Can I just state quite clearly the position of my clients, Associated Newspapers, and it is this: it condemns the practice of phone hacking, and so far as it is aware, no journalist at Associated Newspapers has engaged in phone hacking. It does not bribe police officers, and in particular, it condemns the shameful practice of hacking the mobile phones of the victims of crime or of their families.
Sir, the Inquiry is in progress, and as I've said, having regard to the improvements which you have just referred to, sir, which hopefully will come from this Inquiry, and the huge ramifications for our national press which are likely to result from your recommendations, Associated Newspapers is committed to assisting you as fully as it can, as a core participant. We will do all that we can in a constructive way. We look forward to participating in the debate which this Inquiry will stimulate.
Associated Newspapers strongly believes in maintaining a strong, ethical -- and I stress that word -- and viable press which is equipped for the significant challenge of being both the eyes and ears of the public and ultimately its voice. Of course, there is always room for improvement and for better practices.
We do wish, however, to stress that press standards have vastly improved over the last 20 years under the Press Complaints Commission and under the Editors' Code of Conduct. It's been mentioned before, but we do stress that most journalists are hard-working, conscientious and honest, and they passionately believe in what they do. We are anxious that the allegations of phone hacking should not be allowed to besmirch the profession as a whole.
This point can be made in another way, and that is this: the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday are commercially successful, we submit, precisely because they connect with their readership and their values, and that readership will stop buying those newspapers if they feel that they cannot trust its integrity or accuracy. Newspapers are held to account every day by their readers, and it is their readership's taste and attitudes and whether they are met or not that determine the commercial viability of a newspaper.
Having said that, of course, even in the middle market, newspapers at times need to be gossipy and sensational if they are to attract large circulations. Stories about celebrities and the course of human relationships are a part of that attraction and they do enable space to be provided elsewhere in the newspaper for more serious articles providing analysis and comment about perhaps more important issues of the day. But the aim is both to entertain and critically to engage.
We must also remember that we live in a country which is one of the major centres of the arts and entertainment industry. Many people have become celebrities and gone from relative obscurity to international fame and wealth because of the vibrant press which we have here, which has been able to capture the imagination of its readership through stories about their personal lives which are usually informative as opposed to being intrusive, as well as stories about their artistic talent.
With news and investigative journalism, those stories, of course, are not plucked full grown from the trees. They very often have somebody who is wealthy and powerful and does not want that story to be printed, and newspapers therefore require considerable resources and resourcefulness both to investigate and then to establish the truth and accuracy of what they have printed, and they need to be commercially successful to perform that role.
As you've heard only moments ago, the press, of course, is increasingly having to compete with the Internet and with other digital news platforms which are often largely unregulated. The press is highly regulated, and you're well aware of the laws covering data protection, libel, the new Bribery Act, privacy, contempt of court, harassment, regulation of investigatory powers and official secrets. Therefore the press is only free, of course, to the extent that it is not already prescribed by law.
Sir, can I turn to Operation Motorman, which we do regard as an important matter, because a certain amount of comment has been made following the police investigation in 2003 and the activities of the Inquiry agent Stephen Wittamore, and following the findings of the Information Commissioner in the two reports, "What price privacy?" published in May 2006 and "What price privacy now?" published in December of that year. The reports drew attention to the extensive use of enquiry agents to search for personal data by not just journalists but by organisations in many different areas of our society.
The last few years since the publication of those reports have seen a growing awareness, we suggest, on the part of all sections of society -- government, business and the media -- regarding the importance of data protection. In fact, newspapers are by no means the worst offenders and no penalties have so far been awarded against newspapers under the Data Protection Act.
Yesterday, Mr Jay referred to Operation Motorman, and we are keen to return to it because in our submission it is in no way to be compared to the conduct of phone hacking. It is especially important to draw a clear distinction between phone hacking, which is the illegal interception of private voicemails, and the kind of conduct which was the subject of the Information Commissioner's reports.
The activity which Stephen Wittamore was hired to undertake almost a decade ago was primarily to obtain addresses and telephone numbers, most of which -- not all of which but most of which -- could legally have been obtained if the individual had had the time to research it. His assistance was required, as far as Associated journalists were concerned, to help trace people quickly, usually to verify facts or to comment on stories that were written or were in progress prior to publication.
It should also be stressed that Mr Wittamore did not work simply for newspapers; he was hired by organisations such as banks, local authorities and firms of solicitors who similarly were seeking to locate people. Whilst Mr Wittamore was prosecuted, you will be aware, sir, that no journalist has ever been charged because there simply is no evidence that they ever asked Mr Wittamore to do anything illegal or that they knew he was or might be illegally accessing databases.
Another key difference between phone hacking and the data provision provided by Mr Wittamore is that journalists using him were not engaged, we would respectfully suggest, in fishing expeditions. When the Commissioner's report was published in 2006, the editor in-chief of Associated Newspapers, Mr Dacre, took immediate action and banned from 2007 the use of all enquiry agents. It was made quite clear that Associated would not pay for them and that compliance with the Data Protection Act was to become and is a term of journalists' contracts with my clients.
Sir, Associated Newspapers will seek to demonstrate in evidence to you that it operates its titles by respecting and observing the law and regulatory requirements and by applying the Editors' Code. It invests in the training of its reporters, requiring continuing professional development in significant changes in law, such as the new Bribery Act.
All journalists employed by Associated are required to comply with the Editors' Code and to abide by the highest professional standards. Associated aims to set strong ethical culture within each title and it closely monitors payments to third parties for news and information. It has and is supported by a strong in-house legal team, and by specialist solicitors and counsel.
That is not to say, of course, that Associated does not make mistakes of judgment or simply mistakes. Publishing to a deadline is a process that involves risk and it can be said that a newspaper that never sets out to expose itself to risk is not doing its job.
The Editors' Code provides a very good set of binding professional standards and is a firm cornerstone of the system of self-regulation. It is intended to provide a clear view of what constitutes unacceptable press behaviour. Mr Dacre has been chairman of the code committee since 2008 and the code has evolved and been amended many times in the 20 years existence of the Press Complaints Commission.
For example, it was amended to impose an express prohibition on hacking into the messages on mobile phones or emails and to make it clear that editors and publishers must ensure that its provisions are strictly observed by even those non-journalists and external contributors who may work on a story.
Sir, the code is, of course, subject to the public interest exception but without it, many major stories of corruption and abuse of power could never have been written. I understand, of course, that that is an issue, the definition of "public interest", which obviously is likely to be an issue of some keen concern to you, sir, and the subject of submissions and inquiry before you.
But the public interest factor is often seen as the press arrogating to itself a right to break the laws by which we all live for their own commercial profit. We suggest that that is completely to misunderstand the role of a free press, which, in the words of Lord Nicholls in the case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers, is -- the vital function is to act as a bloodhound as well as a watchdog.
Ultimately, of course, if the judgment call is wrong of the journalist and the lawyers and the editor, then it is the editor and the journalist who may have to pay the price, possibly by even risking their personal liberty. Sometimes, as you know, it will be necessary to engage with whistle-blowers who may, in the process, reveal confidential or even secret information, or who may need financial payment to support themselves for the future and in consequence of their actions. The Official Secrets Act might make the communication of such information unlawful. The Bribery Act might prohibit payment.
Sir, in a letter to the Media Lawyers Association in March of this year, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice said in the context of the new Bribery Act that he was confident that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office "can take full account of the considerations which may apply to a case involving public interest reporting" when deciding, under the Code for Crown Prosecutors, whether or not to prosecute in a particular case. He added that he recognised:
"... the extremely important role played by the media in our society and it is not the intention of the Act to restrict legitimate and responsible journalism. I hope you will be reassured that the public interest will remain a key consideration in any individual case."