Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
28 APRIL 2009
Q660 Chairman: Well the Daily
Sport I believe.
Mr Hill: You cannot blame me for
what other people do.
Q661 Chairman: No, but it is the
same attitude. We will put in a story which is going to sell newspapers
because it looks interesting but it does not matter too much if
it is not supported by the facts.
Mr Hill: No, that is not the case.
No, that is not what I do. I am just not that kind of person.
I do not do that.
Q662 Mr Hall: I am sure you are keen
to get off the McCann case.
Mr Hill: Whatever. I am here to
tell you the truth and that is it.
Q663 Mr Hall: I want to explore the
concept of responsible journalism but, just to satisfy my curiosity,
how has the Daily Express handled the McCann story since
you settled with them in court. Do you still give them the same
kind of coverage or do you not report them any more?
Mr Hill: Nothing has happened;
nothing has happened since. The whole point about this is that
what it is all about is what happened to Madeleine. Is it possible
to find Madeleine or is it possible to get to what might have
happened to Madeleine? As far as I know nothing whatever has happened
to help anybody to get to that truth. There have been no stories,
there has been nothing. There has been no real development in
this case for a long time.
Q664 Mr Hall: So the Daily Express
has not published anything about this story for quite some time.
Mr Hill: A little, a very little,
but I think you could say that about all the other newspapers.
Q665 Mr Hall: We are coming to the
two-year anniversary, are we not, of the disappearance?
Mr Hill: Yes. I am sure we shall
do something on that and if anybody can suggest a way in which
I can help find Madeleine or find what happened, I am very willing
to listen because we would still like to do that.
Q666 Mr Hall: May I change track
now on to responsible journalism? We have the Reynolds
judgment, improved by the Jameel judgment. We have written
evidence now from the National Union of Journalists that they
do not have much confidence now in this kind of defence in court
because it is having to be tested in court and there is a cost
there. On the other side of the story this is being undermined
because of what we call celebrity journalism and inability to
verify facts. What is your opinion about actually putting this
onto a more statutory basis to bring back confidence in the responsible
Mr Hill: I think that these cases
that you are talking about apply to matters which are deemed to
be in the public interest. First of all, who is going to decide
what is a matter in the public interest? That could well be a
very borderline issue as to whether a matter is in the public
interest. Some things are clearly in the public interest and some
things are not clearly but might possibly be. It is a pretty shaky
kind of defence to rely on and I would not have thought that it
was very helpful in many cases at all. The fact of the matter
is that you have firms of solicitors now who go to agents of celebrities
whose sole object is to run up enormous costs so that they can
keep their companies going and celebrities who want to manipulate
people's opinion of them and in many ways create a fake opinion
of them. Those things would never fall into the realm of the public
interest. It is a pretty odd sort of situation out there.
Q667 Mr Hall: If I understand what
you are saying, you are saying it is difficult to define what
the public interest is.
Mr Hill: I would have thought
it was very difficult; not in every case of course.
Q668 Mr Hall: Therefore it would
be difficult to put that on a statutory basis in terms of providing
journalists with their defence?
Mr Hill: Yes, it would be very
difficult; it would be very difficult to interpret. You can see
that interpretation of the law is very problematic for newspapers.
We have one or two judges now who appear to be trying to introduce
a privacy law and who knows where that is going? Nobody knows.
I do not think you could make a general rule because every case
would have to be considered as though it were alone and that makes
it very difficult for newspapers to have great confidence in it
I would have thought.
Q669 Mr Hall: There is a difference
between what interests the public and what is in the public interest.
Mr Hill: Not always.
Q670 Mr Hall: But there can be. You
have already said that the McCann story was of interest to the
public but not in the public interest.
Mr Hill: Yes; I do not believe
it was a matter which could be described as "in the public
interest". I feel that "in the public interest"
are matters which affect the culture, the lives of people more
generally or perhaps in larger groups and it is very, very seldom
there is an individual case and is it not considered to be very
bad law to generalise on the basis of an individual case? It is
very difficult to know what is in the public interest sometimes.
I can see that MPs' expenses are in the public interest because
that is a general thing and it is clearly a matter of the public
interest. However, it might be quite difficult if you had something
which involved a group of people, a sect or something like that.
I do not know. Who knows?
Q671 Mr Hall: From what you have
said to us this morning, you have actually never used the responsible
journalism defence yourself.
Mr Hill: I have never had need
to. It certainly was not considered in the case of Mr and Mrs
McCann and I do not believe there have been any cases since so
I have not had to.
Q672 Rosemary McKenna: On responsible
journalism, in fairness, when the Committee interviewed Max Mosley
a few weeks ago the room was full of sketch writers and journalists
with pages and pages of copy rewritten with salacious information
and details of his case and swipes at the Committee of course;
perfectly fair. Last week we had Paul Dacre, the editor of the
Daily Mail in front of us. There was no coverage. Does
that surprise you? Would you expect to be treated similarly? Is
there an unwritten code between newspapers that everyone else
is fair game but journalists are protected?
Mr Hill: No, I do not agree with
you. I think we are all fair game. I am quite certain that there
are quite a few journalists who would like to score points at
my expense and indeed at Mr Dacre's expense. The question is whether
it is good copy. It is what you were saying before: is it interesting?
If it was not interesting enough, if editors thought it was not
going to interest the readers, they would not bother to put it
in the newspaper, that is all. I did read reports of what Mr Dacre
said on the odd media website.
Q673 Rosemary McKenna: The odd media
Mr Hill: Yes; yes.
Q674 Rosemary McKenna: Who decides
what is interesting?
Mr Hill: The editors of newspapers
and when I say "editors" I mean the people who also
carry out editorial executive functions, the people who read the
copy and decide whether it is interesting or not. There are thousands
of things which we do not put in the newspaper every day, many,
many things; there is so much stuff out there.
Q675 Rosemary McKenna: When was the
last time you wrote a story about a journalist?
Mr Hill: I cannot remember ever
Q676 Rosemary McKenna: I do not know
whether you remember reading one.
Mr Hill: That is because I cannot
remember any interesting ones.
Q677 Rosemary McKenna: So they are
Mr Hill: I did listen to what
Mr Dacre said and it was interesting to me but I cannot imagine
that it was going to be very interesting to my readers because
it was about matters to do with the technicalities of running
a newspaper and legal matters. It was not very interesting to
the general public although I do think it was in the public interest.
Q678 Rosemary McKenna: Well now,
there you are. Is it in the public interest? Who decides?
Mr Hill: On that occasion it was
in the public interest but it was not interesting to the public.
Q679 Rosemary McKenna: I want to
move on to your decision to leave the PCC. Whose decision was
it that you should leave? Did you offer to resign?
Mr Hill: I did not offer to resign.
I certainly considered resigning from the PCC after the case;
I considered it very carefully. I talked to quite a number of
people whose advice I listened to. There was a very, very strong
majority, apart from perhaps one person, who said that I should
not resign because if editors had to resign from the PCC every
time they made a mistake, there would not be any editors on the
PCC and I do believe that it is right that there should be editors
on the PCC because they are there really to offer the benefit
of their knowledge of the newspaper business and their advice.
They are not in a majority on the PCC and in any case my recollection
of my five years on the PCC was that all the editors, myself included,
carried out their duties as conscientiously as they possibly could
and did not operate in a biased way at all. I did leave the PCC
some considerable time after the settlement with the McCanns but
it was because after five years it was time for a change and I
felt it was time for a change.