Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
28 APRIL 2009
Q680 Rosemary McKenna: Does the Express
group intend to resume paying fees to the Newspaper Publishers
Association and return to the self-regulatory system?
Mr Hill: We have never not been
part of the self-regulatory system. We have always been part of
this and all the editors in our group have always subscribed to
it and continue to subscribe to it. I personally am a big supporter
of the PCC and I have never not been. The dispute you are referring
to had nothing whatever to do with the PCC.
Q681 Rosemary McKenna: No, it is
the Newspaper Publishers Association.
Mr Hill: My group's dispute was
with the Newspaper Publishers Association and it concerned a levy
they tried to impose for newspaper advertising. The board of directors
of Express Newspapers decided that in these difficult times it
was a ridiculous thing to ask for more than £300,000 for
a fairly pointless advertising campaign and the Newspaper Publishers
Association have decided that they did not want Express Newspapers
to be part of their organisation. Membership of the PCC was part
of that wider membership of the NPA and since then the board of
directors, or whoever is responsible, has been trying to sort
this out. I know in fact that the negotiations are in a very advanced
stage at the moment. What I want to say is that during all this
time the newspapers and their editors and their staff have continued
to subscribe to the PCC and to self-regulation and we have never
ever dropped out of that and have no intention of doing so. That
remains our position.
Q682 Helen Southworth: May I draw
you out a little more on that? In terms of your journalists, how
would you describe the code of conduct in relation perhaps to
their contract of employment or certainly the expectations you
had of them in terms of their professional output?
Mr Hill: We do expect our journalists
to follow the code of conduct and everybody is well aware of it.
Yes, all our journalists are aware of it.
Q683 Helen Southworth: Is it a matter
Mr Hill: No, I do not believe
it is but I do not think that is necessary. Everybody in the business
now is very well aware of the code of conduct and they are very,
very careful about it. Over recent years we have made a lot of
changes to the way newspapers operate. We are much more careful
about the exposure of children to newspaper coverage, very much
more careful. All of us are very much more careful about matters
of privacy; we are more careful. For instance, we very much changed
the way we report suicides and lots of other things on which the
code has been quite helpful and I think everybody is very well
aware of what they can and cannot do. That is not to say there
will not be mistakes because mistakes happen, but we do try to
be very careful. A lot of material in newspapers does not come
from your own people, it comes from outside, from freelancers
and people all over the place. It is often very difficult to check
it out. We simply could not operate if we had to have a board
of people whose sole job it was to check every single fact out.
We would never get the papers out; it would not be practical.
Q684 Helen Southworth: In terms of
child protection, could you describe what your expectations would
be for one of your journalists who is producing copy for you?
Mr Hill: Can you be a bit more
specific? For instance, that really more often applies to the
situation of photography. I am always very, very careful and I
have rejected many photographs of celebrities where their children
were involved and I have either not published those photographs
at all or I have obscured the faces of the children. I am always
very, very careful to make sure. It is mostly a photographic thing
really. Hardly ever is it a matter of the actual words. That is
the principal thing. I am always very careful and my picture desk
is very careful about it and we are all very aware of this thing.
Q685 Helen Southworth: May I take
you back to the code of conduct? Do you think that there are perhaps
areas the code of conduct could improve on in terms of child protection,
perhaps putting children's interests first?
Mr Hill: We do put their interests
first. I do not know that it could be improved. I think it is
Q686 Helen Southworth: So you are
quite content that the code of conduct covers all those points?
Mr Hill: I am. From my point of
view I am content because I am very, very careful and my journalists
are very careful and they know that they have to be.
Q687 Helen Southworth: We have had
quite strong evidence from other parties saying they thought it
very important that the code of conduct should be part of the
contract, that there should be a contractual relationship to enforce
the message that this was a definite expectation of the company.
Is that something you have seen?
Mr Hill: I do not think it would
do any harm. It would be quite possible that we could do that.
Q688 Helen Southworth: Is that something
you are going to be looking at?
Mr Hill: I will look at it. If
you think that I need to look at it, then yes, I will look at
it. I promise you I will look at it and I will get back to you
on that matter when I have spoken to my managing editor's office
and seen what they think of it.
Q689 Philip Davies: I would actually
like to see an American system of libel law in this country. I
do not think it is going to happen, but I would certainly approve
it and I certainly believe the freer the press the better the
democracy that we live in. To have that you would need a very
robust self-regulatory system. Would you conceive that the PCC
was undermined somewhat by the fact that it is seen as a creature
of the press itself? I do not want to come back always to the
McCanns but Gerry McCann did make the point and asked why on earth
he would complain to the PCC.
Mr Hill: Why did he not try? I
am quite sure we would have listened had he done so.
Q690 Philip Davies: I will explain
to you why he did not. He said that he looks at the PCC, he has
a complaint about the Daily Express, and who is on the
board of the PCC but the editor of the Daily Express. Do
you not think that because it is perceived as a creature of the
press that undermines people's confidence in taking a complaint
to the PCC?
Mr Hill: No, because the PCC has
taken up many matters concerning editors who were members of the
PCC many, many, many times. It has never deterred anyone. After
all that person is one editor and also, whenever there is a matter
which concerns a particular editor, that editor takes no part
whatsoever in the deliberations of the PCC on that matter and
is not even allowed to be in the room.
Q691 Philip Davies: Indeed, but perception
is everything in these things and if that is the perception people
Mr Hill: I think it is a false
Q692 Philip Davies: The other perception
that people have is that you complain to the PCC, it is neither
here nor there, water off a duck's back, get these things all
the time, let us not worry about it. The only thing which really
makes a newspaper editor sit up in this day and age is not a complaint
to the PCC; thank goodness they have gone in that direction. It
is a letter from Carter-Ruck saying they have a conditional fee
arrangement. That is the only thing which makes an editor sit
up these days, not a complaint to the PCC.
Mr Hill: I do not see it that
way myself. In fact the PCC is a far better route for most people,
albeit one that does not of course eventually produce a large
amount of damages for them. What the PCC has been very, very good
at is amicably settling disputes between people and the press.
We are not now talking about things being brushed under the carpet
or anything like that at all. I think you will find that most
complaints are resolved very, very satisfactorily by the PCC.
It has been extremely successful in that. After all, is it not
better to resolve matters amicably than to go to law and end up
with a desperate dispute which makes everybody feel a great deal
worse about the other side? The PCC is an effective body and if
people are dissatisfied with its decisions, there is also an ombudsman
who is tremendously conscientious. I have seen him in action.
I can assure you that people on the PCC do behave in a very responsible
manner. I am quite sure you would be very welcome to sit in on
their meetings. If any of you would like to go, I am sure the
PCC would welcome it. To me it is a far better way of resolving
disputes and I honestly believe that if Mr and Mrs McCann had
gone to the PCC and the PCC had discussed it, things would have
happened in a different way. In fact they chose to go down the
legal route, which is a combative route to go down. That is not
a way of resolving disputes, that is a way of fighting things.
Q693 Chairman: Are you seriously
saying that if Gerry McCann had been to the PCC and said, "We
don't like the Daily Express coverage, they keep printing
these stories which are completely untrue," you would have
Mr Hill: Yes, I would certainly
have thought very, very carefully about it. I really would, most
certainly, but it never happened.
Q694 Chairman: Gerry McCann was certainly
making it clear that he did not like the stories you were writing.
He must have complained to you.
Mr Hill: Yes, but you cannot pretend
that the Daily Express was in isolation here. The story
Q695 Rosemary McKenna: On the issue
of people going to the PCC and getting a matter resolved, would
you accept though that what it does not do is take away the original
story which may have been based on a tiny modicum of fact but
is embellished and the individual concerned does not want to rehearse
the whole story by going to court or they want to protect other
members of their family from the stories which appeared in newspapers
with a tiny bit of fact but hugely embellished. They then go to
the PCC. What kind of resolution is it that does not take it off
the original publication? That is what most of the resolutions
are, are they not? They get the newspaper to say they will not
publish any more.
Mr Hill: I would have thought
if the newspaper had made a mistake most of the resolutions would
involve the newspaper either publishing a correction or an apology.
Q696 Rosemary McKenna: But sometimes
people do not even want that because they do not want the whole
Mr Hill: What more can one do?
I do not know.
Q697 Rosemary McKenna: Stop writing
that kind of story in the first place.
Mr Hill: We cannot put the clock
back, can we?
Q698 Rosemary McKenna: Exactly and
someone's reputation is damaged.
Mr Hill: I have worked for many
newspapers and I can assure you that newspapers of all sorts
Q699 Rosemary McKenna: But it is
another example of the PCC being self-regulating and not being
able to make newspapers behave in a more responsible manner.
Mr Hill: How would you make newspapers?
I cannot make Members of Parliament behave in a responsible manner.