Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents


Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 720-739)

MR PETER HILL

28 APRIL 2009

  Q720  Chairman: There has not been a decline in the number of journalists.

  Mr Hill: Yes, there has been a small reduction in the number of journalists but we have had to make economies because of the economic situation. All newspapers are having to make these economies.

  Q721  Chairman: The figures I have seen suggest that there has been a massive decline in numbers.

  Mr Hill: What figures have you seen?

  Q722  Chairman: I would have to find the articles again but there were several articles written in places like UK Press Gazette and other media publications.

  Mr Hill: What has happened to UK Press Gazette?

  Q723  Chairman: Indeed.

  Mr Hill: It is not even there any more. There has not been a massive reduction; there has been a reduction but there has not been a massive reduction.

  Q724  Chairman: It was also alleged that a lot of the journalists now working for the Express are just out of university and earning far less than their predecessors. One example was given.

  Mr Hill: That again really is a deliberate misinterpretation of the system. I value very, very highly the graduate trainee scheme which we have at the Daily Express. Every year we take on three or four people from university, the most promising people, and we train them up as journalists. How can that possibly be a wrong thing to do. We do not rely on those people by any means. We have an excellent staff of very, very experienced journalists. It has been a matter of enormous pride to me that I have furthered the careers of many, many young people, very promising young people who have gone on to become extremely able journalists and who have gone on to excellent careers in journalism because I am keen on the graduate training scheme. In my opinion it is a laudable thing, it is an excellent thing for these young people to be able to work in the newspaper. Furthermore, I also am always very willing to give work experience to people who show an interest in journalism. Part of my job is to further this business and the way to further this business is to get new people, new blood into it and that is the right way to do it. We do not rely on untrained people; certainly not.

  Q725  Chairman: Your support for graduate trainees is admirable. When Richard Desmond became proprietor he said that this was the beginning of a new era for the Daily Express, that you were going to take on the Mail that there would be investment and that at last there was proper competition in the middle market. What has happened since then?

  Mr Hill: We are taking on the Daily Mail. At the moment we are spending an enormous amount of money—an enormous amount of money—to get the newspaper into the hands of more people by giving people the opportunity to buy the paper at a reduced rate if they wish and many people have opted for those vouchers and it has been very, very helpful to many of our readers during the recession. Yes, of course. We decided we would go about things in a different way. We decided that we would get rid of all the spurious copies that other newspapers rely on. We do not have bulks. We do not give the newspaper away. We do not put the newspaper on airline seats for nothing. It is a ridiculous thing to do. We do not dump hundreds of thousands of copies abroad because the system allows you to count every copy as a sale whether it is sold or not with those foreign supplies. We do not do any of that. We decided we would stop all of that and we decided that our sales would be completely honest and transparent and I can assure you that is what we do. We do not rely on giving away DVDs with every copy of the newspaper. We want people to buy the newspaper for the newspaper and that has been our policy.

  Q726  Chairman: Your circulation has fallen whilst the Daily Mail's has steadily risen to the extent that it is now outselling you by about three times.

  Mr Hill: That is before my time but I think you will find that at the moment that is not the case. I think you will find that the Daily Mail's circulation, in common with many other newspapers, is falling quite alarmingly, whereas the Daily Express's circulation is not. In fact the Daily Star's circulation is increasing because they again have adopted a different policy.

  Q727  Paul Farrelly: I think I am right in saying that when you were the editor of the Daily Star its circulation increased over five years by about one third.

  Mr Hill: I think at one point it doubled.

  Q728  Paul Farrelly: Since the month you took over as editor of the Daily Express, how has its circulation fared?

  Mr Hill: I think it is pretty good at the moment.

  Q729  Paul Farrelly: What was the monthly circulation when you took over?

  Mr Hill: I only work by the day. I honestly do not know. I would have to find out but I think it is not dissimilar at the moment.

  Q730  Paul Farrelly: To the current circulation.

  Mr Hill: I think it might well be about the same; it might well be.

  Q731  Rosemary McKenna: Earlier on you did say that you thought it was right to print stories which were personal stories about people in which the public had an interest. What is the difference between stories in which the public are interested and stories which are in the public interest?

  Mr Hill: I have tried to sort of define the stories which I think are in the public interest and those are matters which affect the public at large or significant groups of the public or the people who set themselves up as arbiters of public morals or of the laws or whatever it might be, people like judges, Members of Parliament and so on and so forth, public servants, their conduct and so on, people who are accountable to the public, people who are paid by the public. I would say those are matters of public interest. Matters of interest to the public are almost anything you can think of at all. It could be matters of simple gossip. I am quite sure that the Westminster village, as it is called, is a hotbed of gossip—I know it is and you know it is—because the whole of life is about the interaction of people in one way or another. Politics is about the interaction of people and everything. Anything that develops from the interaction of people, in my view could be interesting to the public.

  Q732  Rosemary McKenna: Apart from exposing public interest, put that to one side, what about people who are not necessarily hugely in the public eye but you decide are of interest to the public. Would you agree with the suggestion that they ought to have prior notification if you are going to print a story, the newspapers are going to print a story which could be damaging?

  Mr Hill: No, they should not have prior notification because it is quite possible for someone given prior notification of something that might be damaging to them to prevent its publication by seeking an injunction. This might well be granted because the judge would not know one way or the other whether it was justified or not and then, because of the time constraints, the story would be lost.

  Q733  Rosemary McKenna: Yes, but a story which is not going to be time barred, a story which is the same story whether it is three weeks later or one week later and something that could be absolutely untrue but an allegation has been made by a third party and a fabrication of a story.

  Mr Hill: In pretty much every case we do give people the opportunity to respond to something which is about to be written about them or we will go to people and say we have this.

  Q734  Rosemary McKenna: Are you sure about that?

  Mr Hill: Of course I am sure about it; yes. They might have a complete answer to it. There is the odd story—and I think you are referring to the Max Mosley story—

  Q735  Rosemary McKenna: No, no, I am not.

  Mr Hill: — where I think it would not be possible to do that because it would have ended up as an injunction and somehow the story would be lost.

  Q736  Chairman: It would only end up as an injunction if it was decided that the chances were the story was in breach of the law.

  Mr Hill: That it might be in breach of the law; it might possibly be in breach of the law, yes. I can assure you that injunctions are granted on very flimsy grounds often, not always, but by judges who are not necessarily highly qualified in that area. People are deputed to stand in as locums almost in that respect. Someone can go to them and they do not have real knowledge of what they are dealing with.

  Rosemary McKenna: But they do know the law.

  Q737  Chairman: Actually the complaint from most of your industry is that the same judge appears to handle every single case that ever comes up and so presumably has a very good knowledge.

  Mr Hill: You are talking about the privacy cases; we are not talking about your Saturday night injunction. That can be anyone at all. You are talking about a particular person who is trying, in some people's opinion, to establish a privacy law all on his own.

  Q738  Rosemary McKenna: Would it be safer to protect people?

  Mr Hill: It is not practical; it is just not practical to do this.

  Q739  Rosemary McKenna: So it is okay to rubbish someone's reputation whether it is true or not.

  Mr Hill: No, it is not because we have the most Draconian libel laws in this country and if you do that and it is not true, you are going to get sued. Not only that, you are going to get your Carter-Rucks on the case instantaneously because they have lookouts looking out for this at all times. We do not operate in a situation of impunity. The newspapers in this country have enormous constraints.



 
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