Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
5 MAY 2009
Q800 Chairman: But there are lots
of stories you run which do have those consequences, that marriages
end and careers are finished. Essentially, you are setting yourself
up to decide whether or not you are going to destroy someone's
Mr Myler: No, it is not about
destroying someone's life, with respect.
Q801 Chairman: Destroying a marriage
and destroying a career.
Mr Myler: I disagree fundamentally,
Mr Chairman, with respect, because it is very easy to put the
News of the World in the stocks and say, "Isn't it
awful that the News of the World does this and the News
of the World does that?" All newspaper editors have to
make a decision. Everybody in an elected position, in your case,
has to make a decision. You hear representations from your constituents
but you ultimately have to make a call. Sometimes it is what they
want and sometimes it is not. Yes, the consequences of running
certain stories in newspapers have a catastrophic effect but it
is too easy to shoot the messenger. Yes, I think it does come
to something when the News of the World is using its editorials
and its column inches to question where the moral compass has
gone in some instances that come via the courts, that come from
judges. Is that wrong? Do we not have a right on behalf of our
readers? They have a choice. If they do not agree with what we
do, they will stop buying us. It is simple. If people do not agree
with what you do, they stop voting for you. We are accountable,
very transparently, every day of the week and every Sunday. There
are not many industries or professions where you are accountable
and made accountable so quickly.
Q802 Chairman: But you yourself said
in that specific instance you decided that this chap had made
a mistake and it was too harsh to throw away all the service he
had given to this country on the basis of a mistake.
Mr Myler: Yes.
Q803 Chairman: That is therefore
a judgement which you, as the Editor, will make on a regular basis,
basically as to whether or not to spare somebody, and that is
just part of your job, is it?
Mr Myler: I think the way of answering
that, Mr Chairman, with respect, it is to say that there is a
great deal of responsibility on an editor's shoulders each day,
and we do not always get it right, and when we do not get it right,
we have to put it right. Sometimes that can be not only very costly
but it can also be very embarrassing and it can be very humiliating.
Q804 Chairman: But the alternative
argument is that actually, rather than an editor, who is inevitably
going to be influenced by questions of newspaper sales, for instance,
it might be more appropriate to have a neutral figure who can
determine whether or not there really is a public interest, and
that neutral figure should be a judge.
Mr Myler: Why? In what way would
a judge be able to sit in neutrality to decide whether or not
a newspaper story is to be published? Notwithstanding, by the
way, that over the years, and indeed, only two years ago a trial
had to be halted when a judge asked, "Can somebody tell me
what a website is, please?"
Q805 Chairman: It is easy to make
jokes about judges.
Mr Myler: That is not a joke.
That happened. They stopped the trial. It was a trial involving
three people on internet terrorism.
Q806 Chairman: I am sure there are
bad judges just as much as there are bad editors.
Mr Myler: Absolutely. I think
it would be a sorry day indeed, quite rightlyand you cannot
sack a judge; you can sack an editorit would be a sorry
state of affairs if we got to the point where we had to go into
committee by asking judges "By the way, we have this story
[...] " That is indeed what is happening now, by the way.
That is, in a sense, exactly what is happening now.
Q807 Chairman: That is why I raised
it, because that is what is happening.
Mr Myler: I think maybe the best
way of answering that is not my words but the words of Sir Ken
MacDonald, who wrote a very interesting piece in the Times
last week, which I am sure you have seen. He said, "Britain
is a better place today than it was at a time when the common
people were not to be told that their king was sleeping with a
divorcee. Of course the public interest is not necessarily the
same thing as what the public are interested in but, as Lord Woolf,
the former Lord Chief Justice, once sagely observed, if newspapers
are routinely prevented from publishing stories that interest
the public, fewer people will buy them and that is certainly not
in the public interest."
Q808 Janet Anderson: Mr Myler, I
think you said when you were referring to the case of the MP that
you gave him three opportunities to comment. Was that before you
published the story?
Mr Myler: Yes, and indeed, in
the two weeks before the story was eventually published.
Q809 Janet Anderson: But you did
not do that with Max Mosley. In fact, you went to great lengths
to keep the story out of your first edition.
Mr Myler: Not great lengths but
we did not put it in the first edition.
Q810 Janet Anderson: Was that because
you were afraid of Mr Mosley seeking an injunction or was it just
to protect the story?
Mr Myler: Spoof stories, as they
are so called, have been around for decades. There is nothing
new in that. Great play is made that we kept the story out to
avoid it. If you do a spoof story, ostensibly it is to make sure
that your rivals do not have an opportunity of following it and
ripping it off and stealing it. We are in an incredibly difficult
place because of where privacy law is at the moment, and that
is again a judgement call about what you do and I had to make
Q811 Janet Anderson: So why did you
warn the MP, as it were, and not Mr Mosley? What was the reason
for the different decision in those two cases?
Mr Myler: We just decided that
we would give this MP the opportunity of talking about what we
had found him to be doing.
Q812 Janet Anderson: Why did you
not give that opportunity to Mr Mosley?
Mr Myler: Because we knew that
probably Mr Mosley would get an injunction, and I felt very strongly
that this was a story that actually should not be stopped because
of an injunction.
Q813 Janet Anderson: So it was because
of the possibility of an injunction?
Mr Myler: That, and the commercial
rivalry. There are two things, not just one.
Q814 Alan Keen: I made a joke in
my maiden speech in 1992 about my career taking another downward
step when I became elected to Parliament. I just wondered, we
understand that you started off with the Catholic Pictorial
News, and you came directly from being Editor of the New
York Post to the News of the World. We went to see
the New York Post not that long ago and they were not too
complimentary about the British press. Would you say your career
is taking a downward path or an upward path because now you can
battle away commercially to save the newspaper world by the stories
Mr Myler: It is a very interesting
journey, is it not, from a reporter with the Catholic Pictorial
in Liverpool to the editorship of the News of the World?
Very, very interesting. It was one of the proudest days of my
life when I was asked to be editor of the News of the World.
It is a huge institution that I think we should be proud of in
this country. It certainly was not a step back.
Q815 Alan Keen: I am not being critical.
Mr Myler: No, no. I am interested
to see how the people in New York, bearing in mind it was an Australian
and a Brit, in myself, who ran the New York Post, how the
Americans view us. I have to say that if you talk to any of my
American colleagues and friends over there in journalism, and
I was away for five years, and I have to say that when I came
back, the landscape on privacy and legislation was unrecognisable
to me from the London that I left, and they are just astonished
at what we are having to deal with here. Astonished.
Q816 Mr Sanders: On that point, libel
laws are very different in the United States. Do you think we
would benefit, if we had an absolute right to freedom of speech
and the onus was on the litigant to prove that you had got the
story wrong? In that culture and that environment, do you think
it would make you check facts as closely as we get the impression
the American newspapers check their facts? It is a different culture;
you are given more freedom but that also makes you exercise more
Mr Myler: If I may, I think Mr
Crone is probably best to answer this in terms of where we are,
and the legal complications are very interesting. Maybe if I could
invite Tom in the first instance to give a response on the law,
then I will come in.
Mr Crone: You will know already,
I am sure, because of the investigations you have already made,
and your visit to America, that the difference between the two
laws, the American and British, primarily is the burden of proof
in libel, and indeed, the difference between defamation law in
this country and every other area of civil law is that the claimant
who comes to court saying, "I have been wronged. Give me
money." does not actually have to prove anything. He just
stands up and says it is wrong and the burden of proof is automatically,
from the first moment in the case, shifted on to the defendant,
and that is in front of a jury. I must say, over the last 29 years
I have found that to be a very, very onerous burden indeed for
newspapers to shift, especiallyand this is just human nature
and perceptionif you happen to be the Sun or the
News of the World. They are the two newspapers I represent.
I think it is wrong because I think the burden is too great, frankly.
We had a case in court last month where I thoughtand so
did most people actually watching it, I thinkthat the burden
of proof was pretty well satisfied by the evidence we called.
Even on the claimant's own account, he behaved appallingly, but
the jury went away and came back the next day and gave him £75,000,
and it cost us about £1 million. Very interestingly, someoneand
perhaps I should not be saying thisbumped into a jury member
in the pub not long afterwards. He declared himself as a jury
member and he said, "We did not understand any of it, so
we decided there was this big rich newspaper on one side and this
little guy on the other, so we decided to give it to the little
Mr Myler: That is it in a nutshell.
Q817 Paul Farrelly: What was the
Mr Crone: I should not say.
Q818 Paul Farrelly: You have given
the example. I think you should name the case.
Mr Crone: In that case, it was
a former Eastenders actor called Mo George against the Sun
newspaper. It was an allegation of beating his girlfriend.
Mr Myler: I cannot put it in any
better words than that. It really does need to be addressed.
Q819 Mr Sanders: Do you think you
can change the ethics? There is a lot that is written in the newspapers
that is written in code or it is hint or innuendo. Actually, if
you had that system, a similar system to America, with absolute
freedom of expression and of speech enshrined in a constitution,
you would get rid of that innuendo and you would actually tell
it like you want to tell it, and you would not be hiding behind
code and hints and innuendo.
Mr Myler: The problem that you
have, and Mr Crone has just said it, is that you can have a week
or a two-week trial and the jury comes out at the end of it and
it does not understand what it is being asked to adjudicate on.
So hinting innuendo is no good. People read newspapers to have
questions answered, not to be offered more questions than we can