Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-469)|
TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2003
460. That is not what we have heard from others
and I have heard following the debate I had last week about coroners'
courts and inquests, because people do not know the system and
do not know how to get you to desist, and often it is not going
to be the apocalypse that you have suggested, the five BBC cameras,
all the others and every national newspaper, but there will be
six or seven newspapers and six or seven photographers. Do you
think this is enough publicity so that people know how to get
that to stop?
(Ms Wade) Yes. In fact, I suppose Michael Fabricant
was asking the same question, and it seems we are not doing enough
to publicise the PCC because self-regulation is working, so perhaps
we are not getting that message across because certainly you were
saying that of the people who come to you that message is completely
different. We do publish adverts in our newspapers telling people
how to complainthe PCC has a 24-hour hotline and it has
a websiteand I think what is interesting, when a PCC adjudication
is made and upheld, is the publicity attracted with every other
single newspaper covering it because it is such a humiliation.
It is such a terrible thing to happen and as Andy Coulson said
we are competitive newspapers, so I do think people know the PCC
461. But that can be a problem itself for an
individual because they do not want any more publicity which is
why they often will not present with a problem because they know
they are going to keep the story running. So I say very generally
to you that for ordinary people there is a bigger problem out
there than you or Piers Morgan know is happening.
(Ms Wade) To be fair, on ordinary people, I have 10
million readers every single day so I think I know better than
you ordinary people's perception of my newspaper, and I mean that
with respect but, as I explained earlier, I have a constant interaction
with my readers and if someone rings up the newsdesk or comes
through to the editor and says, "Quite frankly, there is
a reporter on my doorstep, I do not want to talk to you, will
you go away?", then we do. That is why I am trying to explain
to you how it is. If you have an individual case of someone whose
newspaper was on the doorstep and refused to move after being
462. But on this issue about pursuing the photo,
and I am not so naive as to assume that you could all sit down
and decide, "We only need one photo for all the newspapers
of this child"
(Ms Wade) That often happens, by the way.
463. Tell us about that.
(Ms Wade) Well, for example, at any high profile funeral
the last thing the relatives want is every single newspaper turning
up. In the recent case of Millie Dowler we were asked not to be
there so one photographer went and took the picture, and one reporter
went for the words and that was it. So unless you can tell me
an individual incident, I cannot reply to it. It is very difficult.
Chris Bryant: Yes, this is difficult,
because if I give you a story then it perpetuates the publicity
for the family concerned but on a different question
464. Before we go on, on the line you have been
taking, do you believe that within the PCC it could be useful
if you had an effective system of prior restraint? I realise that
when a newspaper is hurrying to get out an edition there are problems
when somebody gets in touch on the helpline or to the newspaper
itself and says, "You have been in touch with me, you are
completely barking up the wrong tree, would it not be a good idea
for you to stop now rather than publish it, and apologise?"
It was not to do with privacy and media intrusion but I was involved
in a situation with Amanda Platell when she had the Sunday
Express in which I was warned that she was going to splash
across her front page a grotesque lie about accusations I made
about the then Prime Minister of Israel. I spoke to her; she insisted
on doing it; and then her newspaper had to apologise because the
PCC said she was wrong. Now, if prior restraint does not work
in the sense of a member of Parliament talking directly to an
editor, what hope has an ordinary person who does not want her
or his name plastered across the press with a false acquisition,
and trying to get it right in the haste of a newspaper going to
(Ms Wade) That is difficult to answer because of the
way you put it but, just to clarify, what you are saying is that
you encountered a "publish and be damned" kind of attitude
from an editor when you went yourself, and yet you got your redress
from the PCC and they had to apologise. I cannot think of one
occasion when you would publish and be dammed. The story is either
accurate or not. Clause 1 of the PCC is accuracy; it is the most
important. I know we are here to talk about privacy but the story
is either true or not, and that is the first base in the criteria
I was talking about. Once accuracy has been established, you then
move on to all the other clauses in the code to see if they satisfy
every single criterion obviously with the public interest defence
being used where appropriate. It is difficult for me to answer,
therefore, because you are saying that prior restraint does not
work. Well, if someone rang me and said to me, "I have heard
you are running a story that I am a cross dresser and it is not
true", I would say, "Well, actually, I have a photograph
in front of me of you dressed up in a frock so it is true",
or I would say, "Really? Well, they are investigating it
but we are not ready to publish". It is very difficult to
answer that question.
(Mr Kuttner) May I make a point? It is a specific
and I will not use a name but five or six weeks ago the News
of the World was "reliably alerted" to the allegation
that a very high profile member of Parliament was on the list
of the police paedophile investigation. The newspaper made legitimate
inquiries and gathered some quite persuasive evidence and on the
Saturday evening, the evening of pre publication, I received a
telephone call from the individual member of Parliament who discussed
with me in a very open, frank, straightforward and persuasive
way the information that we had and explained why it could not
be true and why he was absolutely not involvedentirely
innocentand we welcomed that, if you like, correction or,
correction by prior restraint and nothing whatsoever was published.
So you say, Mr Chairman, that if an MP cannot stop it then who
can: well, this MP rightly stopped it, but I would like to add
that, in my experience, we have had many such telephone callswhether
from the individuals concerned, from lawyers or from the PCCto
say, "Look, we have been contacted by X; X is very unhappy
that you may be about to publish Y; Y is not true" and, as
Rebekah Wade said, short of firm evidence like the photograph
of the individual in the frock that material does not appear,
but the flipside to that is that newspapers also receive plenty
of calls from people who deny things which are (a) in the public
interest, (b) which we absolutely know to be true and (c) about
which we hold the firmest evidence, so it is always a cautious
and careful judgment call.
(Mr Coulson) I might add, particularly on Sunday papers,
that what might seem to be an intrusive or problematic story at
the first stage invariably turns out to have a clear public interestthe
kind of crime stories we publish on a regular basis, the investigations
which quite often involve ordinary people and where that ordinary
person may well take exceptionand over the course of the
three or four weeks that follow our story we may run a follow-up
and that person may well end up in court and we are very proud
of that. One reporter alone, Mazhe Mahmood, has 119 convictions,
and I suspect that some of those people who have been gaoled as
a result of our stories may well have tried to make use of that
proactive preventative measure at an early stage.
(Ms Wade) If we look at the case of Ron Davies he
denied it emphatically to The Sun, so you are talking about
prior restraint. He did call up and deny it and I did have the
photographs, and he then denied it and denied it and then said
he was "spotting badgers" and, unless that is a new
term I have not heard, he genuinely meant he was spotting badgers
which was ludicrous so that kind of prior restraint that wouldn't
have worked in that case, although I know we are talking about
ordinary people and Ron Davies certainly is not ordinary.
465. I am not going to go down that route!
(Ms Wade) The badger route? I am very glad!
466. The issue of how you set about getting
information is also, of course, a matter of importance. There
have been a series of stories over the last couple of years suggesting
that The Sun, The Mirror, The Express,
the News of the World, use private detectives, pay people
to provide them with information which they should not legally
have, pay the police to make sure they know things before they
are rightfully public. In the case of Sarah Payne, The Sun,
The Mirror and The Express all paid £5,000
to somebody to steal sensitive documents and sell them in their
newspaper. Do either of your newspapers ever use private detectives,
ever bug or pay the police?
(Ms Wade) On the first question what you are talking
about is public interest, and especially when I was editor of
the News of the World, and obviously I have only been editor
of The Sun for a short time but I am sure it will come
up, emotive words like "subterfuge" and "entrapment"
are used in the case especially of News of the World investigations.
All those things you have mentioned like private detectives and
listening devices and so on come under those two umbrellas. If
I give you one example, and we are talking about ordinary people
here and I will keep it to that in the context of the Committee,
on a council estate in Birmingham there was a woman that had four
daughters all under the age of 16, and we were told she was selling
her daughters to local, if you like, paedophiles, because they
were well under the age of 16, as I explained, so we were called
to look at this story and we did not know whether it was true
or not. If you can imagine how many stories come to the News
of the World day in day out, every single one has to be true,
so to prove that story we used a listening device. We sent somebody
in who had a listening device on them, and the woman who was selling
her daughters did not know that. The reporter came out, rang me
and said, "This story is true. It is absolutely horrendous
and I have not seen anything like it". It was a Tuesday afternoon;
we immediately called the police; we got her arrested; we got
the children protected; all the agencies were called in; and the
thought of even publishing that story did not come into our headsthis
was a Tuesday, and it was the News of the World. The fact
is that subterfuge was used, the man got in contact with the woman
on the estate and said he had been put in touch by a local paedophile
and he heard that he had his daughters toothat was subterfuge.
He is a reporter but he did not declare he was a reporter. He
needed to get into the house and the listening device was then
used, and sometimes that is necessary. So to answer your question,
yes, but if you want me to sit here and go through all of the
situations where that happens, it would be ridiculous. The most
important thing is that it is only ever used in the public interest
in the sense of what that means.
467. And on the element of whether you ever
pay the police for information?
(Ms Wade) We have paid the police for information
in the past.
468. And will you do it in the future?
(Ms Wade) It depends
(Mr Coulson) We operate within the code and within
the law and if there is a clear public interest then we will.
The same holds for private detectives, subterfuge, a video bagwhatever
you want to talk about.
469. It is illegal for police officers to receive
(Mr Coulson) No. I just said, within the law.
Chairman: Chris, you have your answer.
Thank you very much. We are grateful for your evidence and the
courtesy with which you have given your responses.