vast mass of people cannot afford it,
so all they have is the Press Complaints Commission. Some people
will be happy because they will get a quick adjudication, the
case will be dealt with, and they will be satisfied with the findings
of the PCC, but somewhere in the middle there will be substantial
numbers of people who may have an actionable case but cannot afford
a lawyer and have no legal aid, and the result is disgruntlement?
(Ms Wade) I do accept what you are saying. You asked
Piers earlier to describe "ordinary people", or you
wanted to define "ordinary people" and for me ordinary
people are my readers. The point is that, if the readers are unhappy
with my newspaper, by the time I get into the office in the morning
the phones are ringing. Tabloid readers out of all the newspapers
are very keen to put their point of view across on today's paper;
they e-mail us, they call us and send in letters. We have a great
relationship with our readers, we interact with them all the time,
and if we do something wrong they tell us, and it is absolutely
in our interests to care about their issuesand we solve
them. It does not just mean the people that go to the PCC: we
are solving disputes with our readers all the time. Often they
are about the matter of taste. The fact is the recent time that
the news desk just went into meltdown was because we said Gary
Neville, who is a football player, was ugly, and the entire office
I thought was going to close down on the back of it! On the other
hand, when people have genuine errors, we take that quite seriously.
They are our readers and our paymasters, the most important people
to us. If we are sitting here talking about celebrities then maybe
we would have a debate but we obviously think the PCC works because
it works for ordinary people and it works for our readers.
432. I want to come to you, Mr Coulson, on another
issue. In your letter to us you mention, "It is our experience
that people, as described in the committee's document of 19 December
as `people not generally "in public life" who nonetheless
have found themselves to be the focus of media attention for one
reason or another' have got into this situation through their
own actions or those of people close to them", which is basically
saying it is their own fault?
(Mr Coulson) Not at all. I think I also made clear
that are exceptions to that.
433. Let me move on because one of the pieces
of evidence concerning me is a letter we got from the Police Training
College in Tulliallan in Scotland, and they raise the significant
issue of the officers who are now specially trained in counselling
to be attached to victims of crime.
(Ms Wade) Family liaison officers?
434. Yes, and they raised what for me was quite
a disturbing issue which is that the press is now moving on from
their concern solely with the victims, and we have seen some pretty
graphic examples of that recently, to what this officer describes
as the "developing trend for the Family Liaison Officer to
be targeted by the press during the investigation. Reports have
been made of officers being followed and photographed and their
families being compared to those of the victims . . . Officers
are less likely to volunteer for the role or their welfare could
suffer if the press targets them and their family". Now,
that strikes me as a fairly disturbing trend in what you say is
the new ethical world of the press.
(Mr Coulson) I am not aware of any incidents and you
will tell me if that is specific to the News of the World.
435. There is no specific case. This is a trend
which the Police Training College in Scotland has recognised it
has to deal with, and I imagine that the Police Training College
here in England is no different.
(Mr Coulson) I can talk about the relationship between
the News of the World and family liaison officers and in
the main it has been entirely productive, and I can talk about
obviously the link with the "for Sarah" campaign, but
in terms of family liaison officers the only other story we have
focused on is the situation in Soham, and it was quite clear what
the problem with the family liaison officer there wasand
I am not trying to be facetious. Other than that I would say that
our relationship with family liaison officers has been entirely
productive but if you have something to the contrary I would be
very interested to hear it, and I would take it on board.
436. I have no practical experience, I am just
presenting this to you as part of the evidence we have received.
(Ms Wade) I have to agree with Andy, the picture you
are painting or the letter you are reading out is completely at
odds with the News of the World when I was there and The
Sun and what I believe our relationship is with family liaison
officers, but if you want us to look into that and give you a
written submission we would be happy to do so.
(Mr Coulson) I am surprised because our relationship
with family liaison officers is getting better and better. In
the Milly Dowler case we worked very closely. Quite often they
are the main point of contact for us and they serve as a very
useful device to warn against harassment for the families when
they feel we have had enough, and we are always very quick to
move away when we are asked.
(Mr Crone) Has the letterwriter not given any examples
437. No. He has simply said this is a growing
trend and one they are having to take into account in their training
(Ms Wade) We will look into it when we get back.
438. I was interested in Mr Coulson when he
said he put one of his apologies on the front page. Could you
tell us what that was and why you did it?
(Mr Coulson) Piers might not thank me for telling
you. There are three other full page apologies which I can show
youGary Glitter, Clare Short, and one other.
439. Do you have a policy of putting apologies
on the front page, or is it voluntary?
(Mr Coulson) We put our apologies. It is always agreed
in advance and, to the best of my knowledge, we have never had
a complaint as to where we have put an apology.
(Mr Crone) Perhaps I could comment because I tend
to deal with this. The apology is not always a front page, I agree,
but otherwise the apology goes no later than the page on which
the original story appeared.