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

  • MR CHRISTOPHER CHARLES BLACKHURST (sworn).

  • Good afternoon, Mr Blackhurst. Your full name, please?

  • Christopher Charles Blackhurst.

  • Again, you've provided a statement to the Inquiry following the provision of a section 21 notice. Can you confirm that the contents of that statement are true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • You'll find that statement behind tab 2 in the bundle that you should have before you.

  • We know that you have been editor of the Independent newspaper since 4 July 2011.

  • Paragraph 6 of this statement contains your previous career history. You explain that you've worked in the media in total for 27 years. After reading law at Cambridge, you entered journalism and you worked initially at a legal magazine and at various business magazines. You then moved to the national newspapers and have worked at six national titles: first, the Sunday Times, then you were city editor at the Sunday Express. You moved to the post of deputy editor at the Independent and then the Independent on Sunday. Then in 1998, you became deputy editor at the Daily Express and Sunday Express, and for the last nine years you've been the city editor of the Evening Standard and you were recently named business journalist of the year. Then you tell us that you started in your current position, as we said, in July 2011.

    So at the time of drafting your statement, you'd only been in the role for ten weeks?

  • Now it's been about six months?

  • We'll do this rather generally. Is there anything substantial that you want to alter as a result of your additional experience?

  • I'm not going to ask you about corporate governance or financial governance, you'll be glad to hear.

  • But I am going to ask you about some of the matters that you deal with in your statement. Can we start, please, with paragraph 9. You say this -- and I have to pick you up on this. You'll see why.

    "I am aware, as editor of the Independent, that we are expected to operate according to the highest ethical standards. The Independent -- I would say out of all the national newspapers -- prides itself on taking a high ethical stance. It is at the core of the newspaper's brand."

    Why do you say "of all the national newspapers"?

  • I think it's a historic thing, really. I think when the Independent was founded by Andreas and Steve Glover and Matthew Simons back in 1986 that it did take a very different stance and always has done. It certainly likes to think it's free from proprietorial influence. In those days, you had a heavy concentration of News International papers, you had union-restrictive practices that were dominating industry and the Independent at that time was seen as something different and has certainly maintained that ever since.

    Obviously I heard Lionel Barber this morning and he says his paper's the gold standard, and we can argue among ourselves which is higher but we've certainly put ourselves up there.

  • I understand. You've heard Mr Malhotra and Mr Mullins tell us a bit about corporate governance, the separation between commercial and editorial sides of the newspaper. In your view, do procedures and policies and the separation between editorial and commercial sides of a newspaper actually make a difference to the culture of a newspaper, or does it depend more on the types of stories that a newspaper is particularly interested in?

  • I think it does depend more on the type of stories. I think some papers have a different culture, a different mindset. I think if you work in the Sunday market, where I have worked, there's very much a need to break exclusives on Sunday. We seem to have got ourselves into a position as a society where we expect Sunday newspapers to break stories, so that's quite different.

    Yes, I would say it's more the culture of the organisation. I mean, the Independent -- I think we need to put this slightly in context. The Independent is fairly small. It's extremely collegiate. We have, I think across three titles, just short of 200 journalists, whereas other places have 600. We do have some foreign correspondents but generally we are a bit smaller and it's possible for people to have a rough idea of what people are doing.

  • Before I forget, I am going to come straight to the code of conduct, please, because you were passed that particular baton. If you look at tab 4 within the bundle you will find at the start of that extracts from IPL's code of conduct.

  • I have some questions to ask you about it, if I can. First of all, please, on page 4 of that internally, under the heading "Stage 1 -- preparing for publication", there is a section headed "Putting the story to the subject". Do you see that?

  • "It is good journalistic practice that any potentially damaging story is put to the subject before publication."

    Now, good journalistic practice and what actually happens in practice may be different, so can you tell us whether, at the Independent, that's something that does happen?

  • It is good journalistic practice that it's put to the other side.

  • I would say that there are instances -- and I've come across them, I must admit, very rarely in my short stay at the Independent but in my very long time as a national newspaper journalist, there are some organisations -- some types of organisation that play games with the press, and you have to be very wary if you put a story. If you're very confident of the sources, very, very confident, and I mean two or three times sourced, and if you're putting it to them, they're quite likely -- and I don't mean they're going to seek injunctions or anything like that -- they're quite likely to be tipping off other journalists. We are in a very competitive field and there are one or two instances, types of organisations, where you have to be quite careful. If you go to them with a story, it's quite likely that somebody in that organisation might tip off another journalist, so you do have to be a bit wary. I really don't have much problem with that particular clause. I just think it's a bit broad, that's all.

  • What happens in practice? Would you notify the subject?

  • And the situations in which you wouldn't would be dictated by the fact that in the past you'd had a bad experience --

  • Not me personally or the paper. I think it's just knowledge that one or two types of organisations, particularly where there's constant press attention on them -- or where you phone up with a story and you just have to be a bit wary that it's going to leak and it's going to be passed on to another journalist on another paper, and it is -- as I say, it is an extremely competitive environment in which we operate.

  • If someone was to say to you: "Mr Blackhurst, we've decided that actually prior notification in every case is going to be compulsory", would you have a concern about that?

  • I was going to ask you about attribution policies within the code of conduct as well. Page 6 internally.

  • Do you see that under the heading "Stage 2, pre-publication"?

  • "All substantial material and quotes must be attributed correctly [and so on] ... whatever the source of the material."

    Then it goes on over the page to discuss quotes:

    "If quoting someone directly, you must use their exact words. Take care if you want to quote someone anonymously. Ask yourself what their motivation is, if they are not prepared to go on the record ..."

    And so on. Did you hear Mr Barber give evidence earlier?

  • What's the Independent's policy on using words such as "sources said" or "sources close to X said"?

  • We don't like them. I much prefer it that we actually name somebody or as close as could, give some sort of -- not identification but make it plain that we were talking to somebody on the inside. There are stock phrases like "sources close to the Prime Minister", which now is sort of ingrained in our brains, and we all know that's somebody at Number 10 or close, one of his advisers or whatever, but generally I think we try and avoid it.

  • The last thing I want to ask you about is stage 3, post publication.

  • Complaints handling. This is on the same page, page 7, further down:

    "If you receive a complaint about a story, you should forward it to the managing editor and legal department."

    And so on. Now, I raised with one of your colleagues the possibility of a readers' editor. I think his answer was: "We're not going to pay for that", although he said it much more politely than that. What's your personal view on the merits of having a readers' editor who is independent from the editor himself?

  • Personally, in an ideal world with a large organisation, lots of resources, it would be a nice thing to have. In my time as editor of the Independent and actually prior to that, when I was deputy editor for a many longer period than I've currently been editor, I've always -- I've not felt the need for it. If somebody writes to me, I will read their letter, I will read their email, I will pass them to the managing editor, some I may respond to personally, or they will respond. I have not felt the need. On the other hand, I have no problem with it. As was pointed out, it is a cost, and we are not an overly rich organisation and we live in hard times.

  • Where do you publish in the Independent corrections and clarifications?

  • We have a column on the -- I can't give you the page number but on the letters page there's a strip down there which we do use for those.

  • Is that a daily column, a weekly column?

  • Well, fortunately we don't have daily corrections and clarifications. I mean, I'd say once a week, twice a week. If somebody's -- obviously if we have got something wrong and they are seeking a correction in the place where it appeared, I think we go along with that. I have no problem with that.

  • I was about to ask you where you were on the prominence of apologies debate.

  • I think we try and publish them as prominently as we can. I mean, I -- I've not had cause to put one on the front page yet. If I had to -- I wouldn't want to, but if I had to, I would.

  • So again, a theoretical example. If someone was to come to you and say, "Actually, we've decided that the industry-wide standard will be that all corrections and apologies must be published on page 2" -- that's only a theory -- would you have a problem with that?

  • Or do you think that each newspaper should be allowed to publish corrections where it sees fit?

  • No, if the industry-wide standard is page 2, then page 2 it is. I have no problem with that at all.

  • Can I ask you to turn back to your statement now, please, and ask you about your section on page 5, starting at paragraph 19. You were asked about where the responsibility for checking sources of information lies. You've told us a bit about attribution and so on, but I want to ask you about the responsibility now for checking sources. You say this at the start of this section:

    "As a preliminary comment, I would say that, from my experience, this is not an issue that arises very often at the Independent. Most of the stories we publish are relatively straightforward news reporting, comment and analysis, rather than investigative or in-depth feature pieces which might rely on a wider array of sources."

    Now, are you really intending to say that the responsibility for checking sources, that issue, doesn't arise very often? And if you are, can you just explain that a bit further?

  • I don't think -- I suppose what I'm trying to say there is that I think in nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100, the sources are obvious. We are quoting from reports, we're quoting from press conferences, from named interviews. Very rarely -- not very rarely, but rarely do we have stories where the provenance of the source is an issue. In that case, I would say -- if it was a news story, I would be saying to the news editor: "Where's this from?" I might speak to the reporter directly. I've not had cause to do it yet.

    Actually, I have asked the news editor: "Where's the story come from?" but I mean I've been happy with the answer. But it happens quite rarely.

  • You explain at paragraph 21 how, if it was necessary to check the source of information, it works. Each level?

  • The original reporter and then the editor or the foreign editor, depending whether it was a news or a foreign story. Then deputy editor and then to you, with legal advice.

  • Is that a proper process? You're happy with that process?

  • Yes. I mean, I think we're giving slightly the wrong impression there. I stand by the words but we're not talking about a corridor of offices. We are -- we work with each other. I'm with the news editor, the foreign editor, the deputy editor pretty much all day long, and they're around me, and it's not a case of formal up and down the line requests. If I want to ask a reporter: "Where's the story come from?" I'll ask them. I won't wait for the deputy editor to speak to the news editor to speak to the reporter. We haven't got all day. I mean, just get on with it.

  • Fine. Let's move on to private investigators, please. This is the section starting at paragraph 30 of your statement. You were asked whether the newspaper has ever used or paid or had any connection with private investigators in order to source stories or information.

    You say: to the best of the knowledge in the ten weeks that you'd been editor, the newspaper had never used, paid or had any connection with private investigators, and you say this:

    "Generally speaking, the sorts of stories that we publish in the Independent are not the sort that would require a private investigator or payments to the types of third parties referred to in the question. If a journalist on the newspaper did intend to use a private investigator, I would expect the journalist or their desk head to clear that with me in advance."

    Does that mean that you don't rule out the possibility of using private investigators?

  • I don't rule them out, no, but I'd say if I felt that a story was of such paramount importance in the public interest and there was a piece of information that was vital, be it a phone number or an address or something that was in the public interest, that that information was obtained and we could not obtain it another way, then I might sanction it, but it hasn't happened.

  • Over the page, paragraph 41, you were asked about whether or not you pay -- or whether there are protocols or policies in place relating to payments to other external sources and you say that the Independent has a diary page which publishes out-and-about and social event-type stories. It doesn't publish inherently private stories such as exclusive celebrity kiss-and-tells, but you say you sometimes pay for tips for stories on the diary page.

    Can I ask you this: you can't have seen but did you hear or read of the evidence of Mr Atkins to this Inquiry? He's the gentleman who produced a film called Starsuckers and who planted false stories in showbiz and diary columns?

  • No. You're going to tell me that the Independent --

  • No, I'm not going to tell you that he rang the Independent, but I am going to ask you how you ensure that tips for diary pieces don't encourage fictional stories planted essentially for payment?

  • I think we'd have to -- I'm very wary. I mean, I have -- in my own experience, I've edited diaries and I was always very wary of people just ringing up who we didn't know. If it's from a named journalist who is a freelancer, who we have a relationship with, that's different. I'm very wary indeed of somebody phoning with a tip just like that, and we would only pay -- I would only pay, as a point of principle, if subsequently the story checked out. You wouldn't be agreeing and paying -- you know, no one can just ring up and say, "Pay me 50 quid, here's a story and I want it in my bank account now." That's not how it works. It would be -- if the story checked out, they might get 50 quid.

  • Do you publish a phone number or an email address in your diary column for the public to ring in with tips?

  • No, we're not that -- I mean, we've got -- lots of people know where we are. They can get us online. There's email addresses published and phone numbers, but we don't -- we're not seeking -- I mean, we're not actively sort of putting signs up saying, "Please send us your really nasty stories." That's not how we work.

  • There are two topics that I need to ask you about before we break for lunch. The first is the Johann Hari scandal, in inverted commas.

  • Then I'm going to ask about regulatory reform. Can we do it in that order?

  • Can I ask you about the Johann Hari issue first of all. First of all, I understand that the Johann Hari scandal broke very shortly before you became editor?

  • Can you tell us roughly how long that was?

  • Gosh, I think the paper first became aware of the plagiarism allegations against him -- I think it was two days before I was publicly appointed. You have to sort of remember that in the background, management knew there was a change of editor taking place and I think the previous editor knew there was a change of editor taking place, so people were -- there was an element of distraction, but the story, the allegations of the plagiarism, I think, broke two days before.

  • In that context, I'm going to paraphrase and I'm going to just summarise very briefly what happened. If I say anything that you think is incorrect, please stop me and correct me.

  • Johann Hari was and remains an interviewer and columnist for the Independent?

  • He doesn't remain an interviewer.

  • All right. We'll come on to what happened but he was at the time an interviewer and columnist for the Independent?

  • If I can summarise it in this way: he was accused first of all of plagiarism in this sense, in that it was pointed out that in relation to some of the interviews that he had published quotes were attributed to the person that he had interviewed that had not necessarily been spoken by them during the course of the interview. They were in fact quotes that had been taken from other sources. So, for example, in one case it was alleged that the subject had said what was attributed to him but he hadn't said it to Johann Hari; he'd said it in a book?

  • Is that a fair and accurate summary of the plagiarism issue?

  • Secondly, Mr Hari was accused of having used a false identity to go into -- it's not a very technical term, I know, but to access the Wikipedia pages of others.

  • And amend them in such a way as to insert derogatory comments.

  • Would that be a fair assessment?

  • You became aware of this, I assume, on taking --

  • It's hard not to be aware. I mean, there was a -- the whole storm broke on the plagiarism --

  • What a wonderful way to start.

  • The storm broke and you were aware, weren't you, that this had generated considerable feeling?

  • Some supporters of Mr Hari and the excellent work that he had done up to that point, and others who were very angered indeed by what had occurred, not least the people whose Wikipedia's entries had been changed?

  • I think I'd slightly pause you there. I think there was a slight gap between the plagiarism and the Wikipedia amendments. They didn't happen concurrently -- sorry they didn't happen simultaneously. There was a gap.

    I think what I would want to stress was the shock this caused. Enormous shock to myself, as somebody who prior to then had mainly been an observer and an admirer of Johann's journalism, and a much deeper shock, I think, to his colleagues at the Independent. It was really profound and totally unexpected.

    My response -- I don't know if I'm heading off your questions or not, but if you want to keep asking me questions --

  • If I can, I want to ask you specific questions.

  • Because there are two fundamental points which have been put, which I must put to you.

  • You can deal with it in whatever form you would like. First of all, the allegation is that the Independent or editors at the Independent had known about this for some time and had done nothing about it, secondly that the sum consequence of all of this is that Mr Hari has not been sacked from the Independent. He remains at the Independent, although he's had a leave of absence, which I'm sure you'll tell us about it in a moment. The argument that's levelled against the Independent is that you have essentially protected your own, in much the same way as it has been suggested to News of the World that after the scandal involving Neville Thurlbeck and the comments made by a High Court judge, that they protected their own. He did not face the sack from News of the World despite having been heavily criticised for his actions.

    If we could just take those in stages, first of all, the issue of cover-up. I've seen there's an interview in the bundle with Mr Kelner in which he said that he would investigate which editors knew about this. If you look behind tab 10, it's probably easier than me reading it out. You'll see an article headed "Johann Hari row is political". It's the third article in to that tab. It's dated Wednesday, 29 June 2011. It's a Guardian article. Do you see that?

  • At the top of the second page, the interviewer quotes Mr Kelner as saying this:

    "Kelner confirmed that the paper is investigating which editors knew about Hari's interview technique and that they would review some of his past articles."

    First of all, can you tell us whether or not the issue was investigated and whether, as part of that investigation, there was an investigation into whether editors knew about Hari's interview technique?

  • I think the word "investigating" there is probably quite strong. I think Simon -- I mean, I can't speak for Simon. Maybe you want to ask Simon to speak for himself. But I think that the -- as I stressed, the paper was in deep shock. The paper hadn't -- I'm surprised you say that there was cover-up in the sense that we'd had inklings before, because that is genuinely news to me. We had no inklings of the plagiarism at all. Indeed, one of the problems with the Johann affair was that nobody had ever complained. No journalist that he'd plagiarised, no person that he'd interviewed, no member of the public, no reader, no colleague, nobody had alerted us to the fact that he had drawn his information from somewhere else. If they had, it might have been nipped in the bud at a much earlier stage. The fact was it continued.

    What happened was that interview, 29 June -- and I took over literally -- that's the Wednesday. I took over on the Monday. One of my first acts was to ask Andreas Whittam Smith to investigate the allegations against Johann so -- and at that stage it was just the plagiarism. We did not know about the Wikipedia. That happened later when Nick Cohen wrote his article in the Spectator. Again, we had absolutely no knowledge. I certainly didn't. I don't believe any of my colleagues did. They had absolutely not knowledge that Johann Hari was messing about on the Internet under a false name amending people's Wikipedia entries. I mean, we just had no knowledge.

  • So you started an investigation into what happened --

  • Andreas Whittam Smith started an investigation.

  • How did that conclude? What were the conclusions that you reached?

  • What happened was -- and there's two issues. The two issues are the plagiarism and let's call it the Wikipedia. The plagiarism -- I know it's hard for the rest of the world to understand but I've read Andreas' report. We won't publish it, simply because it is an internal report into an employee. It is a disciplinary matter. No company -- even though we're the Independent, we can't set a precedent of publishing disciplinary reports about employees. That wouldn't be on.

    I know it's hard for -- I mean, on the plagiarism, Johann genuinely believed he was doing nothing wrong. He wasn't amending people's words. He did fabricate things like: "He took another sip of wine and said", and obviously he wasn't taking another sip of wine, and then the bit he said he'd borrowed from elsewhere, but the fact that nobody complained, the fact that nobody spotted it, Johann did not believe he was doing anything wrong, and there was an issue, which came back to the fact that Johann left university -- he left Cambridge in 2001, I think I'm right in saying, and in 2002 he was as staff columnist on the Independent, and at no stage had he had any training.

  • No, because there are plenty of journalists who have no training who know the difference between right and wrong, and I accept that, and he should have known what he was doing was wrong, but nobody told him. I think in terms of plagiarism, it wasn't as stark and as severe as the Jayson Blair case. He wasn't fabricating hard news, as far as I was aware.

    On the Wikipedia, he was able to produce evidence that he acted in the way he did -- I mean, I don't want to too much into this.

  • No, let's not go there.

  • But he produced his medical history, which showed that -- which, again, is another reason for not publishing the report -- which showed he acted in the way he did. Andreas took those into account. Andreas produced a very tightly argued reasoning as to why, while he had committed misdemeanours, he did not think it sufficient for him to lose his job.

  • What sanctions were imposed?

  • Johann's now had four months without pay. He's had no -- his salary was stopped. That's four months entirely without pay from the Independent. He's gone to New York at his own cost to do ethics courses at Columbia and NYU. He will be returning to the paper in about four or five weeks' time as a columnist. He understands he won't be interviewing people. He understands -- I hope he understands that if anything arises that damages the paper's reputation, then I'm afraid that's it, and everything he writes will be heavily looked at, as I'm sure it will be by the outside world. There's a whole Twitter community who probably can't wait for him to start writing again, but that's what's going on happen. I think, as Roy Greenslade wrote in the Guardian, he thought it was a proportionate punishment.

  • So did you protect your own?

  • No. I think if you're publicly suspending somebody for four months without pay -- his reputation has been very, very severely damaged. The reputation of the Independent in relation to Johann Hari has been severely damaged. He produced cogent reasons why he did what he did. We are the Independent. We had to respect those. I don't think we covered up at all.

  • I want to move on to ask you about press regulation and reform, please. If you look at tab 9 in your bundle, you will find an article which is headlined:

    "Independent editor backs plan for bad journalists to be struck off."

    This sounds like you are in support of some kind of licensing of journalists, which is interesting. I think we've not had a witness yet who is in favour of that. Perhaps you could outline your views on this.

  • I'm not in favour of state licensing. I think that the -- as much as I regret saying it, I think the Press Complaints Commission has become tarnished in the eyes of the public. It is what the words say on the tin. It's a receptacle for complaints, and it ought to be -- I think the industry now recognises, and certainly when the editors meet and we talk among ourselves, we now recognise that there is need for substantial reform.

    What I'm profoundly against is state intervention, state control of the media. I think if we can find a formula so that all the newspapers are brought within the new body -- I think much is made of this, but the government has a way of defining newspapers for VAT purposes, and so if they can be defined and brought in, that might need a small statute. They are then in the body, whatever this body is called. It is then enshrined in every journalist's employment contract and every condition of payment for a freelancer that they abide by the code of this new body and failure to abide by the code may lead to disciplinary measures, and in the case of employed journalists, those employed by the news organisations, as opposed to freelancers, it could mean that they lose their job.

    I certainly would advocate fining the newspapers and I think this new body should be far more proactive. The example I give -- I would have dearly loved in the Johann Hari case to have passed the Johann Hari file to the PCC and said, "There you are, you look at this, I will respect this, because it won't damage --" I mean, I wouldn't be sitting here -- it's not standing, you're standing -- I wouldn't be sitting here being accused of a cover-up if I'd passed the file to the PCC and they'd come back with a verdict on Johann that I followed. There's no means in the system for doing that.

    If you look at -- I mean, we all sort of in a way poke fun at slightly anachronistic organisations like the Jockey Club. The Jockey Club has a way of dealing with jockeys. The Law Society has a way of dealing with solicitors. The GMC -- if you're a hospital manager and you suspect negligence, you go to the GMC and they look into it and they might move against a doctor. There is nothing in our industry for that.

  • One of the problems with that -- and I'm very interested in what you've just said and I'd certainly like to take it up with you, but one of the problems with your recent analogies is that the state is entitled to say who could practice as a doctor, who can practice as a lawyer or an optician or whatever, but it's fundamental to freedom of expression that what you are doing when you're writing something is doing no more than exercising your right of free speech.

  • Whether that means you have to have a job is different, and I take the point you make.

  • I think the way I would do it, and I have given some thought to this, is that this new body, if they said -- I mean, you know, let's use hypothetical -- I don't really want to use Johann, it's not fair on him, but say they came back to me and said, "We believe that Johann Hari broke our code, broke the code, and in our view he should not continue to be employed by the Independent." Obviously we have our own HR. The contract is with us, the employer, but in that contract, if there was a clause saying that it would be a disciplinary matter, that if you broke the code, we would then hold -- it would be quite a brave organisation that then turned around and said, "Actually, you know what, we hear what you say but we're going to ignore it."

  • You can tweak that slightly and fit in with employment law responsibilities by saying that a disciplinary matter could be adjudged by a press complaints authority, whatever it's called --

  • -- and passed back to the management of the newspaper to deal with the particular journalist as they felt right.

  • I could see that, but I'd like to go back on what you've just said, because what you did say is that -- hang on:

    "If we can find a formula so that all newspapers are brought within the new body ..."

    And you said that might require a small statute. You probably heard my exchange with Mr Barber, that I'd be very keen to ensure that whatever regulation there was was independent.

  • I like that word, if you'll allow me to use it.

  • That it isn't in any sense state-controlled or state-influenced. But to get some of the bells and whistles in place, do I gather --

  • We have a problem at the moment, as you know, with Express Newspapers not wishing to be part of the PCC, and therefore we don't have -- in terms of our national title, we don't have an all-encompassing referee.

  • And there are lots more, too. There are magazines that don't subscribe.

  • It's not merely the Express.

  • I think if you're -- obviously it is the right of everybody to go to a photocopying machine and start writing and photocopying and handing out pamphlets in the street. That's the sort of society we believe in and the sort of society we want, and that's a principle that we hold very dear, all of us in this room. Well, I can't speak for everyone, but we do.

  • Well, I'm going to agree with you.

  • Yes, good. But on the other hand we need to find a way of defining newspapers and magazines, if they're taking paid-for advertising. The government is able to find a way. The HMRC defines it for the purposes of VAT. Newspapers are exempt from VAT. I haven't looked at how they define but they do define it.

  • It could be also the trade or business of journalism.

  • So, in other words, one analogy, if I take a quite different example: if you sell your car individually, then you're not within the trade description legislation.

  • If, however, every single week you're advertising three different cars in a newspaper, then it's an inference that you're in the trade or business of selling cars and you are then --

  • -- so it's that sort of thing.

  • That's right, and I think that then spills over onto other areas, because obviously one area of concern is the Internet, but it strikes me that there's an enormous amount of concern about people blogging and saying what they like on the Internet, but how often does it actually come back to the story not being true until a recognisable, reputable news organisation has actually reported it? And that happens all the time.

    Yes, there's a blogosphere out there, but it's the BBC -- until it's on the BBC reporting it, or until it's in the Independent, the Guardian, the Times or the Sun or whatever, it's not regarded as true. Therefore, some type of badging, whether it's kite marks or standards or whatever, could easily be applied. If you want that standard, you have to play by these rules. I don't see that as -- it wouldn't affect the way I go about my business as a journalist, and would not affect the way the Independent goes about its business.

  • Sorry. I'll have a go after you.

  • I'm very conscious of the time and the fact that you may have questions for Mr Blackhurst.

  • Yes. Let me just carry on a little bit.

    You also heard the exchange about libel and the whole cost of litigation, and you've heard me speak about some sort of arbitral system which allowed people cheaply to resolve issues without incurring these vast expenses, both sides.

  • Yeah. I think -- I heard Lionel Barber and I agree with him and I think I know the law firm he was referring to, and when you get one of their letters, you feel you're going to be boiled in -- you know, they're pretty horrific.

  • I'm not going to get too involved in what law firms or how they write letters. I'm more concerned with the idea of providing a mechanism, but if it's consensual, then the very, very wealthy will simply say, "I'm not interested". If that's the only way they can do it, then actually that has an advantage for the vast majority of people, and indeed for the press as well.

  • Yes. I'm intrigued as to -- in my time, and I've worked, as has been said, on Sunday Times, Express, Observer, Independent, Independent on Sunday -- I've not really come across these people who are libelled and have no form of redress. I'm not entirely sure that -- but nevertheless, if this new body had --

  • Mr Blackhurst, with respect, you wouldn't, because if they have no money and have not been able to go to libel lawyers, then they'll be told, "I'm very sorry, unless you have £X thousand to invest in it, you're wasting time."

  • Except now we operate in a different world of conditional fee arrangements.

  • That's only comparatively recently.

  • Yeah. I -- it would not cause me a problem, and I don't believe it would cause a Independent a problem, if this new body had some sort of -- let's call it arbitration division or complaints division that actually dealt with these cases and both sides respected. It wouldn't bother me at all. I am all for legal disputes being settled in an afternoon by both parties in a room, and that's it, and I've always thought that should be the best way to operate. If it's left to lawyers, dare I say it, it will be strung out because -- you know.

  • No, no, no, lots of my friends are lawyers.

  • That doesn't necessarily disagree with what you just said.

    I'm interested in a system, however we devise it, that works for everybody.

  • Obviously I've not made a study of this, but one that does come to mind is in construction law. In construction, they have very quick procedures where money is agreed. You know, they have a very quick arbitration procedure. You know, as I understand it, they have an expert, who probably isn't a judge, an expert who might be, in our case I guess it would be a former editor or former -- somebody who would sit in, both sides agree, and it's settled there and then. I don't see why something like that from the world of construction could not be applied to journalism.

  • Sir, it's past 1 o'clock.

  • I don't have any more questions for Mr Blackhurst. I've not afforded him the opportunity --

  • I'll afford him the opportunity. Is there anything you'd like to say that you don't feel you've had the opportunity to say?

  • No. I think it's a matter of regret that the PCC has been found to be wanting. I think we all recognise the need for reform. My biggest worry is that the sort of journalism that we do, and we do do investigations and we do think they're in the public interest, and I would count some other newspapers in this -- but also I don't think, you know, some the newspapers who've been traduced in public in the last months, they do fantastic work. Without the Daily Mail on Lawrence, we wouldn't have got to where we got last week. Without the News of the World, we'd still believe that Test cricket was entirely clean. These are huge things.

    I'm very worried that the outcome of this Inquiry, and I hope not, that our ability as an industry to investigate will be curtailed, because it's pretty hard, investigating. We don't live in an open society, whatever people might think, and finding out things about people that they do not want you to find out -- I mean, one thing that's lost in all this is that when you're doing investigations, and I've done an awful lot, the key point is very often the person you're investigating does not want you to find out.

  • Somebody defined news as: something that somebody else doesn't want you to hear.

  • I understand that point and I am absolutely at one with you that nothing should happen which, in any sense, impacts adversely on appropriate journalism.

  • The problem and the trick is going to be to separate out all that is good, and there is a great deal that is good, as I've said several times.

  • I would stress very heavily there's a lot more good than bad.

  • Yes, that's as may be, that's as may be; but, on the other hand, there certainly have been some practices which are not entirely laudable.

  • And it's not just phone hacking.

  • No, it's not just phone hacking, although I stress on phone hacking, if the police had not had such a cosy relationship with News International, as they possibly had, it may have been investigated a lot earlier and people dealt with.

  • Except, we have to be a little bit careful about that as well, Mr Blackhurst, because we don't have a society where a policeman can sit on everybody's shoulder, and I'm not making any finding about this at all.

  • But I've read some of what has been said in Parliament, and it is at least plausible that if you're investigating or concerned about enormous crimes against the country, terrorism or the like, that how much you investigate every single allegation of data protection or hacking -- I'm not in any sense applauding, approving; I'm merely saying there's a balance even there.

  • But one has to be a little bit careful about saying if the police had done their job -- if it's to do with their relationship with News International, doubtless we'll find out.

  • That's part of the Inquiry.

  • Likewise, you could say if the PCC had done their job, we might not --

  • They're one of the guilty parties here.

  • But my concern is it's a bit more fundamental than all that.

  • But I entirely endorse your view that there is much, the predominance, the real predominance of work that's done by the press in this country is to everybody's advantage.

    The extent to which the press investigate the press is perhaps another question.

  • Oh, gosh. We're not going there, are we?

  • You look at everybody else. The extent to which you look at yourselves -- you are now, I recognise that.

  • We do. There is a sort of -- you know, the phrase "people in glass houses" always springs to mind. Whenever we look at what another paper's done, we're very wary, and I think they're wary about having a go at us, and there is a sort of unwritten code between us that we don't do that sort of thing.

  • And that's the problem. Because we look to you, the press, to guard all of us, and we therefore need to make sure we have robust systems that guard you.

  • That takes me back to the early part of July, which is what I said when I was first appointed. Mr Blackhurst, thank you very much indeed.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Sir, this afternoon we have the Telegraph Media Group Limited. The first witness is Mr Murdoch MacLennan, please.