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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 820-839)


5 MAY 2009

  Q820  Mr Sanders: My observation would be there is a lot of code and hint and innuendo of things where you are skirting around because the law prevents you from actually naming somebody or telling it like it really is.

  Mr Myler: That is right, and that is why we have to abide by the law. We have to abide by what the legislation says and if you cannot name a certain person—Mr Farrelly raised the issue of the ladies involved in the Mosley case and why they were known as initials. That was because it was agreed, first of all by the two legal teams and by the Judge that they would remain anonymous.

  Q821  Janet Anderson: When it comes to use of the libel law, we took evidence from Professor Greenslade, and he told us there are plenty of examples in which journalists are prime users of the libel law they affect to dislike. Have you or your paper ever issued a libel action to prevent another party publishing information about you?

  Mr Myler: I am not aware of one. I will check but I do not believe we have.

  Q822  Janet Anderson: Have you ever threatened anyone with libel action?

  Mr Crone: No. I have been in this job for 29 years four months and about 28 days and no, never—not that I can recall.

  Q823  Janet Anderson: Professor Greenslade did say that the last person to threaten him with a libel suit was the News of the World's lawyer.

  Mr Crone: No, I did not. I pointed out that it was completely wrong and it was libellous. It was actually the coverage of the Mosley case, believe it or not, in which he said I gave evidence, and I did not, and actually, everyone who was following it knew I did not give evidence. Mr Myler gave evidence and the reporter gave evidence but the esteemed Professor thought I did, and he was quite disparaging about the evidence I gave, suggesting it was disingenuous and possibly dishonest. I suggested he correct it. He did not come back to me at all. I therefore wrote to the editor of the newspaper, the Guardian, who you will be hearing from next, I believe. I think I got a reply something like three and a half weeks later, with a mealy-mouthed form of words, and I said, "Forget it. Don't bother. If you can't do it properly, don't bother." So no, I did not threaten him with libel. Actually, Greenslade came up and met me socially not long after that and apologised.

  Q824  Alan Keen: You were talking about the member of the Armed Forces and you did not run the story. You did say that the woman happened to be on the staff of the News of the World. What you meant was that she had gone specially to catch him out.

  Mr Myler: Not catch him out, no. Why would she be catching him out? He was breaking every rule in the book of army regulations, and he was a family man too. If every time a story appears in the News of the World I and its staff are going to be accused of being the moral guardians of everything that takes place in this country, that is just ridiculous, because we are not.

  Q825  Alan Keen: No, I am not objecting to it on those grounds. It is back to the privacy thing again. I was concerned about the words you used earlier on. Then you gave the sergeant as an example. Again, I maybe would not argue with you too strongly that that was wrong, even if someone went in to trick him.

  Mr Myler: Excuse me. It is not—

  Q826  Alan Keen: If you are trying to get a story through a trick.

  Mr Myler: No, it is not to get a story. Here is a man who is a sergeant in the army, who is advertising himself as a male escort on a male escorts site, in full army uniform, and making no other claims than that is what he is; he is a serving army sergeant and if he gets found out, he is going to be in trouble and will probably lose his job. We did not set him up. He set himself up.

  Q827  Alan Keen: I have already said that. I was not really arguing against you on that case. I was more concerned about the phrase you used. I am concerned about my constituents: you said that nobody is really entitled to privacy. I was at the South Bank yesterday with my wife watching the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; it was a special weekend of entertainment provided by that group of people. Is it fair game to reveal someone who is gay who has not come out, for instance?

  Mr Myler: No.

  Q828  Alan Keen: So my constituents would be safe there? You would not think that was something that should be revealed?

  Mr Myler: No, I do not think it is fair game. I think the phrase "fair game" is not the right term to use. Every single case has to be judged on its merits, and I think that, if you look at a very high profile, public case of the last couple of months relating to the 13-year-old boy that allegedly fathered a baby down in Eastbourne, I think it was, that was open house at the time, where a newspaper rightly published a story that here is a boy of 12 or 13 who has fathered a baby. I think it is—again, I have to be careful. We are in a legal minefield because injunctions have now been issued regarding this. Suffice to say that there were other boys involved who, it is believed, possibly could have been the father, and I think I understand that one of them, other than the 13-year-old boy, has been proved to be the father. In other words, it was not the 13-year-old who said he was the father that turned out to be the father. As a result of legal measures that have been taken on behalf of all of those families, principally by Social Services, the identity of the real father has not been revealed, and probably will not be able to be revealed. So privacy, if you like, has been afforded to those people, rightly.

  Q829  Alan Keen: First of all, you talk about the moral compass and that openness was necessary. When I was talking about the progression of your career, was I right that the New of the World is really a money-making machine rather than anything else?

  Mr Myler: No, it is not. No, no, no. Sorry, it is not a money-making machine. We are a commercial business, like thousands of other businesses around. If we do not make money, we do not have a business. That is a principle that any other business operates under. If I could just remind you—and this is something you did not get because I did not realise it: the News of the World has been around since 1843. On the first front page that it had, its editorial, its mission statement, raged against social injustice and it pledged "to give poorer classes of society a paper that supports their means". For 25 years between 1942 and 1969 the paper actually ran an advisory service where it employed 40 professors and 100 typists. In real terms today, that cost £5 million. There are not many businesses in this day and age that would set aside that kind of investment as a service to its readers. The News of the World raised a £1.5 million reward for Madeleine McCann in 48 hours. In eight years it has campaigned for 14 different pieces of legislation to be introduced under Sarah's Law. That is a very heavy commitment, that I would regard as very compelling, and something that should be applauded when it comes to what the News of the World does. So it is not all about whether someone runs off with somebody else's wife. We have just launched a campaign with the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to save our readers money by going green. We have just joined with the Forestry Commission to give away a million seedlings to 25,000 schools. Every single school will get seedlings. So we actually do some positive good, I like to think.

  Q830  Alan Keen: Could I ask you one last thing? Paul Dacre, when he was here in front of us last week, agreed with me when I said—this was an issue that had been raised by different people during the inquiry—that it is wrong for newspapers to mislead the public with a headline, and then the allegations that attract people to buy the papers are not as true as the headline made out. Although he argued the case to a certain extent, he said he basically agreed with that. One or two of the lawyers we have had in front of us said that is something that should be taken account of in libel law, that if the headline misleads, and the body of the article is different, that should be taken into account where I understand up till now it is not.

  Mr Crone: No. The ordinary reasonable reader is expected to read whatever is on a page, in other words the words underneath the headline as well. If he has to turn inside to find the truth that is quite different, but if the front page has both the headline and whatever needs to be put underneath it to balance it and so forth, then that would not constitute libel, not normally.

  Q831  Alan Keen: That would not be a libel?

  Mr Crone: Not on its own, no.

  Q832  Alan Keen: But one or two lawyers have said that they thought that it should be because the headline and the first part of the article misleads. Should a paper be able to cover that up by one sentence at the end?

  Mr Crone: It very rarely happens, actually. I think headlines usually reflect the story.

  Mr Myler: I think you are talking about some rather egregious excesses in maybe the `70s and `80s. I do not think that happens any more. I think also people who buy newspapers are far more intelligent than people often believe, and they can discern and decide. And they do.

  Alan Keen: Well, people are beginning to disagree with that, I have to say.

  Q833  Chairman: Can I quickly move on to the PCC? How seriously do you take a judgment of the PCC?

  Mr Myler: Very seriously. No editor wants to have an adjudication against them.

  Q834  Chairman: How many have you had?

  Mr Myler: I think I have had about three, and one was a couple of months ago.

  Q835  Chairman: And if the PCC contacts you prior to publication, how many times have you not run a story because of the intervention of the PCC?

  Mr Myler: Maybe, with respect, if I could turn it round the other way, the dialogue with the PCC never stops, we talk to them literally up to publication on certain stories, and their advice is invaluable, often incredibly wise, sometimes not quite the way we expected things to go, but we do talk to them all the time and it is invaluable, because it is an open dialogue.

  Q836  Chairman: Invaluable but you do not necessarily follow it?

  Mr Myler: Certainly personally, if they come up with a reason that I find compelling, I would rarely disagree with them.

  Q837  Chairman: But there will be instances where you do not find it compelling?

  Mr Myler: Yes. Can I give you another example, a practical one? We had a story of a policeman who had gone through a transgender process. The Force were aware of it because his superior had sent out an e-mail explaining that this was what the individual had been going through, that it was a rather harrowing experience for him and his family, and when he/she was welcomed back into the Force he wanted to send as many people on courses so they could understand how to deal with it. We had a picture of the individual, not dressed as a man but dressed as a woman, and it was only indeed to Mr Crone's credit at about 3.30 in the afternoon on the Saturday that he said to me: "We may have an issue here", and I said "What is that issue?" and he said "Well, because there is a significant difference between, say, 500 members of his Force being aware of what is going on and 8 million readers being drawn into it", and we pixilated the face of the individual, and I can guarantee that a year ago that would not have happened.

  Q838  Chairman: That I do not think is to do with the PCC.

  Mr Myler: We spoke to the PCC about it. The PCC actually, strangely on that occasion, felt that we did not need to pixilate the face. They felt that because a communication had gone out amongst the Force it was out there.

  Q839  Chairman: So you actually decided that it was not responsible, even though the PCC did not think it was irresponsible?

  Mr Myler: Yes. We pixilated the face of the individual.

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