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

  • MR ALAN CHARLES RUSBRIDGER (affirmed).

  • Could you please state your full name to the Inquiry.

  • I am Alan Charles Rusbridger.

  • At tab 8 you should find your witness statement. Could you confirm that the contents of it are true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • We only have rather a short time this afternoon, so I'd like to also remind the Inquiry of the other evidence that you have produced, which will have to be taken largely as read, and I'll take them chronologically. First of all, we had your presentation to the seminar, I believe on 6 October. It's contained at tab 10. You don't need to turn it up. Are you content for that to be formally taken as evidence to this Inquiry?

  • Then we had your opening submissions to the Inquiry, which have been recorded on the transcript.

    Then we have a skeleton argument --

  • Are you happy for that to be incorporated as evidence?

  • There's a difference, you'll appreciate.

  • There is.

    Thirdly, you've provided -- or the Guardian has provided -- a summary of evidence, a skeleton argument, if I can call it that, to the Inquiry, on corporate structure and so on. Yes.

    Then finally, you've also produced a supplementary statement dealing in some detail with the questions which the chairman asked you shortly after your opening submissions had concluded. Again, is that something that you're happy to be taken as formal evidence?

  • Mr Rusbridger, thank you very much indeed for that. I think I said at the moment that you were the one that got it in the neck, but you were the last of the press core participants to speak. It's actually intended to be dealt with by everyone.

  • I'm not sure that everyone has dealt with it.

  • Mr Rusbridger, if you turn to paragraph 5 of your statement, you there set out your career history. It's lengthy and I'm not going to take you through it all, but it's fair to say that you've been a professional journalist since 1976. You've been editor of the Guardian since 1995, although the precise terms of that role have changed since 1995. You have worked for the Guardian in a number of different guises and one of the roles was writing a diary column. It's probably a bit late and I know you said not to tell any jokes -- that's for the chairman -- but you also seem to have trodden the well-trodden path from showbiz journalist to editor of a national newspaper.

  • My diary column wasn't that exciting. It was --

  • But so far as the Guardian has a showbiz column, that was you?

  • It had no showbiz. Showbiz-free area.

  • Both your statement and the skeleton explain how corporate governance works in practice at the Guardian and the Observer. I don't want to ask you much about that, but at the back of the summary of evidence or the skeleton, there's a helpful diagram which illustrates the rather complex structure. I point that out so that the chairman -- you have that, sir.

    Can we simply summarise it in this way: ultimately, the Guardian and the Observer do not have a traditional proprietor?

  • That's right, yes. We're owned by a trust.

  • It has no shareholders. In fact what was a Trust but is now a limited company --

  • -- with the name Trust still in it. The Scott Trust owns Guardian Media Group. It doesn't pay dividends and it exists solely for the purpose of securing the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity and since 1993 this has been broadly the same with the Observer as well.

    As such, the whole corporate structure is designed to keep the management of the editorial and commercial aspects of the group's business separate and to maintain editorial independence. It's a complex structure but have I accurately summarised it?

  • That's more or less it, yes.

  • I'm right in saying the Scott Trust engages you at editor and only it can fire you?

  • You've heard no doubt other editors say that although they do have traditional proprietors, none of them interfere in editorial matters. Let me ask you this question: one of the central objectives of the Scott Trust is that the Guardian has to remain faithful to the liberal tradition. Is that not an agenda in itself?

  • When you're appointed, the only thing the Scott Trust tells you is to carry on the paper as heretofore, and it's left to you to interpret the traditions of the paper in the light of the current circumstances. I think it's a liberal small "L", and occasionally, about once every ten years, we discuss what the meaning of that is, but it's not liberal politically. It doesn't mean that.

  • Can I ask you about the editorial code, oversight of practices and so. First of all, the Guardian code. You explain at paragraph 6 of your statement that the Guardian has its own editorial conduct, a code of conduct, and has had since 2002. The most recent version of it is dated August 2011. That's within tab 9 hopefully. The number at the bottom of the page should be 02903.

  • The editorial code does incorporate the PCC code, but goes slightly further.

  • If I can just explore some aspects of the editorial code. First of all, can we look at the summary. It's at the top of the second page. You explain the most important currency is trust and you explain that the purpose of the code is, above all, to protect and foster the bond of trust between GNM and its readers. Then it says this:

    "As a set of guidelines, this will not form part of a journalist's contract of employment. Nor will it form part of disciplinary, promotional or recruitment procedures."

    So presumably this means that you can't be disciplined for breaching the editorial code insofar as the PCC code is not touched upon; is that correct?

  • Yes. It's supposed to be a set of guidelines about how we behave, and as it says there, the PCC code is written into the terms of the contract.

  • So the PCC code is part of the contract?

  • This editorial code is not. Turn to the next page under the heading "External assistance".

  • You've explained in your witness statement that you don't use private investigators now, although people who are recruited from other newspapers sometimes ask if they can use private investigators. What I want to understand is, under the heading "External assistance", how this works:

    "Journalists should not engage the paid services of external non-journalistic agents or assistants without the prior knowledge and approval of the editor-in-chief."

    Does that mean in terms that if someone wanted to use a private investigator for any reason that would have to be approved by you personally?

  • Turning over the page to the heading "Privacy". Again, this goes beyond the PCC code. You set out, under the heading "Privacy", the Omand principle, the five questions you say journalists should ask themselves about the situation where the journalist is considering intruding on privacy. I'm not going to read them out.

  • You identified them all when you spoke --

  • Exactly, you've identified them for us in any event and we have them recorded in a number of places.

    The question is this: to what extent is it rather easier to comply with these principles on the basis that you are the Guardian newspaper and you don't, as you yourself say in the statement, publish private life exposes and so on?

  • I think it's for every editor sort of to set the dial of where they want their privacy settings to be, and we set them pretty high. But I think these questions are useful ones that any editor should be able to ask themselves because I think they're pretty fundamental questions. They're questions of harm versus good versus proportionality versus authorisation and they deal with fishing expeditions. I think they're good principles and whether you worked on the News of the World or the Guardian or the FT, they ought to apply.

  • Can I pick you up on something you said? You said that each newspaper has to decide where on the dial it is in respect of privacy issues and so on. Does the Guardian have no interest at all in the private lives of, say, public figures? Is the dial set so high that it could never justify any intrusion into someone's privacy?

  • No, I don't think you'd get any editor who said the dial was set at nought, but I think you just have to give general guidelines because you can't be there at all times of day, 16 hours a day and lots of people have to take general decisions without constantly referring them upwards, so -- I think most people on the Guardian know generally where we stand and that generally informs what we think.

  • Someone said, Mr Rusbridger, that you get around this whole concept by publishing stories about private lives once they're in the public domain. You get away with it in that way. Is that something which you agree with?

  • Well, I think there's a big difference between setting in train the enquiries or activities that would bring something to the public domain -- and I think we very rarely do that. I can't think of an example, in nearly 17 years as an editor, where we have set about to expose somebody's private life. We almost never do it.

    I think that's different from reporting the world as it is. So if -- let me give an example of Tiger Woods. If Tiger Woods, a very famous person, engages in behaviour which becomes the subject of worldwide coverage, can you say -- at some point you have to say, "We can't ignore this, even though we would never have done it ourselves." So in the real world, you're confronted endlessly with stories that are brought into the public domain by other people and on which they may comment on themselves and at some point you cover them. I don't think that makes you a hypocrite.

  • Do you have a system for recording difficult ethical decisions when you're making this kind of decision? Is there an audit trail?

  • Well, I'm going to say the same as other witnesses. I think increasingly we are, and those Omand questions are an example of the sort of questions that you might want to note and just keep an informal note of so that -- if people challenge you.

    But in some respect it's not so very different from the so-called Reynolds rules which our investigative journalists and other reporters have been using for a long time. Because it's helpful. It's helpful to be able to keep a log of what you have asked people, when you put it to them, what their answers were because it may give you some protection in law.

  • Before I come to my final question on the editorial code, let's just follow the same train. Can you answer some questions about prior notification? First of all, is it the Guardian's policy to notify someone in advance if it was going to run --

  • How do you feel about mandatory prior notification? Should there be exceptions to the principle and so on?

  • Well, I would be against it being mandatory with the state of law as it is, because there are examples where you have -- it could be a vulnerable source who would be put under pressure by the person you're putting it to, or somebody may try and discover who your source is. Somebody may go to court and injunct on a matter -- I'm not talking about private lives; I'm talking about matters of high public interest. People may suppress the documents that you have. You're often torn between a circumstance in which you want to keep documents because you may need them if you're sued for libel, but on the other hand, if you're going to be whipped into court pre-publication by somebody who is trying to get the documents back or to discover the source of the documents, you may want to destroy them.

    So there are all kinds of dilemmas pre-publication, and I think having a rigid rule that said, "In all circumstances, you must go to the person that you're about to write about" would be difficult as the law stands.

  • Is there any alternative to a rigid rule, in your view?

  • I think a strong guideline, and I think in lots of the things that we're looking at, I think it could be taken into account if you didn't. So, you know, in the same way that we're talking about an audit trail, if I took the decision that we weren't going to go to somebody, I should probably note my reasons for that and a future tribunal or court could take that into account in terms of any damages or any sanctions that they wanted to take.

  • Is there anything else you wanted to add about prior notification before we move on?

  • Finally on the editorial code then, look at the heading, "Subterfuge". It's the last page of the code before you turn to "Personal behaviour":

    "Journalists should generally identify themselves as GNM employees when working on a story. There may be instances involving stories of exceptional public interest where this does not apply. That needs the approval of a head of department ..."

    And so on. What is exceptional public interest and why have you chosen to put a higher test than a public interest test here?

  • Because I think it's a serious matter. I think generally you should do most of your journalism by saying who you are and being transparent about it.

    An example of where we have used subterfuge in the last couple of years would be a reporter who wanted to find out the truth of what the English Defence League was really like, and became a member and he obviously didn't announce himself as a Guardian journalist at the point that he became a member, but that gave you an insight into this organisation that you wouldn't have been able to do had you announced yourself at the door.

  • So would the wording suggest that the head of department makes the decisions as to whether or not --

  • -- there is an exception of public interest?

  • Head of department or -- I would have thought a decision like that would go to the managing editor or to me as well.

  • Just a few additional governance questions. The editorial code applies to freelancers but what oversight is applied to freelancers to ensure that they do abide by the code?

  • I think anybody who is a regular freelancer I hope would be sent the code. It's on our website so anybody can look at it, and I would hope and expect that anybody contracted to us in any way would be aware of it.

  • The Guardian does have as whistle-blowing policy. It's attached to your supplementary statement. What's the value in having that? We've heard some editors saying that there is simply no need for a whistle-blowing policy because someone can either approach them personally or the HR department. Where's the value in that?

  • I would have thought that's an old-fashioned view, and that virtually all modern companies in modern life have some form of whistle-blowing policy because it's so difficult being a whistle-blower and you do need some kind of protection. That's why they're increasingly common.

  • Can I ask you about conscience clauses. Are you a supporter of having a conscience clause in a journalist or staff contracts?

  • Yes. It's a sort of continuation of the same ethos that drives a whistle-blowing policy, but I think -- I think, for instance, a lot of what was going on at the News of the World a lot of the journalists there were uneasy about, and I think it ought to be open to journalists to say, "I don't think you should be asking me to do that and it doesn't fit with my professional code or my personal conscience to be able to do that", and there ought to be some form of protection for journalists who want to be able to exert that kind of --

  • It only has a very limited value, hasn't it, because inevitably, once the concern is out in the open, one might protect people in law but it's quite difficult to protect them from insidious --

  • You would hope that there is a union or, at the very least, a staff association who would be able to give some protection to a journalist who wanted to trigger that clause.

  • You will have heard a number of editors being asked about the sources. Does the Guardian ever publish single-source stories, and if so, in what context?

  • Yes. If the archbishop of Canterbury told me that he was about to resign, ie. a person of trust was telling you something about himself, I don't think I would go for a second source on that. If someone told you that the archbishop of Canterbury was going to resign, that's something where -- if somebody else told you, even if it was a bishop, you would want a second source on that. I am using that as an example. There are circumstances in which you're dealing with people and information which they are perfectly placed to know about, but generally I agree with my colleagues that with most information, it is better to try and get corroboration.

  • We'll come back to bishops, I promise. Readers' editor is my next topic. We have heard Mr Elliott tell us about the readers' editor and its role. You explain in your statement that both the Guardian and the Observer have readers' editors. From your point of view, why have a readers' editor? What's the main benefit for you as an editor?

  • I lived in America in the mid-1980s and it was quite commonplace there. I hadn't come across it before. While I was living in America, I also came across that book by David Broder which I quoted to you, which made me think about the imperfect nature of journalism, that journalism is bound by its very nature to be imperfect and that error is implicit in journalism.

    I came back to the UK and when I became an editor I thought: why can't we just be honest about that and build it into what we do, that we do make errors but that it is the right thing to apologise, and to correct and to clarify? So I wanted to make it routine in the way that it is in America.

    I was also conscious of the power -- when you become an editor, you are conscious of the very great deal of power that you have, and I thought it was good to have a form of independent challenge so that I, as the person who was responsible for the story -- I'm not necessarily the best person to go to in order to correct that story and it's been a tremendously liberating thing to have somebody else reach an impartial view of whether something is right or wrong and deserves correction or clarification and I think it's a really good model.

  • I touched on remedies with Mr Elliott. The readers' editor can do lots of things, but the terms of reference suggest that an apology or a correction is agreed in consultation with the editor. How do you deal situations where there it is a fundamental disagreement between you and Mr Elliott or his predecessor about a story?

  • In the end, if you're going to have one -- and this may explain the reluctance of some editors to go down this route -- you are giving away a significant degree of control. The moment you sign -- the moment I signed Mr Elliott's contract saying that I can't intervene in what he does, I'm giving away control over part of my newspaper, which is quite a significant thing for an editor to grant.

    So in the end, if he thinks we should correct or apologise for something, it doesn't matter what I think. He's going to go and do it.

  • What's the point in consulting you? Simply to take into account your view?

  • I think it's partly a matter of courtesy, but I suppose it's almost like the sort of -- the prior notification business. He says, "I'm about to say this; is there anything you want to say to change my mind?" Sometimes I try and change his mind, and usually he ignores me.

  • Can I ask you some questions about the practicalities of having a readers' editor in every newspaper, every magazine, every publication? You may have heard other editors saying they simply didn't feel they needed one or some lukewarm responses from others.

    We haven't yet heard from the regional press, the Scottish press and so on. They may well be lukewarm too, we simply don't know yet, but how can this work across the board in terms of cost, practical implications for magazines and so on?

  • I've talked about the issue of control. If people were honest, that's one of the reasons why people are nervous about having a readers' editor, because of the loss of control.

    On the question of need, I don't think actually -- until you have a readers' editor, you can't really tell whether you need one. I heard some editors saying, "We only publish X corrections a week", but it's only by having an independent system and encouraging people to tell you -- so I'm pretty sure that if the Guardian makes a mistake, that we're going to know about it because we are appealing for people to identify them. In terms of spotting the systemic weaknesses within the paper or of individuals, it's difficult, I think, for anybody to say they don't need that if they don't have it.

    In terms of cost, I've also heard my colleagues saying there's usually somebody on the paper who deals with these things. It might be part of the managing editor's office. So it's not a given that having this person is going to be an additional headcount, because somebody -- usually editors don't have the time to deal with this personally. There's usually people within your organisation who is dealing with this. I would say I agree with what Chris Elliott said about why it is good commercially in terms of building trust and in reducing legal cost.

    In terms of the much smaller papers -- I was trying to think if there was a rule of thumb. We have two readers' editors per a headcount of about 600. I would have thought that any paper with a staff of over 100, to have one person who is doing this would not be an excessive use of resource. In the case of regional chains, I would have thought a group like Trinity Mirror or Johnson, if they had one readers' editor who dealt with five or six or maybe even 15 titles, that would be a way of getting around the business of having one per title.

  • Is there anything you would like to add on the equal prominence argument? There have been some criticisms of the fact that the Corrections and Clarifications column is buried, some say, in the newspaper. Other newspapers put their Corrections and Clarifications column on page 2. Is there anything that you'd like to say about that?

  • Well, it certainly simplifies things if -- I think it's good practice to have it in one place. I regard the leader spread as a very prominent part of the Guardian, and it certainly cuts out a lot of argument. If we just say that that is where we correct -- because otherwise it just gives lawyers more to argue about. So to clarify, it helps if we can just say, "That is where, as a matter of policy, we correct."

    We have, on one or two occasions, published -- where we've got things badly wrong and where it was serious, we've published a little front-page teaser to say there's a correction on the readers' column, but as Chris Elliott said, if the -- if there's going to be an industry standard where everybody does it on page 2, I don't have a problem with that either.

  • Finally on this issue, you have a readers' column at present, four days a week, on the leader page. What's the thinking behind that?

  • Yes, the readers' response column.

  • It was really -- and ironically within the last week we've reduced the frequency of that, but it's a chance to allow people to respond at greater length than in a letter, especially if it personally refers to them.

    The reason we reduced it was that actually we found that we were having to commission it, because people weren't -- although it was there every day and was quite prominently there, people weren't making use of it, so it seemed a bit silly to be actually trying to commission these pieces, but if anybody wants to be able to reply to something at about 700 words instead of the average length of a letter, which would be about 150 words, it's there and we'll continue to use it.

  • Is it a right of reply column?

  • No, it's an opportunity to reply. I think nobody has the right to reply.

  • Do you edit any of its content?

  • There is an editor of the column, who will edit it, yes, but I mean, as to the point of it, it's to allow somebody to respond. It's not edited too heavily.

  • Before I turn to the PCC and future regulation, I'd like to ask you general questions which you may have heard asked of others. First of all, your relationship with the police and senior politicians, please. Do you meet with senior political figures? Prime ministers, shadow --

  • Yes, we have an open editorial conference every day on the Guardian. Every Wednesday, we invite somebody in to come and talk to the staff as a whole and quite often they're politicians. Sometimes we'll have lunches. I meet them at conferences and very occasionally you'll get bidden to Number 10 or Chequers to meet the prime minister. It's only -- I've met David Cameron once since he became prime minister.

    There's something else which has changed in the last six months, which is now all cabinet ministers and I think shadow cabinet ministers feel obliged to keep a record of if they meet an editor. I am not convinced that's necessarily a great step forward.

  • If we have Vince Cable to lunch -- was it Vince Cable? Yes -- to lunch a few months ago and he said, "If you're here, I'm going to have to declare this. If you're not here, I'm not going to have to declare it." So I'm not sure what the rationale of that is, particularly --

  • I'm not particularly sure why --

  • If you personally were there?

  • Yes. If an editor speaks to a cabinet minister, it's different from a political editor speaking to a cabinet minister.

  • I see. So him coming to your office where he might meet political editors and staff --

  • As I understand it, that doesn't have to be declared, which I think is good, because I think it would be a strange world in whichever every contact between politicians and journalists has to be logged.

  • But for some reason, if an editor's there, it becomes something that is declarable.

  • I suppose the -- well, you appreciate what the concern is, I have no doubt. Let me just try and grapple with that for a moment. I tried with Mr Harding this morning.

    It's not surprising if you want to meet politicians, senior people from any walk of life in the country -- the examples I've given are bishops, generals, judges, anybody -- merely to understand the issues which they are confronting, not to deal with specifics of any sort. The question is whether, in relation to politicians, that creates an opportunity for lobbying or abuse either way, and that's really what it's getting at. It's not to cover the general issues of the day, but rather more insidious relationships. Is that a problem, do you think, or not a problem, realistic or not realistic, something that ought to be addressed? I'm coming back to it later on in the year.

  • Well, I think ... I think it would be a shame if a minister or a politician couldn't talk to an editor without that necessarily becoming a public event, but maybe that is the world in which we're living. It was certainly a surprise to me in July to see the extensive contacts between David Cameron and senior editors in News International, and especially when it emerged under questioning that David Cameron had discussed the BSkyB with them, albeit, he said, in innocent terms. So I can see there is a problem there.

    But equally, if you make it too rigorous that you have to note every single meeting, then I think that probably militates against the flow of information between politics and the press.

  • Yes. I think therefore you're recognising there is a distinction between the two types of contact I've just mentioned.

  • When you've had these meetings with senior politicians, to what extent do the -- you've heard some editors say that the politician will run a particular policy past them with a view to ascertaining how that policy would go down with their readers. Is that your experience?

  • I think it used to be far worse in the past. I mean, Alastair Hetherington, my predecessor, used to be having almost weekly meetings with Harold Wilson. Lloyd George used to run his cabinet changes past CP Scott before he did them, so I don't think this is a new problem.

    I don't think I -- I can't remember ministers road-testing policies with us. But, you know, it was useful when Labour was in power to be able to occasionally meet the prime minister and talk through our concerns over -- it could be the environment, it could be civil liberties -- to get our environment editor -- so it wasn't always political editors -- in the same room and say, "Why aren't you doing green issues more priority?" I think that's a good thing to be able to do with a prime minister.

  • You think it's important that editors, political editors, et cetera, should continue to be allowed to meet with senior politicians to --

  • Certainly to meet. I suppose my only slight niggle is over whether they will have to be logged.

  • Right. Do you meet with senior police officers?

  • I think all the heads of the Met bar the present one I have met over lunch or had dinner or a cup of coffee.

  • Again, what's the purpose of those meetings?

  • Generally, again, they're useful meetings in which they can explain the background of what's going on on their patch or the difficulties that they're facing, and occasionally during the phone hacking saga -- I've written about this or talked about it. There were two occasions where very senior Met officers came to see me in effect to try and talk me out of the story. So that was a qualitatively different kind of meeting which had a particular purpose.

  • Okay. Did they succeed, for the record?

  • They didn't, and Sir Paul Stephenson, when he resigned, was gracious enough to say that he was glad I ignored his advice.

  • I said I'd come back to bishops. Do you meet with bishops, senior judges and so on? Another editor said that he did, so I'm wondering.

  • Yes. We meet bishops, imams, rabbis and judges. It was -- sometimes you will be invited in to go and have lunch with the judges at the Old Bailey or the High Court. I once went to talk to -- a meeting of High Court judges and ditto the security services. I think all these things are useful.

  • Can we turn now to the role of the PCC and recommendations for future regulation. First of all, I'd like to ask you about your resignation from the Code Committee. If you turn to tab 9 in the bundle you have, you'll find the first page of that is your resignation letter. For those who don't have it, it's dated 12 November 2009 and it's a short letter to Mr Paul Dacre which makes clear that you consider that the PCC performs a very valuable function and that you've enjoyed sitting on it under the chairmanship of Mr Dacre, and then you say this:

    "... but I am afraid that I am personally out of sympathy with the PCC at the moment. Its code is excellent, its mediation work is often very valuable, but to my mind, it is not suited to the task of regulation as most people would understand that term."

    Can you perhaps explain what you meant by "I am personally out of sympathy with the PCC at the moment"?

  • That letter was rather prescient, because it goes on to say, "I don't think this is a sustainable position in the long term."

    First of all, just to correct you, I was resigning from the Code Committee, not the PCC. I was never on the PCC, and I think there I was saying that the PCC -- that the Code Committee performed the valuable function.

  • I stand by that. I think the code is a perfectly good code and I was impressed by the work of the Code Committee and Paul Dacre was a very good chair, so I didn't have a problem particularly with the Code Committee.

    But when the PCC's report into phone hacking came out, I thought that it was, crudely, a whitewash. It was worse than a whitewash because it not only couldn't find anything wrong; it was factually wrong about matters that were in the public interest, and for some reason whoever wrote it felt they should try and put in a little sneery swipe at the Guardian's reporting and I just thought that was such an inadequate way to proceed and that it so undermined the principle of self-regulation that I couldn't really be identified with the body by actually playing any active role in it.

  • So your view, in respect of the phone hacking allegations, is that the PCC failed to act as a competent regulator?

  • I don't think it -- I mean, we wrote an editorial at the time saying it wasn't a regulator and I was interested that when Lord Hunt took up his position, the first thing that he said was to say that the PCC wasn't a regulator.

  • But it's right to say that prior thereto, it had always said that it was a regulator?

  • It had been -- yeah, it described itself as a regulator and members of the industry described it as a regulator, but it plainly -- the phone hacking thing exposed the fact that it had none of the powers that you would expect of any regulator.

  • Did it have no power? I thought the PCC constitution did permit it to do certain things which might have given it rather more authority but they just didn't do them.

  • It could certainly have done a better job than it did with the powers that it had, but that was the excuse that's been mounted since, that -- they've held their hands up in a rather hang-wringing way to say, "We didn't have the powers, we were lied to", but even when they were lied to by the biggest, most powerful media player in the country and the most prominent member of the PCC, there was nothing they could even do about that. So I think its inadequacies were fatally exposed by that episode.

  • I'd like to take you to the way forward from here, if I can. Behind tab 11 you'll find a copy of your Orwell lecture, a lecture on journalism and the phone hacking scandal which you gave on 10 November 2011. The reason I take you to that is because you set out in some detail your proposals for the future. If we look at page 10, at the top of the page -- you should find there's 20 pages internally and if you turn to page 10 of 20, you'll see the first of the proposals that you put forward. Do you have that?

  • Yes. Where it says "readers' editors"?

  • Yes. I'm going to take you through each of those in turn. I don't think we need to discuss readers' editors. We've already touched on that. Is there anything you wanted to add to that particular proposal?

  • "A regulator with teeth" is the next proposal. Without reading out the entire section, it's clear that you suggest that the regulator should have investigatory powers, should have power to sanction, and have a "polluter pays" principle. Can you talk us through that particular proposal in more detail?

  • I gave the example there of -- in 1998, we published a piece that alleged that a Carlton TV programme had essentially been faked and what happened there was that a very distinguished QC, Michael Beloff, went in with a couple of assessors and I imagine that was quite a costly inquiry in terms of getting to the bottom of that. They came to the conclusion that our story was right and Carlton TV paid for that inquiry. The ITC, which was then the regulator of ITV, also levied a £2 million fine on top of that.

    Let's set the fine aside. I think that idea of where there's prima facie evidence that something has systemically badly gone wrong within a newspaper, the idea of sending a figure like that in, whose credibility is going to be dependent on not having the wool pulled over their eyes in the way that the PCC had, is quite a good one and that the organisation should bear the cost of that.

  • Is there anything else you wanted to say?

  • No. I think this is probably now uncontroversial. I would guess that the industry -- and Paul Dacre said when he gave evidence here -- he was talking about an ombudsman and I think the fact that a figure like Paul Dacre would come out with that is significant.

  • The third proposal, you've renamed the PCC the PSMC, a one-stop shop, a Press Standards and Mediation Commission. You say it should be a one-stop stop disputes resolution services so that people never have to go to the law to resolve their differences with newspapers. It could be quick, responsive and cheap. Again, could you flesh that out for us?

  • This is something that's been talked about much in the last couple of weeks. It's trying to work out whether there's an arbitral or adjudicatory wing that could be applied to the regulator that would get over some of the problems that the press is always complaining about. We all -- you've heard us whingeing endlessly about the cost of libel and the chilling effect that libel to. I thinking it would be a challenge to see whether we could deal with privacy too, because none of us likes having to submit to the courts.

    So if that's our stance, that we hate the way that the courts deal with libel and privacy, why don't we use this opportunity to show that we can do it ourselves? That is what I was trying to say.

  • By "ourselves", it doesn't necessarily mean editors. It may be set up, this arbitral system.

  • But you have to address the issue, which you've probably also heard me talk about, that it's either consensual, in which case those with the money will say, "I'm not interested", or it is a part of the mechanism that is provided as opposed to court to resolve disputes.

  • Can I break that down into three, because -- just because I think it might help the discussion about this use of statute. The first use of statute -- I think these terms are becoming confused. There's a question about whether the regulator needs to be set up by statute or whether it could be something that recognises the powers of the regulator. I was trying to clear my own thinking on this and rang up the Irish ombudsman this morning because it looked to me as though the Irish Press Council had been set up by statute, and he said, "No, that's not quite right; it was set up in a piece of legislation in the Defamation Act that recognised the role of the regulator."

    So that's one bit. The second bit is this mediation and adjudication role. As I understand the law, we should be talking about adjudication rather than arbitration, and there are parallels in law where it can be compulsory to submit yourself to adjudication before going to the courts. I'm told -- I'm obviously not a lawyer -- that this is common place in construction law.

  • That's because there is an agreement to that effect.

  • Yes. So I personally -- if you're saying that there would need to be a statute passed in order to give that force, I wouldn't be against the use of statute. If you made that -- it was written into law so that the powers this regulator had in order to be able to perform this adjudication function -- if the law needs to be changed by statute in order to do that, I would have thought that is something the industry ought to welcome because it's going to help us out of this problem of libel.

    The third bit, which is the most wriggly and difficult bit, is how you deal with refuseniks and whether you need a statute in order to compel everybody in in order to be able to then have the system that works for everybody, and I think that's the most difficult bit. In a way, it's connected with the first bit, ie. do you set it up by statute or are you just recognising this organisation by --

  • I agree with the analysis, but that doesn't -- although in the second of your three points you identified what you could find acceptable --

  • -- you've been remarkably coy in saying so in relation to that.

  • Do you want me to keep on talking?

  • To the extent that we're all talking about carrots and sticks, I think if this adjudication bit could be built into the role and acknowledged by law in libel -- let's come back to privacy later -- and that there were significant advantages in costs and in the speed and ease of settling these disputes, that would be a significant imperative for any publisher to come in.

    I was also interested, talking to the Irish ombudsman, in something else I didn't know about, the way they constructed this in 2009, which is that the ombudsman in Ireland, as well given absolute privilege in anything that he or she wants to say about the members who are members of the Irish Press Council. He was talking aloud to me about whether did he what he wants to do is to get the doyle(?) to extend that so that he could have absolute privilege in talking about non-members. So I was thinking about the refuseniks here and why a regulator couldn't just go ahead and regulate them anyway, and if you granted them absolute privilege, they could say anything they liked about the refuseniks, and anybody else could correct and publish about the things that were happening in the refusenik's paper.

    These are all things that are short of statute, but I think they are quite significant carrots and sticks.

    Let me pause there.

  • Moving on through the Orwell lecture, number 4 is:

    "Agree on what we mean by public interest and stick to it."

    You say you think that the PCC definition of public interest that exists at present is actually pretty good, but you say essentially what needs to happen is that newspapers need to believe in it and be prepared to argue it.

  • The longer this Inquiry goes on, the more public interest becomes the two most common words.

  • And you realise that public interest is at the heart of everything we do believe in, we argue for and we should believe in. So I think we have to have a very clear idea of what we mean by those words and I think the PCC code is good, or adequate, and I think the more that outsiders and academics have been drawn into this Inquiry, the more we've become aware that there are ways in which it could be improved. I'm not saying it's the final word on public interest.

    But I think, having agreed it, particularly if we want to create this kind of one-stop shop, then that should become the cornerstone of what we're talking about, and I think that does come into play in questions of privacy, and what I think has been the case pretty frequently recently in a lot of the so-called super-injunction cases in the courts have involved papers who go along and argue these cases, but when the judge asks the papers, as he's obliged to do, he or she is obliged to do under section 12, "Are you claiming that this complies with the public interest section of the relevant code?" the answer more often than not is, "No". I think if we're going to have a public interest clause and we're all going to sign up to it, it should be something we believe in and argue for.

  • The final recommendation is learning from others, and you include the Omand principles. I don't think there's anything we need to go back to.

  • Can I ask you briefly about changes to the industry, the growth of online format, and so on, and whether you believe that regulation will threaten or stimulate the newspaper industry?

  • It's a fact of life that we're all on the path to being increasingly digital organisations and that brings us into competition with a whole digital world that didn't exist ten years ago. You can't escape the fact that the more regulated we are, that is going to place us at some disadvantage to people who aren't, but I think I would like to play up the advantages of that, because I think, again, if the argument that we're making for journalism is that we operate to a professional standard of -- professional code of standards and ethics, that should be an advantage in branding what we do and we shouldn't worry too much and become too obsessed by all these people who are out there who aren't -- who don't operate by that kind of code.

  • Finally, maybe you've heard this question asked of others: what's your biggest priority for the Guardian going forward from here?

  • Well, it is -- it's the same answer that others have given, that there is this ferocious digital revolution coming along and we're in the teeth of that at the time of maximum economic disruption. There are huge opportunities there. I made the point in my supplementary statement that the Guardian is now a very considerable global player, but there are huge challenges in terms of making -- of finding the convincing business model, so I want to see Guardian journalism continue and thrive, although whether and to what extent that is in print or in digital is a sort of second order matter.

  • I'm conscious, Mr Rusbridger, that you've produced a very large amount of evidence to this Inquiry and that we've not been able to touch on a very large percentage of it. Is there anything that you would like to add particularly?

  • Thank you very much indeed.

  • Let me just ask this: in the period which has elapsed since you spoke at the seminar, you've made a number of speeches, you've opened this submission, you've made a number of speeches, we've travelled, I think, a fair distance. Ultimately I will make some recommendations, but I would be grateful for your view as to whether your attitude to the subject matter of part 1 of this Inquiry has changed as a result of the last three months, if only to give me a weathervane as to the impact, which is quite important for me to assess as well.

  • I think there isn't a journalist in Britain who hasn't found a lot of what has been heard in the last few months sobering. And it's been a very -- I mean, there is no industry that could -- no industry or body or profession that could go through this kind of scrutiny and enjoy it. But I think there have been -- it's been a very harsh and uncomfortable light thrown on some things, as well as the opportunity for everybody to come along and talk about the good things and the realities of the challenges that we face.

    But I think what the Inquiry has done, as well as open up that light, has drawn in other voices. It's brought editors out into the public in a way that they're not often brought out. That's uncomfortable, but I think it's also good and fits in with the age of transparency that we expect of others.

    And I think it's drawn in useful voices from outsiders and academics and broadcast journalists and people with different kinds of experience, and I think there's been a huge move within the industry -- and we talked a bit about things that weren't commonly said about the PCC a couple of years ago that people now regard as commonplace, and there have been incredibly constructive moves by people like Paul Dacre in terms of what he's done in terms of corrections and clarifications and what he's said about ombudsmen. So I think there are voices being engaged in ways that simply wouldn't have been engaged six months or a year ago.

    I think the phone hacking saga was an uncomfortable catalyst for that but if good things -- and I think good things already have come out of the inquest into that, that will be a good thing.

  • You will appreciate that the one concern I have is that this inquiry shouldn't follow the litany of other inquiries or the list of other inquiries over the years where all sorts of assurances are being provided and then everything just drifts away.

    That's quite an important part of what I have to achieve. Would you agree with that?

  • I agree with that, and that's why I think this debate about statute is a fairly central one. Again, I think most editors, most people in the industry six months ago -- because of course, we all utterly reject anything that looks like state licensing and we reject anything that looks like politicians or the state having any kind of say in the content of newspapers. So I'm not surprised that --

  • I think I've made that quite clear right from the very outset.

  • Of course, sure. But I'm not surprised there's a kind of visceral rejection of it, but I think one of the things the Inquiry has done is to open this up as a more nuanced question than perhaps it would have seemed to us -- I include myself in that -- previously. In my previous answer about these different types of what we mean by "statute", I hope I've shown that I have moved in my thinking and that there are significant challenges to all of us to think about that if we want to reap what could be the benefits of what I hope you'll propose as well as -- you know, I think what -- the blunt truth about our industry is that we've been underregulated and overlegislated, and if we can get a better balance of better legislation and better regulation as a result of it, then that, to my mind, is a good thing.

  • Right.

    We inevitably are going to have to come back to the whole issue of the Milly Dowler phone on the basis that it's appropriate that it is resolved. I don't want to ask you about that but if there's anything you want to say about it, then I feel I ought to give you the opportunity, considering you're sitting there.

  • Yes. Well, I think from -- the fact that it's taken some time to resolve indicates that it's not a simple question. We've put one -- we've now put two submissions in and I think the best way for this to be resolved is for the various parties to be able to interrogate each other, because I think there's other source material which, if you really want to get to the bottom of it, would help you, and I'm not sure that we have yet seen all the evidence or had all the answers to what is a -- is self-evidently a complex question.

  • Because otherwise we would have got to the bottom of it already.

  • Yes. I'm sure you appreciate that although I'm very keen to bring all that out into the open, I don't want to get sent down a siding which diverts me from the important task which I've been given within the timeframe broadly that I've been given it, but I am conscious of the point.

  • Yes. I mean, I think it is -- to some extent, it is a siding. I think there are people who are trying to elevate this into a primary issue now who didn't think it was at the time, and I don't think anybody thinks that -- well, I think when you track back the reasons that were given for the closure of News of the World at the time, they certainly weren't that.

  • Well, I understand the point. I think that as we're set up, I have to address it, as I am trying to, but it's not a primary focus.

    Mr Rusbridger, thank you.

  • Sir, that does conclude the evidence for today.

  • Thank you very much indeed, and I'm sorry to everybody, including the shorthand writer, for yet another long day. Thank you very much.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)