Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
28 APRIL 2009
Q700 Rosemary McKenna: Yes, but the
whole world knows about it, does it not?
Mr Hill: I wonder whether it does.
Q701 Rosemary McKenna: If you have
anything to do with it they certainly will.
Mr Hill: There are many things
we do not know about but I would like to find out.
Q702 Paul Farrelly: I am listening
very carefully to you saying that the PCC is the best route, that
people should have confidence in its procedures, that you take
note of the PCC. At the same time your newspapers are not subscribing
to it. Is that not a ludicrous position to be in?
Mr Hill: It is only a temporary
thing. You have to understand that this dispute is nothing whatever
to do with the PCC; it is nothing whatever to do with it. It is
a dispute with the Newspaper Publishers Association and we are
trying to find a way of not being part of the Newspaper Publishers
Association yet still making our contribution towards the running
costs of the PCC. We will resolve that matter and we will resume.
We have written to the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof)
which is the financial arm and we have said that we want to resume
these payments as soon as we can. Yes, there is a dispute over
some part of it. I cannot settle that myself; I am not the person
who deals with that. I have recommended very, very strongly that
we resolve this as soon as we possibly can, but I cannot do any
more than that. I promise you that it will be resolved.
Q703 Alan Keen: When Rosemary McKenna
asked you whether you thought the PCC was a good route and if
the McCanns had used it that it would have been effective, presumably
what the McCanns would have said to you was, "Mr Hill, you
have no proof that we killed our child. We didn't kill our child".
Then you said "If the PCC had been approached [ ... ]"
but you did not actually say you would stop doing it you said
you would give it a good bit of thought. That is not a lot of
comfort for somebody who is accused of killing their own child,
Mr Hill: I was not making these
allegations. I repeated the allegations: I was not making them.
The allegations were made by the Portuguese police who appeared
to be very confident of the rightness of what they were saying
but of course it turned out to be nonsense. How was I to know
that? It was a reputable police force of a civilised reputable
country. I did not know that they were behaving like some tin-pot
Ruritanian idiots. How would I know that?
Q704 Alan Keen: I do not read the
Mr Hill: That is a shame; you
Q705 Alan Keen: I do not read most
newspapers so I cannot recall. You have a vivid recollection.
Mr Hill: As a Member of Parliament
you ought to read all the newspapers.
Q706 Alan Keen: I am sure you have
a vivid recollection of the headlines. Did you make any attempt,
when you were trying to sell more newspapers, to mislead the public
into thinking the McCanns had killed their child?
Mr Hill: No, of course not.
Q707 Alan Keen: What headlines did
Mr Hill: I cannot remember. I
have used lots of headlines. No, I do not think we ever said that
the McCanns had killed their child.
Q708 Alan Keen: Did you make any
attempt to get people to buy papers by believing that you were
saying they had killed their child?
Mr Hill: No; no. People will believe
what they believe. People had all kinds of opinions about this
Q709 Alan Keen: On the question of
headlines, this is a serious issue which has arisen during this
inquiry and you have complained about the pressure of libel threats
and freedom of the press. Would you agree that one way in which
newspapers do mislead the public is by putting a headline on the
front page? I understand it has to be brief and you cannot put
47 words on the front page but do you not agree that newspapers
do mislead the public by headlines followed by a first couple
Mr Hill: It can happen, yes of
Q710 Alan Keen: It is not really
recognised. Do you think that misleading people in order to sell
more newspapers by the headline and the first couple of paragraphs,
corrected or some doubt put in right at the end in one little
Mr Hill: No, no; we do try to
qualify the headlines. Often you will find that there is a big
headline and a smaller headline which does qualify it because
it is what you said in the first place; if you only have a few
letters to write your headline you do try to qualify the headlines
all the time with sub-headings. We do try, yes, of course.
Q711 Alan Keen: What I am asking
really and I do not suppose you will agree because you do not
want to be attacked by the libel lawyers, but even if it is accepted
that you do not do it on purpose, the public are seriously misled
by headlines and the introductory part of articles. Do you not
think, to be fair to people who have been libelled, that should
go into the law to make it even tougher for newspapers?
Mr Hill: Believe me, the libel
laws are concerned with the headlines just as much as the text.
If you write headlines which are libellous, then you can be sued
because of the headline. If the headline says something that the
copy below it does not say, you can be equally be sued for libel
and quite rightly so. I am not disputing it.
Q712 Alan Keen: That is not what
I understand by it.
Mr Hill: I believe of course you
can be sued for libel because of headlines which you write. Yes,
you can be sued for headlines.
Q713 Alan Keen: What I do recall,
because I can recall some of the Express headlines by seeing
them on What the Papers Say on TV and you have mentioned
the BBC. I am one of the biggest supporters of the BBC and I would
have been down to see the chairman straightaway if the BBC headline
on the Ten O'clock News said "McCanns killed their
Mr Hill: I did not write a headline
saying the McCanns killed their own child that I can recall.
Q714 Alan Keen: You cannot recall.
Mr Hill: I am sure I did not;
I did not write that headline. The BBC repeated all the allegations,
of course they did, and a Panorama programme repeated every
Q715 Alan Keen: I am really asking
a specific question about the headlines.
Mr Hill: I appreciate that headlines
can be a problem. They are difficult to write often, especially
when there are not many words and we do try to qualify them; we
Q716 Alan Keen: I am happy that you
accept that because that could well be a recommendation that we
make that that is looked at more seriously as they can be misleading.
Coming on to the state of the press today, we are all sad that
the printed press is struggling financially. We know the internet
has taken a lot of advertising and it satisfies some people who
like to see very straightforward comments, not necessarily true,
and it must take some readers away. We have taken evidence from
experienced journalists who say they feel the standard of journalism
has reduced and they use a very clever word "churnalism"
as one of the reasons why. Obviously editors can cut costs tremendously
by just repeating what other newspapers say. Do you think that
is also adding to that downward spiral? Is there anything which
can be done about it?
Mr Hill: First of all I do not
accept it. The word "churnalism" is a rubbish word and
does not have any meaning anyway. It is just a gimmicky word.
The standards of journalism have massively increased over the
years, the standards of education of the people in the business
have massively increased, the constraints on them have enormously
increased. The newspapers used to be like a frontier many, many
years ago. It is nothing like that now and I would strongly dispute
that the standards have fallen. I believe that the standards have
massively improved. I think the people working for newspapers
have far more knowledge; they take far more care and put in far
more effort. They look into their stories far more than they used
to. I totally dispute the idea that newspaper standards are diminishing;
they are not diminishing.
Q717 Alan Keen: You have just rejected
the word "churnalism" yet almost all the answers you
have given this morning about the McCanns have been that it said
it in this paper, it said it on the news, it said it here so all
you did was repeat it. That is "churnalism" is it not?
Mr Hill: No, I did not say that.
I said that all the newspapers and all the television stations
repeated the allegations that were being leaked by the Portuguese
police. That is what I said. I did not say they were lifting one
from the other. That is what I said.
Q718 Chairman: You became editor
of the Daily Express about six years ago.
Mr Hill: Yes; five and a half.
Q719 Chairman: How many journalists
were employed by the Express when you became editor?
Mr Hill: A very similar number
to the number employed now.