The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR JOHN NICOL FORTUNE LLOYD (affirmed).

  • Mr Lloyd, could you confirm your full name, please.

  • It is John Nicol Fortune Lloyd.

  • Are the contents of your witness statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • Mr Lloyd, thank you very much indeed. I have said to all of the witnesses, if not all, that I am very grateful to them for the obvious work they have put into the questions we have asked and the contribution they have made and you are no different to the others; thank you.

  • You are a contributing editor to the Financial Times, where you have had a long history reporting on industrial and labour issues as a correspondent in east and central Europe and in the former Soviet Union. You are a founding member of the weekend FT magazine and more recently a contributing editor; is that right?

  • You are also the director of journalism at the Reuters Institute for the study of journalism at the University of Oxford. Could I ask you, please, to tell us a little bit more about the Reuters Institute?

  • The Reuters Institute was founded on top of an existing -- for some 30 years -- fellowship programme, which Reuters had funded, which brings journalists in mid-career, mainly from other countries, in Britain to Oxford for one, two or three academic terms, at which time they study, reflect on journalism and do a project.

    We built some six years ago -- the co-founders built on top of that what essentially is a think tank on journalism. It doesn't teach, it has no students, but it researches issues in journalism with a large international flavour.

  • Your statement is taken as read and so I shall ask you only here and there to expand. Can I do so first at paragraph 8 of your witness statement, where you talk about the essential part that a free press plays in a democratic state. Perhaps we can explore that a little bit.

    First of all, would you agree that a fundamental role for a free press is to hold power to account?

  • And it is to discover the truth on questions of public interest?

  • And that if facilitates and promotes democratic debate?

  • Is there anything else you would wish to add to that list?

  • Only to say that discovery of the truth is always difficult because truth in public affairs, as in private, is very complex and many journalists and commentators and others believe that truth is no longer possible, or never has been possible in journalism. I believe it is an aim that can be never be achieved. Rather like the holy grateful, it is there as a spur to endeavour rather than something that can be accomplished. But it is important to journalism because that, I think, is the reason why journalism exists and why it claims certain privileges.

  • I've had the benefit of reading your book, "What the Media are doing to our Politics". In that book and also in your witness statement, you make references to practises in other countries. At the bottom of page 4 of your witness statement, you talk about the relationship between politicians and proprietors in the United States. Perhaps you could distill, in a few words, the differences in that relationship, in the United States compared to this country?

  • Yes, as in the statement, it was a conversation with an old friend who was editor of the New York Times called Joe Lelyveld, who, when I asked him about this, said that newspaper groups, including his own, the Ochs Sulzberger Group, which has owned for some time the New York Times -- the relationship between newspaper owners and indeed newspaper editors and politicians was one which was quite formal and distant compared with the UK, which Lelyveld knows well because he was a correspondent here for some years.

    Distant, and any attempt he said by politicians to make some kind of deal -- even, in the Prime Minister's words, a grand deal -- between them and the newspaper would certainly not be countenanced and would never be tried.

    The one exception he gave was Mr Murdoch, whose Fox channel and whose tabloid paper, the New York Post, did have much closer relationships, especially in the case of Fox News, with politicians of the right, the Tea Party in the Republican party. But apart from that, relationships, according to Lelyveld, were much more formal and distant and correct than they were in the United Kingdom.

  • In relation to France, you describe in your book a very different approach to political interviewing to the one that we are used to in this country. Could you summarise the differences for us, please?

  • I think the different is that France, in a way, is even more -- there is more entanglement between politicians and journalists than there is even more than in the UK and much, much more than in the US. That is that as in Italy and other cultures, journalists quite often -- especially political journalists -- adhere to a particular political current and to particular political characters and are, in a way, part of their circle. So it is more collusive, much more collusive than it has been in this country, much more than in the United States.

    I think it is less the case now but has been the case that when a politician -- indeed, when a public figure -- is interviewed, say in Figaro or Le Monde, the interview is then passed to the politician or public figure for his or her approval, or at least comment, so that the interviewee can then amend or correct the interview after it has been given.

    That, in this country, would rarely be done. If it were done, it would never be admitted.

  • Is there a difference in the usual tone of such interviews?

  • Yes. Generally, it has been the case -- one has to say that the presidency of Mr Sarkozy marked a profound difference, I think, and many French writers have marked that. Before then, it is well known that the private lives of politicians in France -- Mr Dominique Strauss-Khan immediately clearly comes to mind in this, but others too -- could enjoy an immunity from any publication of the details of their private life, even though, as is often the case, journalists knew them or suspected them.

    So private life, until Sarkozy, was something quite apart. Sarkozy marked a difference, because he coincided with the power of the Internet and there was much gossip and revelation on the Internet, which sometimes passed into the press. So now I think the French press is in a transition between a period where they marked a very sharp difference between public and private -- the way that our press and the American press used to do, some decades ago -- to one where it is closer to what they would call the Anglo Saxon.

  • Returning to the substance of political interviews, is it usual in France for the whole of the interview to be published, or just a selection?

  • Much more -- I think rarely it would be the whole interview because they are often pages and pages, but much more of the interview is published. In news stories, certainly in the serious papers like Figaro and Le Monde and Les Echos, the politicians are quoted much more and at greater length in a news story. So a news story about a political issue would typically contain perhaps two, three paragraphs of direct quotes. Here, that is much rarer.

  • In your opinion, which model serves the public interest better: the French model of publishing more extensively and less selectively, or the British model, the Anglo Saxon model, of being more selective?

  • I think in that particular instance the French is better. I think it is better to hear at greater length what politicians say, rather than the soundbite -- the soundbites to which they are now reduced.

    I think in general, the French press has been overly deferential. It is much less so now. It has been much more concerned with, if you like, questions of ideology, even philosophy. The origins of the French political press are much more in polemic debate and ideological argument, whereas the Anglo Saxon and British are much more fact-based, even, to an extent, scandal-based. So the two have been quite different. There are is now a certain amount of coming together. I would still prefer, I think, the Anglo Saxon approach.

  • We may return to this a little later, but one final question before I move on this: would you agree with me that a choice between these two approaches is a matter for culture and not for regulation?

  • Very substantially, yes.

  • You touch, on page 5 of your witness statement, at the bottom of paragraph 10, on issues of plurality and cross-media ownership, observing that in recent decades there has been a light touch. Do you have any views on where the balance lies between encouraging investment on the one hand and plurality and competition on the other?

  • Increasingly now, I think it becomes a difficult issue and Ofcom, as you will have seen in the last few days, has pronounced on this and said that to mandate pluralism, perhaps of the kind -- although it didn't refer to this -- that the leader of the opposition mentioned, I think in evidence here, is extremely difficult, difficult to get right and difficult to balance, as you put it, between the needs of investment and the needs of pluralism.

    Most countries, however, I think have some -- either regulation or general bias to believing that the greater the spread of ownership in newspapers and in television channels, media generally, the better. In some cultures -- again, America comes most to mind because it is so city-based and therefore the companies tend to be city-based -- there is much greater pluralism than others where you have a centralised national press -- nearly all the papers now -- national papers -- are coming from London -- and the tendency for large groups to have several papers, several media holdings.

    So I think it is difficult to legislate. My bias would be towards as much pluralism as possible.

  • Do you have any view about whether regulation in this sphere is best done by reference to specific percentages of ownership or on a more subjective test, taking into account all relevant factors?

  • I think if any regulator were to make such decisions the regulator would have to use both approaches. It would have to be partly subjective but it also would have to bear in mind the needs of investment and so forth. I think that were a regulator to come into this area -- indeed they do, of course -- the Competition Commission -- issues of press are referred to that -- then they should bear in mind that a spread of ownership is valuable.

    But also it depends hugely upon who buys it. I mean, one of the examples that we have of press ownership here is by a man who had been an officer in the Russian -- Soviet state security, the KGB, but his ownership of the newspapers, the Independent, Independent on Sunday and Evening Standard, and of his holdings in Russia, especially Novaya Gazeta, has been, by all accounts and by my experience, exemplary.

    So a lot depends, I think, on observing the way in which newspaper owners and media owners observe what many believe to be a public trust, and that can come from a big company -- I believe that the Financial Times for which I worked for many years -- that Pearson, which is a very large publishing company, does have that view, that its press ownership is a public trust.

    Other companies don't have that view, have a much more interventionist approach, where the owner's opinions are much more a part of the newspaper's editorial output. They would not, I think, maybe go as far as Lord Beaverbrook, former owner of Express newspapers, who said his newspapers were purely for the purposes of propaganda, but they would go some way towards that.

  • There is a difficult balance here, isn't there, Mr Boyd, because on the one hand there are those organisations that have a public trust, but on the other, running a newspaper these days is not necessarily terribly profitable enterprise.

  • And therefore there has been to be a reason why people do it.

  • To try to get that balance right is not entirely straightforward.

  • It is exactly the case, and increasingly what one sees and will see more of, I think -- and again, this is more evident in the United States -- is groups of business people or indeed one business person buying a newspaper, or indeed creating a newspaper, in order to propound their views.

    There is a very well known example in San Diego, where a wealthy businessman, who is a hotel owner, created a new newspaper there when the long established newspaper failed and said that he and his editors were strong Republicans, on the right of the Republican party, and that the editorial would reflect that and that he expected his editors, his reporters, his commentators, to reflect his views.

    I think that, which had been, after all, the model of the press back in the 18th and 19th centuries, may well return, since, as you say, an owner has to have some reason for maintaining a newspaper, if not profit.

  • Well, that is itself rather concerning, isn't it?

  • Yes, except if you think that then the media becomes a kind of agora in which a number of opinions -- left, right, liberal, conservative -- can clash. That, I guess, has been, to some extent at least, the model, the theoretical model, in western democracies.

  • But the risk then is -- and I use a phrase which is not mine but has been used -- that there is a race to the bottom, because in order to sell your newspapers, you have to take certain lines about types of story which are going to sell and give you the opportunity to ventilate your views on topics that will not necessarily be quite so saleable.

  • That's not the model, I think, of the tabloids. The tabloids' essential existence is to make money, and now that they are becoming much less profitable or even making a loss, then the raison d'etre of tabloids particularly becomes much more shaky. But the existence of newspapers which to propound a particular worldview is, to some extent at least, independent of their sales and profitability.

    A well known example, a notorious example, is of Henry Ford, who founded the Dearborn Independent in the 30s in order, essentially, to promote his anti-semitic views. He kept that going at a huge loss, but then he was a hugely wealthy man, and it went, I think, until the outbreak of war.

    So increasingly, I think, one will see wealthy individuals with a strong worldview or particular view, coming into the marketplace and starting a publication of some sort in order to propound their view. One could argue that both Fox News and MSMBC -- if you like, the left wing equivalent in the United States -- are such vehicles.

  • If you turn now to page 6 of your witness statement, please, paragraph 13. There you make a point that others have made, namely there has been a reduction in recent years away from the simple political reporting and more towards commentary. Your book put some statistics on this, saying that in the early part of the millennium a government official had counted 221 political commentators and was still counting. Is that a trend that has continued to date?

  • I would think so. I mean, one of the jokes that is common among journalists is that comment is free but facts are expensive. It obviously is the case that the more one invests in discovering information, especially that reporting which is called investigative and may take a long time, a good deal of travel, for no rapid result, clearly is much more expensive than formula stories which can be done on the day, and is more expensive even than an expensive and well-paid commentator, because that commentator would fill a fair amount of space and though he or she may have a high income, it would be a good deal less than an investigative report would command.

    So the trend in newspapers which are increasingly cash-strapped then does tend towards both commentary and, if you will, light journalism. You might want to come back to this -- journalism which depends a great deal on public relations.

    So I think the trend towards commentary of various kinds, not necessarily political commentary, will continue.

  • If pure political factual reporting is on the decline, has the overall volume of political fact which has been reported, even if it is mixed in with comment -- has that increased or decreased?

  • Greatly increased, and greatly increased not in newspapers, where it has tended to decline, I believe but on the net. So the net now gives more information than any person can possibly absorb, including about politics, including about politics in many, many countries. So anyone who wishes to be well-informed about German politics, which is a good subject to be well-informed about these days, only has to go on the net to the Spiegel in English and other websites in English. The same is true in many countries where the language is not English. One can be hugely well-informed simply by surfing the net and learning which sites tell you what information, and certainly one can be hugely well-informed about British politics in the same way.

    So the volume of information available to people, at least the majority of people who have an internet connection, is enormously increased. In newspapers, it tends to have decreased.

  • Do you think that there has been a trend towards fusing fact and comment in political reporting?

  • Yes, much more so. I mean, if one looks at the reports, say, typically, of the Times, which did probably the most political reporting of the 50s and 60s, and sees (1) the length and (2) the care with which facts are treated, and now compares that with the current Times and other papers, then one sees how much, almost unconsciously now, journalists will inject, if not an opinion of the kind this is good or this is bad, but much more of a forecast, that X has happened and this will mean that -- this will have this effect.

    So in one way, reporting has become more ambitious about making forecasts based upon the events it is describing, and it is usually the case that in the tone of the reportage, one can guess the political -- social position or political position of the reporter. That would be true, I think, in papers of the left, the Guardian, the Mirror and so on -- certainly the Mirror -- and of papers of the right, where the approval or disapproval of the reporter or analyst is fairly clear from the report.

  • Has this trend towards mixed fact and comment come at the expense of accuracy or not?

  • That would take, as academics say, a good deal of research. But I would imagine two things: (1), it would be unlikely that reports now are more inaccurate. The reason I say that is that it is much, much easier to check. In the course of my time in journalism, checking has gone from a rather laborious finding a book, finding a reference book, which may or may not be in the newspaper, library, or going somewhere to check -- say Companies House to check companies' records, which meant, of course, an expenditure of time and therefore one wrote less.

    Now all kinds of tools are available at the touch of a mouse. So it is much easier to check and I think -- I would imagine that my colleagues in all newspapers, assuming that they do check -- and I think most of them do -- probably get things more right than they used to.

  • It depends a little bit what you mean by "accurate", doesn't it, because you can put a whole series of facts in the article but you have been rather selective about the facts, which therefore drives to a conclusion. Every single fact you have mentioned is accurate, but it is not as balanced.

    I wonder whether part of what you are saying is that the balance which came from the type of journalism of the 50s is now no longer prevalent, perhaps in part because newspapers have to add something, and you can get your facts by looking at the internet, watching the 24-hour news cycle, and therefore people at least are perceived to require something rather more from their newspaper.

  • I think that is probably right, although I am not sure it is so new. I think probably in the 50s and 60s, certainly the popular papers -- let's say the Mirror, which then was selling four or five million copies and saw itself as a campaigning paper, and by that it meant that it was campaigning largely for issues which would be supported by the left -- and the Express and the Mail would be the reverse, to some extent.

    These, I think, would be highly opinionated papers then and have remained so now. I think you have a class of paper -- and the Times was it up until 70s, 80s -- where, because it saw itself as a paper of the establishment and was writing to and for and from the establishment, then it had to be right, or it had to be right as it possibly could. There are many memoirs and stories about how both the sub-editors especially and the reporters took great pains to make it right.

    Now, if there is an equivalent to that, it is in the business press, because the business press -- Financial Times in this country and the business press elsewhere -- has a pressure from its audience, who use it as a tool as much or more than a source of entertainment or passing the time, and therefore since their decisions may well be based upon what it says, then the pressure to get it right is much greater.

    So the business press, I think, has remained the repository of a fact-based discipline and others have become much less so.

  • Would you support the continued existence in the PCC code or any successor to the PCC code of a requirement to separate and distinguish fact from comment?

  • No, I wouldn't. I mean, I think it is necessary to do so -- it is a good thing that fact and comment should be separated, but I cannot see how an intervention of that kind, certainly one which had the backing of statute, would be anything other than oppressive of --

  • I don't think it would have the backing of statute. We are just talking about whether an ethical code or a statement of principle should contain that as an aspiration.

  • Yes, as an aspiration, I think it would be fine, and I think to distinguish between what is verifiably factual and what is personal opinion would be -- is a reasonable aspiration.

    However, I'm aware that in most newspapers and elsewhere in the media, that is in practice quite difficult to maintain. It is quite difficult in papers -- say, for example, the New York Times, which does aspire, like many American newspapers, to separate the two. One can often find the bias of the newspaperman or of the commentator quite strongly there. It is quite difficult to do, but I think as an aspiration, it is a reasonable one.

  • It goes back to the point, that it depends what facts you put in.

  • Yes, and that is true of all, since newspaper and all reporting -- it is an obvious point to make -- is perhaps -- what? -- 100th or 1,000th of the possible facts of any event. Every event has a huge complex of fact around it. What we do, almost, after a while, as a reporter, unconsciously, is to aggressively fillet from this complex of facts that which we believe are (a) the most important, (b) our newspaper wants to have and (c) what people will read.

    So that filleting process, that compression, is the essence of journalism, and must be so, otherwise it is simply a transcript. So therefore facts are always treated, to a certain extent, cavalierly.

  • It may not be cavalierly, but potentially selectively, and that selection itself carries with it an opinion, as you just identified.

  • Always selectively, but one can at least, I think in theory and I think also in practice, imagine reports and read reports which are reports in good faith, I would say.

  • And these reports in good faith are an attempt to say, "Here are the salient facts and most important facts of this speech, this event, this intervention, this revelation", and a report in good faith is one which, as far as is possible, does not select the facts for an opinionated reason but for one which wishes to give an accurate account as far as possible within the constraints of space of the event.

  • Staying with paragraph 13 of your witness statement, you describe the creation and development of a third power, that of the news media, which increasingly has come to regard politicians and politics as a dirty game and expresses constant cynicism about it.

    Can I ask you to develop that idea, that argument for us briefly?

  • I think what has happened -- and it was much of the burden of the book. What has happened, say, in the last 20, 30 years -- it's happened in this country perhaps more than in others, in part of this very strong tabloid tradition here, stronger than in other democracies -- is to devalue the political process, to see elected Members of Parliament and other councils and, above all, ministers and indeed opposition politicians, as people who essentially are in it for themselves, and to approach their actions and their statements with the view -- or always with the question, in the reporter's mind: why is he or she saying that and what benefit will he or she get from it, either personal or political?

    So the ostensible reason for, say, the speech or the proposal or the policy is increasingly subordinate to, if you like, the short term political reason. It is to court popularity of one kind or another. It is to advance the politician's career.

    Now, it seems to me that in any business like politics, as in other businesses, these considerations must be part of the assumptions and the calculations of the men and women in power. But to reduce it simply to, if you will, a cynical Occam's razor approach seems to me then to lose out on what is the most important part of it, and that is the nature of the intervention, the nature of the policy proposed and the merits or otherwise of that policy.

  • Can I take it that you regard that as a negative development in reporting?

  • And if so, what can be done about it?

  • Well, what can be done about it, I think, is to perhaps subject it to debate, to put aspirational -- to make in the Press Council or a future press council -- to put these aspirational aims more clearly, and I think above all to try to work on, most effectively from within the profession of journalism itself, to work on the culture of journalism.

    Looking at journalism cultures around the world, one is struck by how different they are, including in the democratic world, in western Europe or in North America. They have quite different ways of approaching things, and our way of approaching things, I think, has become overly cynical and reduces much of the complexity of everyday life, especially everyday politics, to a series of short term personal and political calculations.

    I think all that can be done in a free society is to argue against that, to propose different ways of approaching the coverage of events. I think in this country we are fortunate to have a public broadcaster which, by and large, reports, as I was saying earlier, in good faith and to an extent at least avoids the pitfalls of cynicism.

  • We may come back to some of the cultural issues you have raised there, but for the moment can I move on to the question of the power that politicians hold over the media.

    Would you agree that one of the ways in which politicians exercise power over the media is in the control of the supply of stories?

  • Very much. Very important indeed, yes.

  • And are there any trends or patterns in the way that this power has been exercised in recent years that you would draw to our attention?

  • Yes. I think there is something in the argument which a number of people have made, including in this court, that there was a shift which New Labour brought in. I think that the leaders of New Labour, when it was in opposition -- Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, later Alastair Campbell, who joined them as head of communications for the Prime Minister -- these men and many of their colleagues had a profound belief that two things had happened in the media: one, that John Major had been and was being destroyed by newspapers, or substantially destroyed by newspapers, and secondly, that before him, Neil Kinnock, the leader of the party before John Smith and leader of the party for much of the 80s, he also had been destroyed, most of all by the tabloid press and above all by the Sun.

    These were almost articles of faith and in talking to many of these people when I was writing the book, it came up again and again. It was, if you like, the foundation of the way in which they wished to project New Labour publicly, that they had to stop the newspapers -- above all, the newspapers, who, after all, were the opinion makers, rather than the broadcasters -- to stop the newspapers ganging up on Labour. Once that happened, once the newspapers ganged up on a prime minister or indeed a leader of the opposition, he or she was finished. That, as I say, was an article of faith.

    The way in which that was then prevented was to constantly -- I think I used the phrase, or someone of my interviewees used the phrase "feed the beast". Like a bird bringing back worms for its chicks, there would always be something to digest by the newspaper and therefore keep them on your terms, rather than you on theirs.

    I think also that the New Labour aversion to any kind of scandal, including private or sexual scandal, and the way in which, once that came up, they very quickly tried to solve it was an another indication of this.

    That then became the template. The belief that newspapers had to be kept, as it were, on the back foot by being constantly fed, the belief that 24-hour news, which had become a feature of the 80s and 90s, meant that they were under constant surveillance, 24-hour surveillance, and therefore could never relax, meant they had to armour plate their communication strategy and be constantly pro-active.

    I think, as has been said in this court, the Prime Minister, when the Prime Minister was Tony Blair, saw constantly newspaper editors, newspaper owners, reporters, commentators, and that was the practice followed by his successor as Prime Minister. It was a combination of feeding and of armour plating.

  • The 24-hour news cycle remains with us. Indeed, if anything, it has intensified, particularly with use of the Internet. Has the government response to that environment changed in recent years, or not?

  • Yes, it has. I mean, as I say, because the 24-hour news cycle means that there is no pause, as there used to be, say, after 8 or 9 at night, when the first editions went to bed, until some time later the next morning -- it means, then, that the public relations exercise for governments therefore must be (1) more numerous, must be much more pro-active and must always have a rebuttal ready and, if possible, another story ready. "Why are you concentrating on this? Here is a nice bright shiny story you have missed, and which you can have sometimes all to yourself."

    So politicians and people who are concerned with public relations within politics would say -- and sometimes openly but always when talking off the record -- would say that is exactly what they are there to do. They are there to defend their masters or themselves from a press that has become, as they see it, ruthless, that they cannot expect any kind of good ride, if they are a left wing government, from a left wing press, or, if they are right wing government, from a right wing press. They can expect always a press hungry for scandal, who will find it sometimes in relatively innocent speeches, declarations and actions, and thus the politician must always be on his or her guard and must be extremely attentive to keeping the owners and the editors as happy as possible, so that the activities of both Mr Blair and Mr Cameron are explicable in that regard.

  • Moving to the reverse side of the coin and the power that the media has over politicians, which you touched upon in your answer a moment ago, how powerful do you assess the option of personal attack against a politician by the media to be?

  • It can very powerful. It can be very powerful if it is combined with some kind of scandal, whether in his or her private life or perhaps in political life. A revelation, say, of an abuse or a supposed abuse, coupled then with a powerful polemic which says that this person is not fit for his or her post, then becomes extremely powerful.

    I think more powerful -- this may be the subject of another question, but more powerful, I think, is the position the newspaper takes over time. The example that comes to mind is that the Sun, which had been, when Rupert Murdoch bought it, a paper of the left, with its origins, I think, in the Daily Herald, which had been a left wing newspaper, in the 70s and 80s, created, if you like, a working class conservatism. It gave permission to people who had been born working class and who may remain working class to be aspirational, to buy their council houses and to be -- to consume more than they did he have before, and indeed therefore to vote for a party which expressed these aspirations, which had been seen much more a party of the middle class. That the Sun should both create some of that trend and run with a trend which was running in society anyway was much more power, I think, than any individual attack, any individual attack or revelation. It was a kind of constant underpinning of the journalism of all kinds, in the Sun above all, but also in some of the other tabloids, and which, as I say, gave permission to large numbers of people to think differently and to therefore choose politically differently than they or their parents and grandparents had done.

  • If that sustained position is particularly powerful, how would you rate the power of electoral support of a newspaper at a particular election?

  • I think studies have shown it is less important, that for a paper to come out for X or Y party is less important. I think politicians -- I think there is something in the argument that politicians see it as more important than it is and that, for example, when the Sun very publicly and apparently damagingly changed from support for New Labour to support for Conservatives before the last election, that was assumed by many politicians, both right and left, to be very important. It probably was rather less important than they thought.

  • You touch, at the bottom of page 7 of your witness statement, on the issue of transparency in dealings between politicians and the media. Can I ask you to develop your thoughts and to tell us, first of all, at what level of contact do you think it is necessary for a record to be put into the public domain?

  • I think certainly formal interview. I think it would be reasonable for it to be in the public domain that the Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister had met an owner, an editor, commentator, reporter, for that matter, although the reporter would very often reflect that meeting had taken place.

    I think that one enters into a much more difficult area where one talks about more casual meetings, and the kind of chat, if you will, sometimes social or even friendly -- friendly acquaintance kind of banter and chat that goes on constantly between contacts and journalists. In my experience, both working here and abroad, one gathers at least as much information from -- very often accidentally, by chance, something comes up which you had not gathered before -- from these off-the-record friendly, informal occasions as you do from what, after all, is, on the part of the interviewee, something which has been well prepared.

    So I think to regulate that would be adverse to both the freedom of the press, press freedom, and to the public interest, because it is from that huge undergrowth of contacts between journalists and people of all kinds -- in business, in politics, in institutions -- that one gets the first intimation of important stories, and indeed very often how they are developing, how important are they, what is being said in this or that circle, what is coming up, who is up, who is down.

    These things are very rarely the subject of formal interviews but they do exist in this substratum, into which journalists must link if they are to keep abreast of the areas which they cover.

  • If routine encounters between a journalist and a politician are not to be recorded, would you agree that meetings between senior politicians and senior newspaper executives should be?

  • Yes, I think so. I think a record should be in the public domain that the meeting took place.

  • Which takes me to the next question, as to the level of detail. Should it be simply the fact of the meeting, should it go further and identify at least the subject matter of the conversation, or should it go further still?

  • My bias is towards the first, that is that it took place. I think that ministers, prime ministers and indeed owners, editors and so on have a right to talk in private if they wish, but that at least it is logged that they were seen and then one gathers, as one has gathered, in meetings between the Prime Minister and executives of News International -- the very fact of the regularity of the meetings, the frequency, is itself a valuable fact.

  • At page 8 of your witness statement, you return to the question of the culture of journalism itself, which you identify as a primary issue. In your book, you place considerable weight on the interview with Andrew Gilligan which led ultimately to the Hutton Inquiry. You say this is particularly illuminating as to modern media culture.

    Can you tell us very briefly what your concern was?

  • When I was beginning to write the book, it seemed to me an encapsulation of a major theme of it; that is that between the media and politics had developed a daily, indeed hourly struggle, and the struggle was over the minds of those whom we journalists call the audience or the viewers or the readers and whom politicians call the electorate, the citizens. In a way, we are fighting for the same thing. We are fighting for the allegiance of their opinion. We are fighting for their allegiance.

    That struggle, which I think is an increasing feature of the media from the 70s onwards, and became much more overt, seemed to me to have a kind of epiphany in the Gilligan affair, because although it became quite clear quite quickly that the BBC did not -- at the very least did not have the substance with which to back an allegation which essentially was that the Prime Minister knowingly lied to the country in the first report of that, just after 6 in the morning, it continued to defend that, although it no longer continued to put it out, and defended it to the point of pitting itself against the government.

    In his memoirs, Blair writes about the surprise he had that the BBC could not simply issue an apology which for something which, after all, could have been simply a footnote, but instead defended, right up to the level of the chairman and the director general, the report and rebutted any attempt by the government to have it corrected, and did so on the grounds that for it to do so would be to cave in to political pressure and as a free medium, part of the free media, it could not do so without losing part of its freedom.

    That seemed to me to be a very good example of the struggle which I was trying to illuminate.

  • You say that the code of ethics needs to be internalised by journalists and that a culture of more ethical journalism should not and probably cannot be imposed.

    Let's look at some of the mechanisms by which a code of ethics might be internalised, starting with the code itself. You have already told us a little bit about how you think codes might be improved; is there anything further you would like to add about how to move ethics forwards through a code?

  • It is clear that the PCC code, which is by and large a good one, one which puts, in fairly unambiguous terms the underpinning of a free -- the free media in a democratic society and spells out the duties and responsibility as well as the freedoms -- it is clear that that really had little effect in the day-to-day life of many newspapers, and perhaps of very little relevance to any newspapers, since many newspapers already had, either explicitly or implicitly, a code of behaviour in their reporting and in their editing, which, in a sense, didn't need to have the prick -- the spur given to them by the PCC code.

    How to internalise a code of ethics seems to me to be a long-term thing. It depends very much on the way in which journalists, especially reporters -- all journalists see themselves, and what I have argued is that as long as they see themselves as, to a large extent, the servants of a news desk, an editor, a proprietor, at a distance at least, and that anything their boss or bosses tells them to do, any kind of story they tell them to get, any kind of methods they wink at for getting that, they should fulfil. The more that is the way in which journalists approach their work, the less ethics will matter and will be observed.

    Other -- we always say -- partly a defence, as well as elf-deprecation, we say journalists say, "We are not a profession; we are a trade. We are not like you lawyers, doctors, accountants. We are a trade." It is partly self-defence, and its self-defence because we implicitly assume that we therefore don't have the inhibitions which are upon you. We don't have the professional codes. We don't have organisations which can strike us off from being a journalist in the way that, say, a doctor will have. Thus our ethical observance doesn't have to be anything like as near the front of our mind as the professions do.

    Whether we are a profession or a trade, it seems to me, doesn't matter. What we do need, I think, is some sense that there are limits to what we will do for those who hire us, and that these limits depend upon doing journalism, writing stories which (a) are, as far as we can tell, observably true, and (b) do not, grievously, egregiously and for no real public interest purpose, impinge on people's privacy.

    If we internalise and have that as part of our ethic, then we can at least refuse -- maybe at the cost of our job or promotion, but we can, with some dignity, refuse to do the bidding of people who wish us to do things which are and would be regarded as being unethical, but that is what was in my mind.

  • You identify a number of institutions concerned with the news media: the Reuters Institute, which you have told us a little bit about already, the Media Standards Trust and Polis at the LSE. What role do you foresee for such institutes in the maintenance and improvement of ethical standards in the media?

  • I think they are important, but so far, they have been important in a minor key. Most journalists are contemptuous of academics. To say that someone is academic is pejorative, rather than a compliment. They are contemptuous of academic media studies or journalism studies, although increasingly now, journalists -- not true of my generation, but of younger generations -- increasingly, journalists come out of journalism schools. But still that contempt remains, that academics, scholars, people who draw up codes of ethics and so on, essentially are not in the real world, that they are abstract, they don't know what happens, they don't know the difficulties of getting stories out of reluctant politicians or others. They simply -- and indeed also don't know anything at all about the market and what people wish to read.

    So it is very difficult.

  • Some people have said that about the Inquiry too.

  • Indeed. Well, you have so far borne it.

    So far, I think -- sorry, the difficulty then is to get the debate and the research and the proposals of what are academic or quasi-academic institutions -- the Reuters Institute is part of Oxford University, POLIS is part of LSE, the Media Standards Trust is not part of a university but brings out material or publishes material which is rather similar to much of what POLIS and the Reuters Institute does.

    The problem is getting that into, if you like, the journalistic discourse. There is no, if you like, general meeting place for journalists who then discuss these issues. There are the usual suspects, who will come to academic conferences or seminars and give their views, but by and large they don't.

    Reuters Institute have tried extremely hard to get editors of tabloids to speak, and they simply will not come. Sometimes when they do respond, which is rare, they will say that there is no point in having a dialogue because it would be a dialogue of the death.

    So what does happen in other cultures -- again, especially in the United States, where there is, at least to some extent, a mingling of the academy or journalism studies with the profession -- hardly happens here at all, and I think that is a shame, because although some journalism and media studies, in my experience, are almost impenetrable because they use a particular kind of academic jargon, much of what is published is of great use and interest and elevates the debate as well as the profession.

    So it is difficult to get these things across.

  • You also raise the idea of a journalism society. Whilst one can see for the person motivated to join and to participate that might have great benefit, would you accept there is always going to be an Achilles' heel to something like a journalism society in that the less principled journalist simply won't join?

  • Yes, I think that is right. I think that is not a reason for not doing it, because that would be true in many walks of life, but I think it is worthwhile now -- and it is worthwhile now especially for one reason. My profession -- my part of the profession is declining. There are fewer and fewer newspapermen and women around, and that will continue to be the case. But there are vast millions and millions of people who, in one way or another, use the report to report, to publicise, to comment. Some of them might well claim to be journalists and some of them, I think, are at least doing a journalistic job and for them I think a journalism society, a kind of voluntary institute, probably with a virtual existence more than a real one, where issues of what do you report", when do you report, how much privacy should you observe, to what purpose, what is the public interest, can be debated, I think, again, it would raise the game and would give this new journalism, which is still developing and we barely understand and many of us are hostile to it because it impinges upon our traditional role as gate keepers -- it would help, I think, develop citizens' journalism a great deal. So I think it is a good idea. How one gets it off the ground, how one pays for it is another matter.

  • At the bottom of page 9 of your witness statement, you discuss self-policing by the media and you point to the perhaps seminal example of the Guardian and its pursue of the hacking story. But would I be right to understand that you think on the whole the media has not done a particularly good job of policing itself?

  • No, it hasn't. I think that is a correct assumption. I think another watchword of Fleet Street was that dog does not eat dog and that meant that you didn't then reveal the egregious errors or indeed the egregious tactics of other papers, even if they were your competitor.

    Quite often, there would be an agreement between newspaper editors as, I think, again in this court, it was said that there was an agreement -- I have no knowledge if this was the case -- between the Daily Express and Daily Mail that they would stop criticising each other. These kind of either explicit or implicit assumptions that you don't go for other newspapers, you don't criticise other people's reports, were -- was the rule.

    The Guardian, to its great honour, broke that rule and was much criticised for doing so. In a minor key, when I wrote the book I was much criticised for doing so, for breaking the code which says you do not, in writing about journalism, do other than make some jokily self-deprecating remarks, and that is about the limit.

    I think now that the Guardian has done that, now that it is clear -- much clearer than it was before -- that journalism cannot merely be defended by saying -- by reference to the freedom of the press, and therefore anything we do is by definition correct -- since that, I think, has been fairly clearly, including in this room, has been pretty clearly exploded, I think now that both in newspapers or in television, still the dominant medium, and much, much more in the new internet sites, websites and so on, the watchdog of the watchdog function will be developed much more.

  • Is there anything that can be done particularly to encourage that?

  • I think one issue is to make it -- this sounds minor, but actually it is quite important. A number of small NGOs have begun or have tried to begin correction websites. That is, they will take -- the one I am thinking of, which I had some hand in helping start, called Full Fact, which is now operating, takes speeches by politicians or by other public figures and reports on television and in newspapers and so on which it would deem to be possibly contentious and examine it for factual accuracy.

    Now, clearly, every day a vast number of facts or apparent facts are put into the public arena, so it must be highly selective, especially since these things work on a shoe string.

    Channel 4 has something similar to it as well. But the development of websites -- and they will largely be websites -- which at least are there as a record to say, "When X said Y, he was wrong, he got most of his facts wrong. When the Daily Beast reported this, it was wrong, and it was wrong for these reasons, and we have checked it out and we have found it wrong" -- that is extremely valuable and I think that should continue.

    The problem is that the Charity Commission is very reluctant to give charitable status to such an NGO because it sees it as being political and of course it shies away, rightly, from that. But I think that a looser approach to that kind of organisation, a more understanding approach that this in the public interest and not simply a political tool would help enormously and would allow these organisations to be more efficient because it would allow them to raise more money.

  • We have spoken mainly so far about matters of culture and changing behaviour from within. Can we move now to the question of regulation and in particular to future regulation. If we start with independence. Would you agree that any future regulator needs to be independent, particularly of government but also of the press?

  • Yes, certainly of government. I think a regulator -- it is reasonable to have representatives of the press. It is not reasonable to have the press dominate, in the way they have, the Press Complaints Commission.

  • In terms of the composition of the regulator, do you have any view as to whether serving editors should sit or whether it would be better for retired editors, without the commercial interest, to be involved?

  • I think probably the latter. I think serving editors inevitably, with the best will that they can muster, must pursue, since these are extremely busy men and women and must always look out for the interests of their newspaper, that their decisions would be very deeply affected by short-run advantage and must be so. So it would be better, I think, to have former editors.

  • The question of an appointment system for whoever is to sit on a future regulator, would you agree that it needs to be an independent body?

  • Do you have any ideas as to the best way to fund a future regulator?

  • That is very difficult. PressBoF, which funds the PCC, is declining, not just because Richard Desmond Express Group newspapers withdrew from it and therefore withdrew their contribution to it but because every newspaper group now faces an extremely uncertain financial future and therefore will wish to cut back where it can. And although the PCC is not huge, it is, for some newspaper groups, several hundred thousand pounds, and I think they would try to limit that. So getting it from the industry becomes increasingly difficult.

    Then there is the state, and that, then, of course, raises the spectre of state interference. My own view is that in this country at least, the example of the BBC as other institutions, including the law itself, being funded by the state does not mean that independence is therefore fatally compromised.

    But the third, I think -- the third way could be for some voluntary or institutional contribution. That is, that the institution raises its funds from those who -- wealthy individuals, institutions, charitable institutions, funding institutions, who have a strong interest in a free and independent media.

    That, I think, would be better. That is not to say that these wealthy individuals or institutions have no agenda; very often, they will have a very powerful one. But if a number of them came in and they came in on the specific understanding that they gave money to a goal but not gave money in order to have their opinion served, then that, I think, would be the best outcome.

  • Can you give an example of some such institution or body?

  • There is in -- I keep instancing the United States but it is the best example of it. The Committee for the Freedom of Journalism, I think -- the main body which, in a way, is rather like and is the inspiration for the idea of a journalism society is funded in this way by the Pew Trust. Pew is one of these big American institutes which were funded, often decades ago, by a wealthy individual and has a large foundation and a large fund. Sorry, I beg your pardon, I have remembered it: the Committee for Concerned Journalists.

    It is by far the most important body within the United States, mainly in the newspaper section, for dealing with issues of journalism standards, issuing a yearly and very influential account of how journalism has gone in the US -- say, for example, how many foreign correspondents there are, how many have been cut, how many bureaus remain and so forth.

    That is funded not by the industry, not by the state -- the state funds very little in the media in the United States -- but funded by a very well funded institute, the Pew Foundation.

  • In terms of what the future regulator might do, do you agree that one of its functions must be to adjudicate upon standards?

  • Yes, I think that is a reasonable duty for it to have.

  • Do you see merit in it having power proactively to investigate?

  • Yes. I think that if and when newspaper groups or media groups bought into this, they should buy into a system where their protestations and their signing up to a code -- which all members, of course, of the PCC do sign up to -- should be examined and should be relatively transparent in the way that a newspaper editorial will routinely say that any institute should be at times investigated to make sure it is living up to its own claims.

  • Do you have a position as to whether or not it would be a good idea to allow third parties to raise complaints about media coverage or should complaints be restricted to those personally affected. I am thinking here about pressure groups and so on.

  • I think it is reasonable for third parties. I think the restriction of the moment of the PCC, which is that the complaints will only be accepted if they are actually by the person who has suffered the real or imagined injury, is too restrictive.

    There is a problem, of course, that that may open the doors to all kinds of -- to simply an unmanageable flood of complaints, and therefore I think one would have to be discriminating. But I think that at the moment, restricting it to simply the object of the real or supposed harm is too restrictive.

  • What you have to be able to do is tell the difference between what is itself an attempt to legitimately influence the debate --

  • -- from what is a legitimate complaint about what has actually been done.

  • That is the difference, isn't it?

  • Indeed, and discrimination could -- there must be some mechanism to discriminate between the two.

  • Do you think it would be a useful role for a future regulator to have a dispute resolutions function to provide a quick, cheap and effective way of resolving privacy complaints and defamation issues without recourse to the court?

  • The way you put the question almost demands a yes, but I think that is right.

  • I accept that and so I am going to ask the follow-up, which is: do you think that is something which can practically and feasibly be put into place?

  • I think it can. Again, much will depend on the details and the practice and the devil is in the details, but I think it can be, yes. It can at least be attempted.

  • As to teeth, what sanctions do you think it would be appropriate for a regulator to deploy in appropriate cases?

  • I think that one sanction is to make sure that the offending and -- the offence would have to be very clearly established, but once it had been clearly established the offence on the part of the publication or the broadcast should itself receive as much publicity as possible, that the regulator, the council, would have the power and should have the influence to put it in the public domain and expect it to get some salience in that public debate, especially on television.

    In other words, what one would seek to do is to raise the game. At the moment, of course, PCC -- the upholding of complaints to the PCC are published. They are published to the offending member. They can be published anywhere in the newspaper, but they are published and usually are published -- in fact, I think always published in full, but they receive little attention.

    I think what one would seek to do is to raise the game, and that is to give -- and this would be partly by example, partly by the leadership of the council, whatever it might be -- to say, "This is very important. An important breach of public trust has been committed by X newspaper and we wish to take some time to put it right." The function of ombudsmen in newspapers has been -- and in this country, there are very few of these, the Guardian is one -- has been to draw attention in a much visited part of the newspaper to something which has gone badly wrong within the newspaper.

    Again, the better example is in the United States, where both the Washington post and New York Times had ombudsmen who were exceptionally given huge space -- in one case, the ombudsman reported, at many pages' length, a piece in the magazine which, in his view, had been comprehensively been misreported.

    It is that kind of making a fuss about it, making sure that the audience understands that this is a large -- this is not just a routine matter; it is a large and important matter because a large number of people have been misinformed and that is a bad thing. That, I think, is the main sanction that should be developed.

  • What about a power to fine?

  • If a voluntary organisation then gives the institution of which it is part the power to fine, yes. And I think for serious lapses then that would be -- the fines would have to be fairly substantial in order to actually deter, but yes, if it was agreed by the membership that should be the case, then yes.

  • The qualification you introduced to that answer takes me to the next point, which is: what mechanism is required in order to ensure that all those who ought to be subject to a future regulatory regime are in fact subject to it? When we have, at the moment, Mr Desmond's newspapers outside the PCC and we have Private Eye outside the PCC for rather different reasons, is voluntary mechanism really feasible?

  • It comes on to -- I mean, this touches on something we haven't talked about much but which is increasingly important, and that is the huge amount of journalism and revelation which is simply not in the mainstream media, ie the net and the increasing weakness of the mainstream media may render some of these discussions not irrelevant but increasingly difficult to make any -- to elaborate mechanisms.

    But I think there are two methods if one is dealing with newspapers as they are now. One is to develop -- if one can develop carrots, to develop carrots, and one of these is one which the Irish press council has come up with, which is that members who are in good standing and shown to be in good standing will enjoy an assumption, I think is right -- if a libel case is taken against them, the judge will take the good standing into account and may reduce the damages.

    So that may be one reason why Mr Desmond's newspapers in Ireland are members of the Irish Press Council but not members of the British PCC. The other, I suppose, is --

  • Sorry -- no, you carry on and I will come back to it --

  • I was only going to say that the other is statute, and therefore that membership is -- and the Media Standards Trust, as I understand their proposal, which only recently came out -- the Media Standards Trust has argued that under statute, all news media organisations, corporations certainly -- not individuals on the web but news corporations of some kind or another should be members.

  • Let me test the Irish idea. We might be going to this further. Is there not something which is not entirely satisfactory about a system which results in differential compensation for the victim depending upon who victimised the victim?

  • I agree entirely. I mean, I made the point myself. I think it doesn't really matter to the victim that the offending newspaper has been, in the estimation of his peers and the council, a good member, because his damage remains the same. It doesn't affect his damage. Therefore -- I talked to the Irish ombudsman and he himself sees this as a weakness. As I understand it, the issue has not yet been tested in court, but he would expect exactly that objection to come up.

  • Further on the question of statute, put out of your mind, please, any possibility of statutory regulation of content, which has very obvious difficulties, and consider a statutory underpinning to a regulator designed to ensure inclusion and to confer powers; what is your view on that?

  • I think, perhaps because I have been in newspapers most of my professional life, I still have kind of an aversion to it. To a degree, I would not wish to justify it rationally, but I think I would -- nearly all newspaper people, no matter what part of the jungle they have made their living in or make their living in, have a kind of built-in aversion and a kind of, if you will, preference for a part of society which remains -- which retains the right to be irresponsible.

  • So it is emotional, rather than intellectual?

  • I fear it is. I will go on to be intellectual in a second, but just to deal with the emotion -- because emotions are powerful, as you will have seen in this court -- the way the press here developed was -- you can see it in novels, in Victorian novels like "The Warden" or "Pendennis". You can see how it developed as a kind of subliterary genre, and that is probably true in other countries as well. Certainly it was true in France. Therefore it grew as something which was organically Bohemian, anti-authoritarian, possibly overly emotional -- indeed, certainly overly emotional -- but nevertheless free.

    That, I think, remains an attachment by newspaper people to that kind of system and therefore there is a certain recoil from the kind of much more formal and careful calculations that have to be made and are made by people in the professions.

    Intellectually, I think, as I said before, statute in this country, underpinning statutory arrangement, has not, in the case of the BBC, in dealing only with the media, has not meant that it is -- that it has become a government voice -- very far from it -- or, I think, decreased its appetite to do difficult reporting, investigative reporting, reporting which has embarrassed both the government and institutions like the police and so forth.

    So I have no particular fears of a statutory underpinning, but I testify that there is this strong underpinning in the newspaper industry of a dislike of being marshalled into the same kind of more, if you will, responsible corrals which -- into which other professions are accustomed to work.

  • Thank you. Those are all my questions.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Lloyd. I can assure you that I have absolutely understood that last point.

    Thank you very much. We will take a break.

  • (A short break)

  • Yes, Mr Jay?

  • The next witness is Mr Tim Colbourne, please.