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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 840-849)


5 MAY 2009

  Q840  Chairman: And what happened after the three occasions on which you have had judgments against you from the PCC? What actions followed from the adjudication?

  Mr Myler: None in terms of me personally, and in the last case it was my decision not to go to anybody without prior notification, and that is what the PCC ruled against us on. Singularly on that matter.

  Q841  Chairman: On the fact that you had not given prior notification?

  Mr Myler: Yes, and that was my decision.

  Q842  Chairman: And has that altered your practice in terms of prior notification, or do you just disagree with the PCC decision?

  Mr Myler: No, it does not carte blanche say that we never warn anybody. Indeed, we did with the MP in the example I gave you.

  Q843  Chairman: But the fact you had lost a PCC complaint about prior notification clearly has not meant that in future you always prior notify, because you did not in the case of Mr Mosley?

  Mr Myler: No, and the reason I did not go to this particular individual is because he is a self-confessed liar and he had committed perjury on video.

  Q844  Chairman: But it is arguable that you say OK, you publish an adjudication, and you say I accept that the PCC have ruled against me, but it does not appear to make any difference to the future of behaviour?

  Mr Myler: Yes, it does. Any editor that has ruling after ruling or adjudication after adjudication is probably not going to stay in his job very long.

  Q845  Chairman: But three is OK?

  Mr Myler: Well, three in forty years is something that I think is not a bad batting average. One is too many but three, over that period of time—given the way the industry has changed.

  Q846  Adam Price: You yourself previously resigned I think when you were editor of the Sunday Mirror

  Mr Myler: "resigned"?

  Q847  Adam Price: Resigned in the passive tense, whatever, but you freely admitted the mistake and you took the responsibility for your decision; your predecessor of the News of the World also was resigned, or resigned, in relation to the Goodman case. Do you think that actually there would not be so much an issue of suspicion about the press if more editors did the honourable thing and, where they made a judgment call and they had got it wrong, they resigned? I can remember, for example, a recent resignation of an editor of the Daily Mail which, you know, is the greatest infringer against the PCC code of conduct. Do you think people would have more respect for the press if editors took responsibility for their actions?

  Mr Myler: I cannot speak for the editor of the Daily Mail but I have to say he is probably one of the most distinguished editors we have had and been lucky to have in our industry for many, many years. I think the simple answer to your question is that you stand and fall by your judgment and if you make a bad call you either go or you are fired, and that is what has happened in my experience. But, again, we live in a world where I think probably the only people who come below journalists in the public's esteem are your colleagues, and I think that we need a little bit of transparency and honesty here. People who fall on their swords are few and far between. Editors do and have, and some MPs—well, let's put it this way, Members perhaps have not when they should have done.

  Q848  Adam Price: I think that criticism absolutely applies both ways. In terms of the Reynolds and Jameel defence of responsible journalism, do you think it would help free expression and free press if that judgment was placed on a statutory basis? If it was enshrined in law on legislation?

  Mr Crone: Yes, I think it probably would actually. The only problem with going statutory on a lot of these things is that it becomes kind of rigid, and it loses the kind of flexibility that you can occasionally get when the judges are in a nice liberalising mood—which is not very often, I have to say! But yes, I think to have it recognised and put into statute would be a good thing. Generally, you see, we are very unhappy with the way privacy law has gone as a result of judgments obviously primarily in this country but led, I suppose, by the judges in Strasbourg, and what that has emanated from a piece of legislation in 1998, the Human Rights Act, which was introduced for all the right reasons, a much wider raft of basic human rights, 18 altogether I think—the right to life, right to liberty, right to freedom of expression and right to privacy, privacy and freedom of expression just happen to be two of them—but I do not think when that came in that many people would have foreseen this massive and rapidly and progressively growing area of normal privacy. In fairness there were those in the media, a few of us, who lobbied hard and predicted that that is exactly what was going to happen. The Junior Minister, the late Lord Williams, who steered it into the House of Lords originally I think, introduced Section 12 of the Human Rights Act specifically to meet that concern. The judges, again inimitably in their own way, have analysed Section 12 into nothing effectively. It is completely ineffectual. Completely. So yes, perhaps there is room for a little bit more statutory intervention, certainly in the area of public interest, where the lines should be drawn. Part of our submission, in fact, is an opinion we have submitted from Anthony White QC in which he points out the absolutely glaring inconsistency and discrepancy between the Data Protection Act civil liability and defences for improper publication of personal data, which is exactly the same as publication of private information, and what Parliament has decreed is that it should be a defence in journalistic publication that the publisher had a reasonable belief that it was acting in the public interest. Now there is no such thing in privacy. If you have gone into the area of privacy and the judge decides you do not have a public interest, it does not matter what you think or thought at the time, and that is absolutely contradictory to the will of Parliament. In the longer term, of course, if public policy undertaken by Parliament is contradicted by what the judges are doing, then that is an attack on democracy effectively.

  Q849  Chairman: Mr Myler, Mr Crone, I think we have finished our questions. Can I thank you for your evidence, and can I also thank you particularly for your willingness to answer questions despite Mr Mosley's impending libel action.

  Mr Myler: Thank you.

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