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

  • MR FRANKLIN LIONEL BARBER (affirmed).

  • Thank you very much indeed. If you would just sit down and make yourself comfortable. You should find in front of you a bundle of tabbed documents and behind tab 3, you should find your witness statement. Could you please confirm your full name to the Inquiry?

  • Franklin Lionel Barber.

  • You've provided us with this witness statement at tab 3. It's signed at the end, although redacted. Can you confirm that the contents of that statement are true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • I can confirm that they are true to the best of my knowledge.

  • Thank you very much. I'm going to ask you first of all about your career history. I'm looking at paragraph 5 of the statement. You explain that you've worked at the Financial Times for 26 years now, including serving for 16 years as foreign correspondent in Brussels and Washington. You're now obviously the editor of the Financial Times.

    Prior to your appointment as editor, you held the position of managing editor for the United States, based in New York. You also held executive positions as news editor and European editor in London. Prior to joining the FT, you worked on the Scotsman and on the Sunday Times.

    Then you detail at paragraph 5 a number of accolades. You were named young journalist of the year. You were the Laurence Stern fellow at the Washington Post, and you have lectured widely on economics, politician, national security and the media in the US and Europe. You served, between 2002 and 2005, on the advisory committee of Columbia University's School of Journalism and you're currently a member of the board of the New York-based International Centre for Journalism, which promotes quality journalism worldwide. That's all correct?

  • I'm going to ask you about some of the policies in place at the Financial Times, the Financial Times code and so on, but before I do that, can I ask you this general question, Mr Barber: to what extent n your opinion, does the Financial Times' focus on financial journalism, the fact that it has little interest in the private lives of celebrities, mean that it is altogether easier to be an ethical title?

  • First, let me say that I'm extremely grateful to the Inquiry for calling me to contribute to this discussion, and on behalf of the Financial Times. It is true that we are a niche publication, albeit a global news organisation in print and online. It is also true that we focus on business and financial journalism, but we also write a lot about politics. We write about how politics, economics, finance connect in the global economy. But that doesn't mean to say that we're not interested in what one might describe as private lives. Just a couple of months ago, for example, we reported first that the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group had stress problems and he had to step back and seek medical treatment. We thought that that was a legitimate story to pursue. We sourced it -- not one source but two sources minimum -- and we also thought that, given the bank's difficulties and the fact that this was of enormous interest to shareholders, that this deserved to be published, and we did publish and the story was true.

  • Let's move on then to pick up some of the things you've just referred to. Let's start with paragraph 8 of your statement, which focuses on the Financial Times' code of practice. You explain that the Financial Times newspaper has its own editorial code of practice. Sorry, I'll wait until you have paragraph 8.

  • You exhibit a copy, and we'll look at it in a moment, but you explain that it incorporates by reference the PCC Editors' Code of Practice, and in fact goes beyond what's required by the PCC code on issues such as transparency and disclosure in the context of financial journalism.

    Can we look at the code itself? You'll find it in your exhibits. Your exhibits should be in the next tab, tab 4. You should find it LB1, the very first exhibit. Do you see that?

  • Can you explain, please, to the Inquiry why you say that it in fact goes beyond what is required by this PCC code and why the decision has been made to have a code of practice that does go beyond the PCC code?

  • I think the first paragraph of the Financial Times code of practice speaks for itself, and if I may read it -- it's short:

    "It is fundamental to the integrity and success of the Financial Times that it upholds the highest possible professional and ethical standards of journalism -- and is seen to do so."

    And the reason we set such a high bar is that our relationship with our readers -- and they are largely in business and finance, but not exclusively, and diplomacy and academia -- is one of trust. People have to be able to rely on the Financial Times for accurate information which is set in context, multiple sourced and that they can rely on it because they're making decisions, important decisions in their respective professions.

    I think it was Sir Gordon Newton, who was probably the finest editor of the Financial Times -- he served for 23 years in the immediate post-war period. He said that the Financial Times appeals to decision-makers in business, finance and public affairs all around the world. That's our audience. They need to be able to trust the information that we provide, and that is why we have a very stiff code of conduct, which goes beyond the PCC.

  • All right. That answers my question as to why you have one. In what respects does it go further than the PCC code?

  • Well, if I could be more specific.

  • We obviously do have specific clauses which relate to financial holdings, shareholdings by journalists. First of all, they are obliged, under the Financial Times code of conduct, to disclose those holdings to a share register, the contents of which are known to the -- certainly the managing editor and editor. It's restricted, but they are obliged to disclose those shareholdings, and certainly they are not in any way able to trade in those shares if they're -- when they are covering sectors which -- related sectors.

    So in other words, we are making sure that we are not in any way conflicted or behaving unethically, and to trade in shares when you're actually covering a sector would be unethical conduct, and actually would be grounds for dismissal.

  • Those are aspects of the code which deal with the particular area of journalism that the Financial Times is concerned with, but can we look, please, at the second page of the code of conduct, under the heading "Data Protection Act 1998 requirements". There also seems to be a section on data protection. Can you assist us with why the Financial Times considered it necessary to introduce this section into the code?

  • Well, first of all, there was a law called the Data Protection Act and Financial Times journalists do not break the law. We also feel it is important to behave in an honest, transparent fashion. That is why journalists pursuing stories on the Financial Times do not misrepresent themselves. They represent themselves as Financial Times journalists.

  • All right. I think the question -- if I can rephrase it in this way: yes, there is a Data Protection Act. There's a requirement to comply with it. Why do the Financial Times feel it necessary to include relevant guidance on it within its code as opposed to just saying to journalists: "You must obey the law"?

  • Well, the Act was passed in 1998. Clearly, we have seen a number of stories which have come out in the public domain regarding phone hacking, and that would be one reason why we've included that particular section in our code of conduct.

  • I understand. The code then goes on to set out the provisions of the PCC code. Do you see that? The question I have for you is this: it's true to say that your code of practice does go further than just the PCC code. It has some specific provisions relating to financial journalism. It has the data protection provisions. In your view, does the PCC code as it currently exists need amending to include this kind of provision or is it fit for purpose?

  • Well, I think that would be a matter for discussion between editors. My personal view is that the code needs to be enforced, the current code, before its substantially amended, and in the case of phone hacking it clearly wasn't enforced.

  • And one of the parties did not represent themselves in an honest way when dealing with the PCC.

  • So I understand your answer to be then that you're more worried about issues of enforcement than issues of amendment to the existing code?

  • I think the code is pretty robust but it needs to be enforced and it needs to be credible.

  • I'll come on to ask you more about regulation in a moment. Sticking, though, with the code for the moment, you explain in your -- back to your witness statement, please, in the previous tab. You explain at paragraph 11 that you send reminders to your staff of the code at appropriate opportunities or appropriate times. You explain in paragraph 11 that, for example, in October 2010 a member of staff employed by Thomson Reuters resigned following alleged breaches of their code of conduct and you give the gist of what happened. But as a result, you say, you sent an email to FT editorial staff worldwide reminding them of their obligations under the FT code as financial journalists, for example, you say, to ensure that they do not make editorial decisions about shares in which they have an interest.

    You then attach a copy of the email at exhibit 5. Can we just look at that briefly. It's behind tab 4.

  • Where is this? Sorry, I'm having trouble -- oh yes, I've got it.

  • If you look at the bottom right-hand corner, there'll be a number and it's 734.

  • It may appear on the screen?

  • Yes, no, I have it now.

  • To paraphrase that, you explain what's just happened at Thomson Reuters and say:

    "To ensure that there can be no room for doubt over our conduct, we are now taking the step of requiring all members of staff to sign a form affirming that they have read and understood the code and have made or updated their entry in the Investment Register as laid out in the code and will continue to update the register as soon as their investment position changes."

    You attach a copy of the code, a compliance form and a link to the Investment Register and you say if there are any questions, please come back.

    Did you receive back to that email or any similar email any response from journalists saying, "No, I haven't complied with the code", or any expression of concern as a result of that email?

  • Nobody sent me an email saying they had not complied with the code.

  • Or that there was any problem?

  • No. We needed a little bit of time to make sure that everybody did fill out the register and update their entry in the Investment Register, and I can now say that since that statement was issued to you, that we have -- and we have more than 600 journalists at the FT -- it's pretty well 99.9 per cent compliant.

    May I make a broader point?

  • The reason for sending out this email was that I felt very strongly that it was important that we uphold the highest standards and that we needed to make sure that we were doing so because in general the profession has to be a lot more open and transparent about how it's doing its business and also be seen to be accountable to ourselves and to standards.

    So if we are going -- and I feel this -- and I have worked now almost 27 years for the FT. I think the FT should be the gold standard in journalism, and that means that we need to uphold the highest practices, the highest standards of integrity, and that is why we have the Investment Register and why we want to have full compliance from our journalists.

  • The question is really whether self-certification by journalists is sufficient to uphold those standards?

  • It is, because the penalty of not upholding those standards and damaging the reputation of the FT is dismissal, and people who do not uphold the highest standards put in jeopardy the reputation of the Financial Times, are at risk of dismissal.

  • Have you ever dismissed anyone on that basis?

  • I have not personally dismissed -- there is one instance which is not related to this particular matter regarding Investment Registers -- the Investment Register.

  • That's the editorial code of conduct. There's also --

  • I suppose you mean, in answer to the question that Ms Patry Hoskins was asking: self-certification is sufficient because your journalists wouldn't try and mislead you in any way because the risk of being caught out was just too great?

  • So I think the question was not so much "is your certification system sufficient" but "is it sufficiently robust", and that really requires you to know your staff, I suppose.

  • Yes, sir. I would argue that the Financial Times code of conduct is a model for self-regulation.

  • Well, that's a slightly different question, which I think we'll probably come on to discuss.

  • Yes, because the penalties of not getting it right are severe, potentially.

  • Yes, but they're imposed by the editor, and therefore what might work within a newspaper setting which has the power to dismiss is rather different from what might work in a wider setting. I don't think we'll leave this topic alone before you're finished.

  • No, we certainly won't.

    Just finishing on the code of conduct, you were telling us about the editorial code of conduct. There's also a Pearson company-wide code of conduct which I'm sure you're aware of. It's referred to in the statement of Mr Ridding, which is at tab 1.

    If we look at his witness statement, please, behind tab 1 in the bundle, we find within that paragraph 12. Yes?

  • He says this:

    "Pearson plc publishes a code of conduct."

    I'm assuming you're aware of this code of conduct?

  • He attaches a copy and he says this:

    "It requires all Pearson employees, including therefore Financial Times employees, to conduct themselves not only in accordance with the law but in accordance with the ethical principles set out in the code. The code is made available on the FT's intranet and is referred to in all new starter packs for Financial Times employees."

    He goes on to say:

    "Pearson circulates an email annually to all Pearson employees, reminding them of their obligations under the code and asking them to confirm either compliance with it or to notify incidences of noncompliance which they're aware of."

    Pausing there, does the Pearson code add anything, in your view, to the editorial code?

  • For the last half of the sentence which you just cited, counsel, which is that it not only reminds Pearson employees of their obligations under that code, asking them to "confirm either compliance", but crucially "to notify incidences of non-compliance they're aware of". We don't have that.

  • I see. When I said "does it add anything", I guess the second half to that question is: is it necessary to have an editorial code and a company-wide code of conduct for just that reason or could there simply be one code of conduct and achieve the same aim?

  • Well, that would be an interesting intellectual question --

  • That's why I'm asking you.

  • -- which I'm going to try to answer. The Financial Times is a discrete entity within the Pearson group. The editor is independent. Pearson, however, own the Financial Times, so should they wish to have a separate code of conduct, that's a matter for them, and we think that the two can happily live alongside each other.

  • In the same paragraph, Mr Ridding goes on to say this:

    "Pearson also operates a whistle-blowing hotline called Ethicspoint, which allows employees to report breaches of the code on an anonymous basis. Employees can also report breaches of the code locally, for example to their line manager or in-house legal team."

    Now, is there any similar whistle-blowing hotline for breaches of the editorial code?

  • No, we don't operate the whistle-blowing principle. If there are problems at the Financial Times, my experience is that they are brought to senior employees, if not to me personally.

  • What if the complaint was about you or involved you in some way?

  • Then it would go to my deputy.

  • Can a person who's concerned about breaches of editorial code phone the whistle-blowing hotline? Is that an avenue open to them or is it just a hotline for the Pearson-wide code?

  • No, we are employees of the Financial Times and we're owned by Pearson, therefore if a Financial Times journalist or an employee in general wished to use the Pearson hotline, they could. But I think it's important again to understand something -- an intangible quality called culture, and I don't wish to sound too high-minded here but we think we have a pretty good culture, and if there are problems, they're shared at all levels. We also have a union at the Financial Times, and if individuals have problems or grievances, they can go to the union. They can also go, crucially, to the managing editor. We haven't talked about that role but that is the person who deals with human -- HR problems or budget problems and that is an open door too. And then finally they can go to me.

    So we don't think -- we don't want to be complacent but we don't think we need to have a whistle-blowing function in the newsroom at the Financial Times.

  • Can I come on then to ask you, please, about sources and sourcing. In paragraph 17 onwards of your statement, you say this. It's in response to our question, which was this:

    "To what extent is an editor aware/should be aware of the sources of the information which make out the central stories featured in your newspaper each day, including the method by which information was obtained?"

    You say this:

    "In terms of sourcing, we follow a minimum two source policy at the FT as evidenced by the sourcing policy [which we can look at if necessary] ... this means that as a general rule every story should be dual-sourced irrespective of whether our sources are on or off the record."

    I can see why you've taken that decision. In practice, does that happen?

  • Okay. How can you be so sure?

  • Because it's standard practice at the FT and it has been for some time, and it was reaffirmed in the strongest terms when I took over as editor just over six years ago. If I may explain just a little bit?

  • If you rely on a single source for a story, you are leaving yourself open to manipulation, you leave yourself open to being misled and not understanding fully context. There's always another side to a story.

    I sometimes think about this in terms of an image of walking up a mountain. If you go on a single source, you get up to the top of the mountain and you have the most glorious view. You have the idea of a wonderful scoop the next morning. But then look down on the other side of the mountain. That's the risk. So you need to go for a second story. No story, however good it seems, if it comes from one source, is going to enter the pages or on the online of the Financial Times. You need to have two sources, and even if the Prime Minister were to speak off the record to a journalist and give that journalist at the FT a big story, we would still check it, we'd still talk to other people to verify, to also put the story in its broader context.

    So -- and when you say, "Is it followed at the FT?" every other week something comes up. A news editor on the desk says, "We have a very interesting story here, but we need a second source." It's ingrained.

  • You say it's helpful in terms of verification. It may be very good in terms of --

  • It's not helpful; it's essential.

  • Okay. It may be essential in terms of verification, it may be very good in terms of the reliability of the information that you then obtain, but how would you know about methods? How would you know, for example, if one of the sources was a hacked phone message or a hacked email or a blagged medical record? How does your sourcing policy affect that?

  • First of all, to the best of my knowledge -- and I've spent some time ahead of this Inquiry talking to colleagues -- I know of no instance of phone hacking or so-called blagging for information at the FT. We don't engage in that sort of business. We do obtain sensitive information but we don't do it using those methods.

    Now, how do I know? Because the appointment of the news editor at the Financial Times is one of the most critical appointments that I can make as editor. The news editor at the FT has a great deal of power. Direct reports and the key jobs, like political editor, economics editor. He or she deals with journalists on a regular basis. The news editors who report to that news editor, the other ones, sit around the common desk. They share how stories are obtained and in terms of sourcing, if the story is especially sensitive, then again it's a matter of course. It comes down to culture. If it's a sensitive story, the news editor will come to me and discuss it, or to my deputy when I'm travelling, and that way we have a system of checks and balances in the Financial Times. We have a transparent -- an overused word. We have an open way of working.

    So I'm very confident that we do not -- that first of all, two sources works, and second, that we're not using questionable, if not illegal, methods to obtain our stories. And there's a reason for that. We have a reputation to defend. We have a bond of trust with our readers, and if we're seen to be engaging in illegal activity or questionable activity, then that bond of trust with our readers risks being broken.

  • I understand that and I accept what you say about the fact that your staff doesn't engage in illegal practices, it doesn't use unethical means to obtain stories. My question was about sources. A two-source policy may be a very worthy one, but how do you know, how can you check whether sources have not used unethical methods? Is that possible?

  • Not sources. You mean journalists using unethical --

  • Ah. Well, that presumes that we are relying, for example, on private detectives or other people engaging in illicit methods, so-called -- what I would call secondary sources. We like to deal with primary sources.

  • Again, counsel, you are using the word "helpful", and I'm insisting it's essential for us. I don't wish to be prescriptive for the whole industry, but I'm just talking about the Financial Times' practice. And I repeat, you know, two sources is essential for the way we do our business. We make mistakes. We've made mistakes in the past. We correct them and we learn from them. But the basis, the foundation for how we go about our business is to, one, obtain information by representing ourselves as Financial Times journalists, and second, obtaining -- and by the way, it's not -- that's a minimum two sources. Preferably we'd like three and there have been instances where we have not published stories, sometimes to my chagrin.

    We had a story which -- in New York, I had one -- a person I'd known for ten years told me that Shell was going to revise its policy on oil reserves and the story was absolutely correct. We could not stand it up. We spent a day, and yes, the next day Shell announced that they were revising their policy. It had a big impact on the share price. We didn't run the story. And there are other examples of that.

    But in the end -- and again, I'm quoted to the point of being boring at the Financial Times -- I'd rather be right than first. In fact, not "rather"; that's the way we operate. We don't want to be first and get it wrong.

  • When you're talking about sources, you're talking about primary sources, not second-hand sources? That's the point that I think --

  • Yes, sir. Again, you've phrased that much better than I have been able to in several sentences, but that's the point. You can't rely, if you're in the business that we're in, on hearsay. We deal with primary sources, people who are making the decisions and others outside.

  • I understand. Can we look at your sourcing and attribution policy very briefly. It's exhibit 3 to your statement. If you look in the bottom right-hand corner, you should find the number of 729.

  • First of all, in your view, how important is it to actually have a sourcing and attribution policy as opposed to just giving guidance on an as and when basis?

  • Well, the reason that this was written down -- and I remember the discussion because I was in New York at the time -- is that the New York Times, which I think is widely recognised as one of the best newspapers and news organisations in the world, suffered a terrible embarrassment when one of its reporters, a staff reporter, was revealed to have literally invented stories and was guilty of plagiarism. We took a view at the top of the FT that if such a thing could happen at the New York Times, then we needed to review our own internal procedures, and if we were going to be, to use this phrase, the gold standard, then we should be clearer about some of the ways in which we obtained our stories and information.

    So after the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, which, it should be remembered, cost the editor of the New York Times and his deputy, the managing editor, Howell Raines and Gerry Boyd, their jobs -- they had to resign, so the New York Times was literally decapitated, the newsroom -- we decided to write down in more detail the sourcing policy which you've alluded to. I'm happy to go into that a little bit more, but that's why we did that at the time.

  • It's a very good example of where something's gone wrong, then you just check your own systems and make sure that they're absolutely watertight, and that's why you sent the email to which you earlier referred to. It's not that you're concerned; it's just that you're constantly checking?

  • Yes, sir, and I think there is an element at which pre-emption helps. It's become a dirty word in national security, but actually in the editorial conference room, that's important, that you do respond. And for me -- and I've worked for 10 years in the United States -- I was shocked at what had happened. Howell Raines, at the New York Times, the editor, the executive editor of the New York Times, just the previous year had walked away with five, seven Pulitzer prizes for his award-winning coverage of the events of 9/11 and their impact on New York City. Fantastic journalism. And then a few months later, this happened in his own newsroom.

    It's interesting. I read his account of that. I also -- when I was at the Washington Post in 1985 in the summer, one of the best pieces of advice that was given to me was: read the five days of page-long account of how Janet Cooke -- again, working in the Washington Post newsroom, just a couple of years after the Washington Post had done a wonderful job on the Watergate scandal, again, Janet Cooke had actually, a reporter in the Metropolitan newsroom, invented the story of a crack addict in DC and had to give back a Pulitzer prize.

    I think, again, sir, without wishing to make a meal of this, the point is: if you see the best in class suffering a scandal like that, you need to react.

  • And one of the reactions was to create this policy. Can I look, very briefly, at just some of the paragraphs within it. First of all, under the heading "Sourcing", obviously you refer to your two, ideally three independent sources for each story point. But can we look at paragraph 6:

    "Always give people or companies the chance to answer the charges being levelled at them. Remember that cross-checking builds respect with sources."

    Now, is that a kind of prior notification policy?

  • Right. I didn't think so. Can you just explain?

  • No, we don't give heads-up to people we're writing stories about. At least that is absolutely not the policy. It may happen occasionally, but it's not -- definitely not meant to happen, because you pursue your story and then you go to the source. Sometimes, frankly, it can be a pain because people don't come back to you in time for deadlines. They want more time and sometimes we do give them more time, and if it's especially sensitive and there is the risk of libel, which we haven't talked about, then we want to make sure that we've given people the right opportunity to answer questions and put the other side of the story. Again, you can be surprised. You may think you have something which is watertight, but actually is less so when somebody comes back.

  • I was going to come on to prior notification but if you think this is a convenient moment, perhaps you could tell us why you certainly don't have a prior notification policy in place at the FT.

  • I think it's important that we do our business in a dispassionate way. Obviously journalists cultivate sources. They're important, whether they're in the political, financial or any other arena. That's how you get information. But you never want to get so close to a source that you're offering prior notification or sharing everything. It's a dangerous business. That's a dangerous path to go along.

    So we are in an odd half-world where we need to be both close, but then to move away, to engage in building a relationship of trust with sources but never to get so close that you're offering prior notification. You need to do business.

  • Why is it a dangerous path? I think it would be helpful for the Inquiry to understand why, in financial journalism in particular, prior notification, you think, would be a dangerous path?

  • I speak as a journalist, not just a financial journalist. Obviously there may be instances -- if you were to tell a company that you were about to write a story, this could get out into the market, it could -- it could be passed on, it could move the share price. You know, you want to be able to do your work first, before necessarily going to the company. I wouldn't want to take that too far. I just think in general you don't go to, if you like, the subject of a story. If you'd been offered some information which may be damaging, may be positive, you don't want to go to that source straight away.

  • I don't think the question is whether it's straight away. The question is whether, before you actually publish the story, you say, "Right, we have this. Do you have a comment to make upon it?"

  • No, we always -- that's exactly what we do. I'm just saying in terms of the process of working on the story, when it's cooked, you then -- or when it's finished, you then go to the company and ask for a response. Because, as I say, it may alter both the timing of publication and the substance of what you're writing about.

  • And it's also a question of balance and fairness and context, which we haven't talked about much, but that's the reason for sourcing. You need to think about context. Has it happened before? How significant is it really? That's not just -- that's a question of what prominence you're going to give to the story but also whether you're actually going to publish it.

  • Can you envisage a situation where you would publish a story about a company without telling them in advance that you were going to publish it?

  • No, I can't -- I think it would be very difficult. I think there are some instances where -- and there was an instance about this in the last 12 months, where a subject of a Financial Times story who was well endowed, a very rich person, had taken out a series of injunctions, not just in Britain but elsewhere, because of a very messy divorce, which severely limited what one could publish about that person or anything related. We had a story about what was going on at the company and about surveillance methods used by that person and because we were concerned about an injunction being taken out, although we had had some contact, we did not go and ask for a full response because we were fearful of an injunction. But we had had prior contact and there was some knowledge about this, but this was a very unusual case because of the number of injunctions that had been taken out which were restrictive of reporting.

  • But wouldn't an injunction only be granted if it was appropriate for it to be granted?

  • Well, we took the view in this particular instance that an injunction wouldn't have been warranted, and in fact the story was published, we received a very hostile letter from a well-known law firm in this city that specialises in reputation management, and a week later said subject came to see me in my office and addressed me on first name terms and wanted to be friendly and co-operative.

    So I think when there are that number of injunctions taken out, one needs to be quite careful about what how one is proceeding, but if -- we judged in this particular instance that the story should be published, we did, and that's what we did.

  • Can I come back to the sourcing policy very briefly. Paragraph 9, under the heading "Sourcing":

    "We should be able to justify to readers how we came by a story [and we've touched on that already]. When we talk to people, we should be honest about being FT reporters. The PCC code states that subterfuge can be justified only in the public interest and only when material cannot be obtained by other means. If FT reporters want to go undercover, they must first talk to an editor."

    Can you tell us a little more about how often, if at all, reporters do wish to go undercover?

  • Yes, I saw that. In the six years since I've been an editor, I don't know of any instance in which an FT reporter went undercover. I'm not quite sure what that means. Actually -- well, I just --

  • It means that they don't declare who they are and they pretend to be somebody slightly different.

  • Yes. Actually, I'm now -- we had an instance of one of our top journalists went into Burma to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, and he did not misrepresent himself when he was inside the country but I'd have to check whether he -- my memory is -- I need to go back, but --

  • I don't think we're talking about that sort of example.

  • We're talking about an example where, pursuing a story, the journalist knows that if he says, "I'm from the Financial Times", nobody will talk to him, but if he says, "I'm a middle eastern potentate ..."

  • Yes, yes. I'm not sure whether very many FT journalists could represent themselves --

  • No, I wasn't necessarily --

  • But, sir, I think the point that I made at the beginning is very important. We do not misrepresent ourselves.

  • We say we're from the Financial Times. That's important.

  • One last aspect of this sourcing and attribution policy, please. Under the heading "Attribution", paragraph 7 says this:

    "If we must cite an anonymous source, supply as much information as you can. 'An aide to Mr Cheney said' is preferable to 'an administration official said'. The stock phrase 'sources said' means almost nothing at all and is banned."

    I think I can guess the answer to this question. Is that a practice that is adhered to at the FT?

  • It is. We don't publish "sources said". That's as very loose attribution. We need to be always vigilant.

  • Ah, yes, that's a little bit less tenuous. "Sources close to the Prime Minister".

  • Yes. I wasn't actually thinking about the Prime Minister. Yes.

  • I do think -- the important point you're making is that you need to be as clear as possible with the reader where this information is coming from. And also, if you can identify as closely as possible, then you give the reader some guide as to motivation, as to why this information is being put out there.

    I think the Americans, frankly, take it too far, "a source whose name cannot be disclosed because of ..." da da da, and two paragraphs later, the reader has either fallen asleep or is more enlightened. I think we are a bit tighter than that. Phrases like "it is understood" have also been removed. So one needs to be tough on this, vigilant.

    I think the other point, which isn't here, which is important -- and frankly, again, you need to be really quite tough on this -- is anonymous sourcing, particularly in business and financial stories, where the source is offering a negative comment about a company or a person, is problematic. Now, it's quite difficult because analysts like to talk about companies and offer -- and they're certainly spicy and juicy, those comments, but they can be quite damaging and there's no -- if they're anonymous, you have to question motivation sometimes. So that's something that may -- it does happen at the FT, but we need to keep a very close eye on it.

  • That's probably paragraph 8:

    "Be especially careful of relying on anonymous criticism. Too much of that, and you have written gossip, not news."

  • That's the point you're making?

  • Is there any other aspect of this policy that you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention before I move on?

  • I think that's fine, counsel.

  • Right. Turning back, please, to your statement, coming back to a subject we've just been looking at, subterfuge, at paragraph 21 of your statement you deal with this. You say, I think we've already said, that you can't really see circumstances in which subterfuge would be justified at the Financial Times, the nature of the issues you report on do not generally require the use of such methods, and so on.

  • You explain right at the end of paragraph 21 that there's a difference between robust journalism and lawful practices:

    "Certain news organisations have not necessarily acted professionally or responsibly and certainly not ethically -- that is why I felt I had to make the remarks I did in my Cudlipp lecture. I took the view that certain organisations had crossed the line and they needed to be called to account for their conduct."

    You've exhibited the Cudlipp lecture to your statement. It's not paginated and it's quite hard to find references in it, so perhaps you can tell us in your own words what you meant by "certain news organisations have not necessarily acted professionally or responsibly and certainly not ethically" --

  • -- and why you took the view that they'd crossed the line and needed to be calling to account for their conduct.

  • I was primarily referring, clearly, to News International and specifically the News of the World in the light of the phone hacking scandal, the details of which now everybody is aware of.

  • I did make reference to the Daily Telegraph and the story in which two reporters misrepresented themselves as constituents to Vince Cable, the business secretary. I should add and make very clear --

  • Can we pause there and just find the reference. I think it's more helpful if we do. If we look within your exhibits, the number in the bottom right-hand corner will be 750.

  • Sorry, it's all behind tab 4, 750, fourth paragraph down on that page.

  • You say this:

    "In this respect, the Daily Telegraph's decision to dispatch two journalists posing as constituents to interview the business secretary Vince Cable falls into a very different category than its earlier scoop on MPs' expenses. The latter story, although acquired for money and deeply damaging to the standing of the Westminster class, clearly met the public interest test. The first did not. It was nothing more than entrapment journalism."

  • Well, first of all I'd like just to make clear that I'm talking about the kind of methods and practices employed by the Financial Times and what we expect of our journalists in that we do not engage in misrepresentation.

    Second -- and this is important -- I have the highest respect for the Daily Telegraph. I think that the story that that they did on the Westminster expenses scandal was a terrific piece of journalism. It's outstanding. Yes, they paid for the disk, but the journalism and the series of articles that they produced plainly met the public interest test. The laws had been broken by MPs and it was important that the wider public was aware of this and the flaws therein, and there was nothing -- there's absolutely nothing but praise for that particular story.

    In the instance of -- this is a personal view, and editors should make their own decisions about what they consider to be right, so I was expressing a personal opinion that I felt that it was wrong for journalists to go to an MP, an elected member of Parliament, and misrepresent themselves as constituents because I think there is a bond of trust between an elected representative and constituents and that is important to protect. That was a personal view. Certainly the Telegraph took a different view and perhaps others in my profession would do so, and I respect their views. I just happen to think in this particular instance that it was wrong.

  • What if using this kind of method is the only way of obtaining the information and that the information itself is valuable?

  • Then we have to look at the quality of the story produced in that particular case, and I always -- so I think that the question is: what is the story that you've produced as a result of this?

    There may be cases for others to pursue in which they may seek to engage in these practices but they would have to justify by passing a very high bar. I would refer, again, to an editor, a former editor of the Sunday Times and the Times, who I greatly respect, one of the finest editors in the post-war era, Harold Evans, who said just last year that:

    "Deception may ultimately be justified in the pursuit of the public interest but it must only be used in the most exceptional circumstances. The reason is that it can be deeply corrosive, not just to the newspaper's bond with its readers but also to the body politic."

    That is my view.

  • I'm going to ask you about just a few more things that you said in the Cudlipp lecture, if I can. It starts on page 741 and continuing. First of all, can I ask you to turn to the third page of that, which should be 743. About two-thirds of the way town, you'll see a paragraph starting:

    "Today, many members of the political elite in Britain have all worked in or with the media industry. David Cameron worked in a commercial TV company. Jeremy Hunt ran a publishing business."

    And so on. Now, can you tell us a little more about why that's relevant, in your view?

  • Well, it's first quite striking, the number of people who have worked in the media business. It would certainly encourage me to believe that they understand the media business very well, but also it can lead to too cosy relationships, and we can talk about that. I'm not just talking about the fact that Ed Balls was an editorial writer for the FT. He certainly doesn't agree with our editorial line at the moment on the economy.

    I think the problem is that -- again, this is a personal view. I'm not necessarily offering you empirical evidence for my case, other than what I've just described, but it did seem to me that in the last ten years or 15 years, in the Blair/Brown years, perhaps a bit -- latterly -- perhaps a little less so in the present government, and I'll come to that in a minute -- that there was a very close relationship between the government and sections of the press, particularly News International.

    Now, you could explain that because of the preponderance of power that the Murdoch press had in this country. You could also explain it, perhaps, by some wonderful PR marketing by the likes of Kelvin McKenzie, who proclaimed in essence that the Sun had won the election in 1992 for the Conservative government. But it always struck me as very strange. Why would a Prime Minister who had a 179-seat majority care so much about what the popular press, and particularly the Sun, was writing about the government and policies, day in, day out?

    Again, if you read Piers Morgan's memoir -- it's actually one of the first books that was given to me when I took over as editor, because I'd spent some time in the country, to understand or reacquaint myself with the British political culture -- it was quite extraordinary how much time Tony Blair seemed to have spent with Piers Morgan. You'd have thought he had a bit of time running the country, but maybe not.

  • I'm interested to know -- and I accept you're expressing an entirely personal view, and it really is touching upon a later bit of this Inquiry -- what you would do about that.

  • Well, you certainly can't -- you certainly would not wish to regulate it or pass a law. This is about journalists having a very clear view of their responsibilities and how they conduct their relationships with politicians.

  • Very much vice versa, sir. Again, it was taken as conventional wisdom that in order to govern, in effect, with today's -- what is known as the 24/7 media environment, where you have to, if you like, feed the press, feed the media with stories, and you need to be particularly sensitive to the demands of the popular press, that you needed to have somebody very close to you, as Prime Minister, or as indeed Chancellor, who understood the tabloid press, and these people assumed the role of almost policy-makers.

    This, I would suggest, is a little bit dangerous. Politicians -- again, this is very much a personal view, so I don't wish to -- I think I'm probably treading way beyond my remit as such anyway, but I think -- I just feel that if you have a 179-seat majority, that's quite a mandate. It's pretty good in the second time around as well.

  • I'm going to come on to ask you about press regulation, if I can. I'm going to deal first with one of the judge's favourite questions about online content. At pages 4 onwards of the lecture, you discuss the changes relating to online content in some detail. You discuss Wikileaks and other examples.

    Perhaps I can ask the question in this way: what's the purpose of close and careful press regulation if Wikileaks or other bloggers can publish what they want with utter impunity? Can online bloggers be regulated as well in your view?

  • No, I don't believe they can and I wouldn't seek in any way to regulate the Internet. This is a very difficult area. There are the questions of a two-tier media market, in effect, where you have a press which is subject to certainly self-regulation to be discussed, but these people are within the media ecosystem but clearly unregulated. Of course, if they break the law and if they libel someone, or if they were to engage in contempt of court, they could be brought to the law -- could be brought before the courts, but I would look at this -- it's a very complicated question, but I think if you're talking about the overall picture for how the press should be regulated or regulate themselves in this country, you need to think about two principles.

    The first is that we shouldn't think just about the press, because the press have significant -- and in many ways, thinking of the Guardian, certainly the Daily Mail and Telegraph and others -- have successful online operations. So they are news organisations. That's what I call the Financial Times. It's a news organisation. Don't think just about the press. If I may say, sir, without, again, wishing to stray beyond my remit, it would be a huge mistake for the Inquiry to focus just on the press. You need to think about the news in general and the general ecosystem.

    Second principle is that -- so we have news, so we do have online operations, those should be subject to the law. We need to establish a code of conduct. We need to establish practices which are so good, so credible, so robust, that others would wish to join such a body of, say, independent regulation. We can discuss the details.

    You will not, I believe, I suspect, have individual bloggers out there in the stratosphere joining, but I'm talking about media aggregators, people like, say, the Huffington Post, that are drawing on what is loosely described as mainstream media content, that they would feel that -- not necessarily an obligation but be encouraged to be part of a quality system of independent regulation in this country.

  • All right. So the answer is not everyone can be regulated, but you could have a system of encouragement which meant that some people would choose to be regulated. For those who chose not to be regulated, do they not place the press at a competitive disadvantage?

  • And is there any way of resolving that issue?

  • I've wrestled with this and I haven't come up with an answer. I think it's -- there is a real problem when, for example, some people in the -- on the Internet, web-based news organisations outside this jurisdiction can publish details, for example, of a famous footballer and his affair and -- or affairs, and the popular press in this country can't. That clearly puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

    Now, one would have to go and ask the question about how legitimate is it to write that story, what is the public interest, et cetera. That's a separate matter. But if we are saying -- now, this is not the first case this has happened. I do refer in the lecture to the 1930s when the New York Times, that august publication, had a field day with King Edward VIII's affair with an American, Wallis Simpson. They were happily publishing juicy and raunchy details of the affair while the British press, and not just the tabloid press, couldn't print a word, or actually had an arrangement with Buckingham Palace that they would not cover the story.

  • Is there a distinction to be made between the simple presentation of information and the provision of information in context mediated by opinion, reflective and all those words that you might describe --

  • -- as the high point of journalism -- and not just reflective pieces such as you might produce in the Financial Times but if I take the example from yesterday that Mr Mohan spoke about: descriptive analyses of complex issues in comparatively straightforward language, readily accessible by those who wouldn't necessarily want to read the Financial Times. You understand, the different expertise that all goes into making the press, but which isn't there on the Internet. Is that the distinction?

  • Well, again, sir, I think you've cut to the heart of the matter because if you think about --

  • You don't need to be polite.

  • Probably flattering rather than polite, but there we are. But this is the case. This is the issue. Because if you talk -- and again, having spent a lot of time in the States, for those who do their journalism on the Internet and bloggers, they think they can publish anything and they believe that it can be -- it will be corrected by peers on the Internet. So they don't feel an obligation, in other words, to go through the kind of processes which not only the Financial Times but also the tabloids do. That is what I would regard or describe as a crafted piece of journalism. And that craft means sourcing, multiple, but also in terms of -- again, I believe this is the case, it certainly is in other news organisations I've worked for, that -- there is a revise function. You don't just publish the story immediately and wait for it to be corrected by an angry reader. You actually check it out, talk to the news editor, and then it goes through a process known as subediting, which again is the revise function. In that way, it's as very different commodity from Internet-based journalism.

  • That might be an area which actually identifies the difference and encourages those that want to be considered journalists and mainstream to join that particular club.

  • That would presume, sir, that they feel they want to be part --

  • It should be obviously up to them. I believe that is the way forward because this is a fast-moving train here, but I suspect from numerous conversations that there is -- that web-based journalists, bloggers, they look at the mainstream media, not just in this country but also in the United States, and say, "That's the past. That's in decline. We don't want to be part of that. We're part of a new bright future of journalism on the Internet and it's new and it's different."

    Now, having said there's a little bit of naivety and a little bit of idealism in that approach, but certainly for those web-based news organisations who are aggregators -- I'm thinking about the Huffington Post, for example -- that are drawing on mainstream media content, they should think hard about becoming part of what we hope to put forward in this country in terms of a new body of independent regulation which is robust, credible and worthy of joining.

  • It sounds like you're suggesting a system of sticks and carrots. Do you have a formulated view as to what that system would look like?

  • I think that I'm more interested in carrots than sticks. I think that if you're looking at the current set-up in this country -- because I wish we did have a First Amendment in this country -- we can come back to that in a minute, but we don't. So we have a body called the PCC, which practices self-regulation. Now, in my view, and I've said this, the PCC does some very important, valuable work. This is easily forgotten in all the criticism that was levelled against the PCC.

    But in my experience what they do in terms of mediation, picking up readers' complaints, dealing with editors, they do it very well. They're timely, it's free, they're thorough and they have good people, and they've had an unfair rap in that respect. And they do reach out to the public and interest groups and they're involving them in the process.

    However, they fail -- they misstepped badly in the phone hacking scandal. Now, it is true again -- one qualification here -- they were lied to. News International lied to them. So in that case, it's pretty difficult because you have a major news organisation that is part of your independent, self-regulatory set-up, and it's not telling you the truth, and you also -- you don't have the powers to pursue that. The misstep was to -- and it was a serious misstep -- was to criticise the Guardian for its reporting and to minimise the significance thereof. And that was a serious misstep, and as a result of that I believe that the body has lost credibility.

  • But it's not just that, is it, Mr Barber? Is it really a regulator at all? It's a complaints mechanism.

  • No, it is a complaints mechanism, and if I may say, I was just about to explain why I think we need to have a little bit more of the regulatory aspect and not just the mediation.

  • So I think we need a new body, we need a new composition, and we need -- of that body, and we need new powers. I'm happy to elaborate.

  • First of all -- and other editors or others have alluded to this, and others will elaborate on this, but I think first of all, in the event of serious breaches of the code, fines should be applicable. I also think that forcing or obliging newspapers to publish very prominently, according to the seriousness of the mistake, where they have erred or where they have got matters seriously wrong, and the PCC or the new body rules against it, then that should be prominently featured. And believe me, editors do -- they hate, I personally really -- you don't want to devote a large portion of your newspaper to explaining why you got something wrong. That's a deterrent. Don't underestimate the significance of that.

    I also think that there should be a high bar -- I've alluded to this in the Fulbright lecture that I gave -- there should be a high bar but there should be powers of investigation if the new body seriously believes that there's been a serious breach of the code. One could think of mechanisms within the body where a serious panel, not just of insiders but also outsiders, lay experts, could make a judgment that this required or this should trigger an investigation. But that, for me, would be part of the solution.

    And then, finally -- not finally, but we should -- we have to think about how we make sure that everybody joins -- comes under the tent. We mentioned the Internet, that that would be difficult, but certainly for the press everybody should be. I would not -- I would not pass a law or any statutory form of compliance because I don't support that in any way. I support creating the best possibly and most credible, most robust form of self-regulation, which is so good that everybody wants to --

  • I prefer your word "independent regulation".

  • Because one of the arguments about the system is that editors sit in judgment on each other in respect of which they are and with whom they are competitors.

  • It's not a tenable position. We need outsiders. There have been some changes, but certainly for too long the PCC was dominated by insiders. You need to have some people who are -- if not serving editors, certainly people who have served as --

  • With experience of the business?

  • Experienced people in the business of journalism. Not just lawyers.

  • I shouldn't be considered to be in favour of giving everything to lawyers. I'm not.

  • I'm relieved. But we need to have some outsiders, and I think that plays generally into the -- again, this is very much a personal view but, you know, journalists are not monks in cells. Journalists are members of the community. Journalists should be accountable in the court of public opinion. Journalists need to be more open about how they conduct their business.

    We should have nothing to fear from a robust body of independent regulators. We should have nothing to fear where some outsiders are brought into the process.

  • Of course, journalists look at all of the other institutions of the state and of the body politic. They look at politicians, they look at schools, they look at the judiciary. Who looks at journalists?

  • Well, at the moment, there's plenty of people offering opinions about the state of journalism.

  • At the moment that is so, but we're in unusual times, Mr Barber.

  • We are in certainly interesting times. My remedy, or the remedy that should be considered, is bringing in some outsiders so that it doesn't look like a cosy stitch-up at the PCC where sitting editors decide the rules and then enforce them.

    I also would say that the new body needs strong leadership. That's going to be a really important job, and my preference would be to see somebody with experience of journalism but also somebody who's done other -- worked in other areas, perhaps, but somebody with really strong leadership qualities to insist on the highest standards of integrity and to make sure that this new body works. Because, as I said just a few months ago, we are in the last-chance saloon, drinking our last pint.

  • I think that was 20 years ago.

  • Well, not necessary -- well, I'm going to disagree with you, sir. I think that what has happened in -- and I'm basing my comments on conversations I've had with members of the profession outside the Financial Times. This has been a real shock, what happened at the News of the World, not just in terms of the extent, the industrial scale of phone hacking, but the pattern of lies and also the result, which was shocking. The closure of a national newspaper with a circulation of several million, and a newspaper actually that has done, in its own way over the years, some very good stories. I'm thinking of the price-fixing -- no, the cheating in the Test match. So this was a shocking episode. And all of us -- I speak for myself -- believe that as a result we need to change the way we do business. If this isn't a wake-up call, I'm not sure what is.

  • You'll understand my concern that there have been wake-up calls in the past and everybody's woken up and then it all just appears to have drifted off again. Is that unfair?

  • It's certainly a fair characterisation of what happened 20 years ago, but I would make two points in response. First of all -- and I don't want to steal anybody's thunder, but I believe that Lord Hunt will be putting forward some interesting proposals on independent regulation shortly, probably before this Inquiry.

  • I certainly hope so, because I've encouraged everybody to be thinking about it and I expect them to be thinking about it. What I've said -- and I'm happy to make it clear publicly, if I've not done so -- is that I hope that the business of journalists, journalism, is considering it on the basis that it has to work for them but it will also have to work for the public. It won't be good enough, in my present view -- and I'm obviously listening and will continue to listen with great care to everything that everybody is saying -- just to think that one can tinker around the edges.

  • I agree with that, sir, and it is incumbent on the industry to produce new, credible proposals for independent regulation. That is the lesson of the phone hacking scandal, and to a degree it's the lesson of what's already come out in this Inquiry. I think I speak for fellow editors: we're serious about this. We want to produce something which is new.

    But my second point is everybody should read what Chief Justice judge said last year about the importance of the independence of the press and that we will make mistakes and reputations may be damaged, but the principle of free expression is really critical. So before anybody thinks about introducing new laws to regulate the press, let us at least look at the quality of proposals which are going to be put on the table.

  • Yes, the Lord Judge wasn't actually saying that there shouldn't be a framework. Lord Judge was emphasising the importance of free speech and freedom of expression, views which I think I have repeated more than once over the last six months, but he was identifying the importance of having a system that actually worked and wasn't one that was entirely optional.

  • Again, I subscribe to that view. It can't be optional. Everybody needs to buy in to the new arrangements. Otherwise they won't be credible. But I think if they are good enough, robust enough -- there is, by the way -- the matter which we haven't touched on, which is rather important, is the cost. Credibility may come with a high cost, and the press in this country -- and I'm thinking not just in London, but elsewhere -- is not exactly flushed with cash at the moment. So this will be the price. If it means paying more money -- I'd better be careful here, because I don't control the budgets. But this is important.

  • I understand the problem of cost.

  • And there are all sorts of potential issues that arise in relation to that, which may actually be tied into the sort of model that one eventually alights upon. So I understand the problem.

  • Sir, if I may add that one of the tests of the new body will be: could the events of 2008, 2009, 2010 and the phone hacking that went beforehand occur and not be prevented or tackled with rigour and promptness by the new body? If that new body fails that test, it's not credible.

  • Is it very much an opportunity, which is why I've encouraged you and your fellow editors to think about sensible solutions, not just to see how near to the present system they can persuade me to go but actually be prepared to be forward-thinking, to address all the issues, not merely those you have mentioned but also the others that have been brought up over the last six months.

  • Well, we want to be careful, to coin a phrase, of fighting the last war. We definitely need to think ahead as well as draw lessons from the past, and this sorry, appalling episode of phone hacking. So we do need to think about the future. We need to think about our processes. We need to be opened up. We need to be able to show that our processes and our standards are robust and accountable.

    I think this is a word I'd like to just emphasise. The public needs to feel that the press, the media -- talking about the media in this country -- I'm leaving aside broadcasting because that's separate -- is accountable and can say in public why it considers its journalism to be robust, but following certain standards.

  • Somebody will bring it to account, and also, of course, I just need to make the point: it's not just phone hacking. Nobody could have listened to the evidence that I've been hearing since November and think that this is a problem just restricted to phone hacking. Would you agree?

  • Phone hacking has been the trigger.

  • I agree. I understand that. But would you agree with my proposition?

  • Well, sir, you probably have to be a little more specific about what you're referring to.

  • The proposition that there is more that needs to be addressed simply than phone hacking.

  • Yes. Again, I would say it would depend on more specifics. If you're referring to libel, if you're referring to privacy matters -- as I said, I don't consider myself a specialist in this area, it's fraught with perils, but there are examples of where -- if there is recklessness -- if recklessness has taken place in the publishing of stories, that needs to be looked at, but again -- you're correct, but let's just think about specifics. It is beyond just phone hacking, yes, sir.

  • Was there anything you wanted to add on how you would encourage the various different parties to sign up to this new system?

  • Again, I think that it just has to be seen as a new industry standard.

  • It just has to be a really good one and one that the industry is proud to be part of?

  • Well, credible. "Pride" is a loaded term. But it has to be credible and it's not just got to be credible to the people who are part of the system; it has to be credible to the public at large. We'd hope that it would receive the support of politicians but we're not going to go begging in that direction. We will just produce the ideas, the format, and hope that people feel it's different. It has to be qualitatively different.

  • I have two final questions, if I can. The first is picking you up on something you said about changes to the PCC. You said one of the things that you fear as an editor is having to publish apologies and taking up space in your newspaper having to publish corrections or apologies. Have you ever given consideration to the possibility of having a readers' editor at the Financial Times, and if not, why not?

  • Well, when this idea first came up, I was very sceptical, not least because I consider myself to be the readers' editor. If there are problems and they're serious problems, I deal with them, my deputy deals with them or the number three.

    I've slightly changed my mind now. I mean, obviously in America there are readers' editors and sometimes they can be quite tricky to handle, especially when they want to write long articles. Obviously you wouldn't interfere with that. But I now think that perhaps, as part of this qualitative difference and as part of being seen to operate -- then I might be open to the idea. But I think again what I would emphasise is that if you have the culture, a strong culture in a news organisation which is committed to upholding the highest standards, that should be your starting point. You're not going to solve these things, these difficulties, with just offering tokens like appointing of a readers' editor. But I'd be more open than I was.

  • I think you wanted to say a few words about libel reform. I say this because in your contribution to the seminars, which took place in -- September?

  • No, maybe in October, early October.

  • In your contributions to those seminars, you mentioned this and I thought you might want to say a word or two about this.

  • Again, we don't probably have the time and neither do I have necessarily the competence to offer a blueprint for libel reform in this country. My principal concern was just simply the costs of dealing with a libel claim or where people --

  • No, no, I'm quite keen to pick up that point because it actually feeds into something you've just said. You may have heard that a couple of times -- more than a couple of times -- during the course of these hearings I've floated the concept of some sort of arbitral system for speedy resolution of privacy claims, potentially small libel claims, not necessarily the largest, because the cost is prohibitive. There was a time when it was prohibitive to claimants because there wasn't legal aid available for it is and therefore the powerful position was held by the press. Now, because of CFAs, it's turned the other ways, and that pendulum is moving. I understand that.

    But if you want an arbitral system, which I actually think has value, then it's going to be quite difficult to do that without some sort of framework that requires everybody at least to exhaust that possibility. Because I think most claims needn't be settled where the damages are dwarved by the enormous costs that are incurred, but the consequence of doing that and adding on to your commission or council, whatever it's called, some sort of mechanism may mean that you need a structure which you can't simply do consensually, because you want to bind in everybody who's going to be affected.

  • Indeed. I don't wish to pre-judge what Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, may want to say on this, because he's done a lot of serious thinking and from what I've seen I think it's promising, to look at whether this new body, the Media Standards Board, whatever you want to call it -- by the way, it will have to have a new name -- can offer an arbitration process or some form of resolution where parties do not immediately resort to the court, forcing news organisations to employ highly expensive barristers, and before you know where you are, you've seen £100,000 plus disappear. We don't have that kind of money.

    Therefore -- and this is a real problem, because the Financial Times is an independent news organisation with plenty of resources. We have more than 600 journalists, more than 100 foreign correspondents. We're happy to write about the connection between oligarchs and the Kremlin, we've written thousands of words in that particular area and others, and every time we write about the rich and famous, particularly people who have really substantial sums of money, we get a letter -- a very threatening, bullying letter from a law firm, and I'm thinking one in particular -- that is simply outrageous. And, you know: "If you do not capitulate before noon on Saturday, you will be hung at dawn on Sunday", and this is bound to have -- even if you think that you're robust and the story is robust, it can have a chilling effect because you are aware of the cost of a libel action.

  • But that's why it can't just be consensual because your extremely wealthy person would never go down that route. So to protect everybody from that sort of tactic, there has to be some framework to it which is not merely consensual, if that's one of the things you want to achieve.

    I offer that to you not for you to provide me with an instant response but to put into your deliberations.

  • We'll certainly take that under consideration, but I think my views on any form of statutory regulation are fairly clear. But --

  • I'm not talking about statutory regulation. I'm talking about a framework which then has built onto it a mechanism for everything to be done consensually, but without some background, then the concern you've just expressed can't be addressed because they won't come into the system.

  • I can see that. I think there is a real practical problem here. I am concerned about it, as are other editors. In terms of libel, this is the one area that probably concerns me most, and so I'll give that careful thought, sir.

  • If you have some other suggestion, then I'm here for some time and I'm very pleased to think about any solutions that work for everybody. But that's what really matters to me.

  • I'll take a rain check.

  • Mr Barber, those are the questions that I had. Is there anything that you wish to add?

  • No, I think I've -- thanks to the close questioning, I've had a chance to really offer my thoughts on the current state of the industry and the challenges we face. I think I would just -- we haven't talked much about the public interest but -- we don't have the time to exhaust that particular subject, but all I would say is that I strongly believe that there is a public interest in freedom of expression itself, and with that I put myself right alongside editors such as Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail, and I think we need to be very careful in this country about forgetting that principle. There are plenty of other countries, in which I have direct experience, whether it be Hungary or South Africa, that are looking at new media laws to curb the freedom of the press and the media and we should not go down that road in this country.

  • Again, I've said many, many times my strength of belief about freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, which aren't quite the same thing. But one just has to be careful, doesn't one, that one doesn't seek to justify that which you, in uncoded language, have condemned as unlawful and wrong, that one doesn't, as it were, say, well, the price of freedom of expression is that we just have to put up with that stuff.

  • No, I do not believe that we should put up with that stuff, as you say.

  • And I'm not condoning law-breaking. But I am defending, and I will to the last breath, freedom of expression. So I think we should leave it perhaps there on that high note. Thank you.

  • Thank you very much indeed.

  • Thank you, Mr Barber. Thank you very much. That's rather longer than I think you probably anticipated but it covers a lot of very important territory.

  • We'll take seven minutes.

  • (A short break)

  • Sir, we have three more witnesses this morning. The first two are going to be rather short. We have Mr Mullins, Mr Malhotra and Mr Blackhurst in that order.

  • If I could call Mr Mullins first of all, please.

  • We are. We're moving to the Independent.