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

  • MR MIKE GILSON (sworn). MR JONATHAN RUSSELL (sworn). MR SPENCER FEENEY (sworn). MR JOHN McLELLAN (sworn).

  • Mr McLellan, could I start with you, please? Could you confirm your full name?

  • John Crawford McLellan.

  • You've provided a witness statement to the Inquiry. Are the contents of that witness statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • In your witness statement, you tell us that you have spent your entire working life in journalism stretching back for 29 years?

  • And that you started writing a weekly column in the Stirling Observer whilst you were still a university student. Since then you've worked for the Chester Observer, the North West Evening Mail and the Journal which is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1993 you were transferred to the Edinburgh Evening News and you were appointed the editor of Scotland on Sunday. At the beginning of 2002 you moved back to the Evening News until February 2009 when you became the editor of the Scotsman.

    In addition to your editorial appointment, you were also chair of the Editors Committee of the Scottish Newspaper Society and you've also previously chaired the same committee of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society.

    You are also a Press Complaints Commissioner, an appointment which you've held since 2010, and since 2010, you've been an honorary professor of journalism studies at Stirling University; is that right?

  • Mr Feeney, if I can ask you next please to confirm your full name to the Inquiry?

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

  • Mr Feeney, you tell us that you're the editor of the South Wales Evening Post, which is Wales' largest-selling daily newspaper and is based in Swansea. You were appointed in September 2002. You're also the editor-in-chief of the Evening Post's publisher, South West Wales Media, with oversight responsibilities for its two paid-for weekly newspapers, the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star.

    This is your third editorship of a regional newspaper. Previously you've been the editor of the Citizen, a daily newspaper based in Gloucester, and the Llanelli Star, a weekly newspaper in south west Wales. You've also held senior editorial positions at regional daily newspapers in Stoke-on-Trent and Exeter. You're a former member of the Press Complaints Commission and have served as an external examiner for Cardiff University's School of Journalism; is that right?

  • Mr Russell, the same questions. Could you confirm your full name?

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

  • Mr Russell, you tell us that you've been the editor of the Herald newspaper in Glasgow and editor-in-chief of Herald and Times Group, which comprises the Herald, the Sunday Herald and Evening Times newspapers, since July 2010. Before your appointment as editor, you were assistant editor at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.

    Your previous jobs have included Scottish correspondent, then Scottish news editor and then Scottish editor of the Daily Mirror, editor of the Paisley Daily Express and Scottish bureau chief of the Mail on Sunday. You've also worked for news agencies and began your career on the Evening Express in Aberdeen. Is that correct?

  • That means that you've always worked in Scotland?

  • I spent two years at the agencies I mentioned and they were both based in Yorkshire. That was two years in the early 1990s.

  • I see. But you have both the experience of a Scottish newspaper and also the Scottish arm of papers published in London?

  • Last but certainly not least, Mr Gilson, could you tell us your full name?

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

  • Mr Gilson, you tell us that you are the editor of the Belfast Telegraph, former editor of the Scotsman, the News Portsmouth, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and you've had senior positions on the Western Mail, Hull Daily Mail, Kent Evening Post, as well as being a member of the PCC Code Committee between 2003 and 2009; is that correct?

  • Gentlemen, can I ask you first, so that we can understand a little bit about the environments in which you publish your newspapers, about your readership and how it affects your papers and what you print? Could I start, please, with Mr McLellan?

  • We publish a daily quality newspaper that covers the whole of Scotland. It circulates from the islands in the north to the borders and until recently circulated widely in London and the south east as well. We have a website, which is an extensive readership around the world, serving the diaspora as well as the home market. I'm also responsible for Scotland on Sunday which has a similar publication pattern, and also the Edinburgh Evening News which serves, as the title would suggest, the Edinburgh market.

  • So what sort of content do you publish to attract that readership?

  • The Scotsman is primarily a political and business newspaper, and also serving the arts in Scotland in ways that other publications, with the possible exception of the Herald, doesn't, so we perform a particular function in Scotland that is unique to ourselves and the Herald.

  • All right. I think we're going to have to reorganise ourselves a little bit, because the microphones aren't quite picking up what you're saying, I'm afraid.

  • Mr Feeney, could I ask you the same question, please?

  • Yes. The South Wales Evening Post is a three-edition daily, covers three different counties in South and West Wales. Three separate editions allow us to focus very much on local news and local sport, which are the staple of the product.

  • Broadly the same as Mr McLellan said about the Scotsman. We are -- we consider ourselves a Scottish national newspaper covering mainly Scottish news, Scottish sport, Scottish art, Scottish business plays a big part. There's also a flavour of more national and international news as well because a lot of our readers see the Herald as their main source of, you know, news for the day. So we have to cover the national and international agenda also, but it's largely a Scottish newspaper.

  • Thank you. Mr Gilson?

  • Yes, the Belfast Telegraph, despite its title, is a newspaper for the entire country of Northern Ireland. It completes in a tough marketplace against many local editions, if you like, of London-based newspapers and the Irish News, a predominantly nationalist newspaper, and the News Letter, a predominantly Unionist newspaper. Like everyone else, it focuses on politics and business and arts, although it would also cover news from the UK and news from the Republic.

  • Thank you. I'd now like to get a feel, if I could, please, of the market in which you're operating and the pressures which you are under. Could I ask a question to all of you. Does any one of you have an increasing circulation at the moment or are you all facing the common trend of decreasing circulation? I take it from the silence that it's all heading south?

  • It's all a balance between the Internet and print is changing?

  • Yes, indeed. If you're talking about total audience, that's a different matter, but if you're talking about pure print figure, you're right.

  • Has anyone got an increasing advertising revenue or are your advertising revenues all decreasing?

  • I'm not trying to elicit commercially sensitive information. I'm really trying to grapple with the concern which has been expressed that all print media are under pressure, but none more so than newspapers that are not London-based. It may not be so for the primary papers for Scotland or for Northern Ireland or indeed for Wales, so it may be you are different from a title that publishes, say, in Leeds or Manchester. I'm very keen to try and understand the different dynamics so that I have a picture of those dynamics and make sure that whatever comes out of this Inquiry fits with the issues with which you are concerned and doesn't fail to address them, and that's why we're asking the questions. We're not trying to ask you to expose your concerns to your competitors or the world.

  • I think the general picture is over the last five years advertising revenues in the regional press have about halved.

  • I couldn't give you the percentage figure, but our advertising revenues have come under increasing pressure in recent years as well. There's certainly been a drop-off.

  • Does anyone wish to disagree?

  • Only to add a little bit of light and shape to it. The big categories are the ones that have taken the steepest fall, in particular the big classified categories of recruitment, property and motors are the ones that have taken the most flak, in particular recruitment, which was a mainstay of the regional press. And that has, I think it's fair to say, all but disappeared as far as print is concerned. What were 24-page sections ten years ago are now one page.

    Some categories are doing a little bit better than others, but by and large the trend is still downward. Things like family notices are still rather robust but not as strong as they once were.

  • Somebody said to me about recruitment. Is that because it's all going on the net or because the economic downturn has meant that there is just not the same recruitment?

  • It's both. There are free services available for small advertisers, large numbers of agencies have found easier ways to find the people that they're looking for. But at the same time, the downturn has meant that basically there are -- there's need to recruit, but also the downturn has encouraged companies to find more efficient ways that than a broadbrush print ad could provide, so the downturn has not only reduced the need to recruit, but also has encouraged people to find other ways to get to the market.

    Traditionally, regional newspapers across the board regarded recruitment advertising as a cash cow, and a lot of the economics of the businesses were based on the fact that classified markets particularly -- there was nowhere else to go locally, and so that's ended now.

  • Yes. The point has been made that the big difference between London and papers not printed in London is the balance between purchase price and advertising revenue. Would you agree with that?

  • I think national papers' sales revenue, cover price revenue is a much larger percentage of the overall revenue than is the case in the regional press where advertising revenue is the majority.

  • That's a point that's been made.

  • It works out roughly as I would say two-thirds classified, one-third newspaper sales, so you get the picture.

  • What we're finding in Wales of course is where the public sector is such a big employer, about half of our readers work in the public sector, that more and more public sector organisations are only advertising vacancies, when they have them, on their own websites. So that's compounded the issue with the loss of recruitment advertising in Wales.

    I was only at a meeting last week where the Welsh government is now proposing to remove the statutory obligation on organisations like councils to place their road traffic orders in local papers. If that comes into law in Wales, then the regional press in Wales will lose an additional £1 million a year revenue.

  • There's a similar issue in Scotland to that with the discussion about statutory notices being no longer statutory in the press, and going online, which would -- I couldn't tell you the exact figure, but that would have a significant impact on Scottish newspaper revenues also.

  • Is there any good news in any of this?

  • We're still producing good papers that people want to buy.

  • And the content that we produce is still very popular, whether in print or online, and the challenge is to monetise the online content.

  • As I said before, in terms of audience, a Belfast Telegraph journalist will reach more people now than perhaps ever, in terms of the reach and the combined audience, but as was just said there, monetising that of course is the 64 trillion dollar question.

  • I think the good news such as it is just now will come in the form of tablet apps, Kindle devices and things like that, because what they are doing is they are reconnecting an electronic audience with the principle of paying for what they are reading. The basics of online readership is that the readers expect to read what they get on the screen for nothing, and the new way of reading on tablets and on phones is that people are now relearning that they have to pay for some of these services, so if there is a brighter future, it's in being able to sell our services to tablet users as opposed to people reading for free online.

    I think the expectation was if you paid 500 or 600 quid for your home computer, then you expect everything on it to be free, whereas, for some reason, people are quite happy to pay £400 for an iPad and then have to pay additional sums for whatever it is they want to read, that has a potential to reenergise our industry, and in fact it puts journalism back up to the top of the tree again as well.

  • I think the other thing is the old inky product is not dead. If you listen perhaps in this room and to other self-appointed media gurus, you would believe that that would be the case, and I believe a lot of imaginative strategies are now being developed to keep the old ink product alive. I'm not as pessimistic as a lot of people might be about the mix, and I think at some point I think the word "bumping along the bottom" was mentioned earlier this week, and I think in terms of sales that will happen, I think there is still a big, big market for a physical in-the-hand product and I'm certainly not as pessimistic as some others.

  • I'm delighted to hear it. Right.

  • Thank you. Having painted the background scene, can we move on, please, to some editorial practices. My first question -- I'm going to start with Mr McLellan. I'm reading from your witness statement where you tell us about your attitude to sources, and in particular an editor's knowledge of sources. You say:

    "There is an absolute requirement on the part of a reporter to divulge full details of how a story came to light if asked by the editor. The senior team are aware of this policy and it is understood the editor will need to know exactly how the stories have been obtained.

    "Example 1, the Evening News: I refused to publish a story and then threatened a reporter with disciplinary action for refusing to divulge the identity of a source."

    I'm going to ask the other witnesses in a moment about this same theme, but if I could ask you, Mr McLellan, what is the rationale behind that approach?

  • I simply want to be confident that what I'm about to put in the paper is true, and that if I'm going to publish a story that is going to be attributed to an anonymous source, that I have the confidence that that source is trustworthy. I don't want to publish a story and then find out that there was some kind of background to this which I wasn't aware of, which meant that, had I been aware of that, I wouldn't have published the story, so I don't think it's unreasonable for the editor to be fully in command of all the facts of a story before it gets him or her into trouble.

    So I will always ask, "Who's telling us this?" and if they say, "Well, I can't really say who it is", I say, "Wait a minute, it's not going in the paper then". As I say, it's only happened once, but once I was in a situation where the reporter wouldn't tell me who the source was and I said, "Well, the story's not going in the paper"; then it became more of a principle issue. I said, "Wait a minute, the editor has a right to know the basis of the story that he is legally responsible for", and when the reporter said, "Well, I'm not comfortable with telling you this", I said, "That's a real problem because if you're not comfortable telling me who your sources are, what position does that put me in? I'm responsible for your stories." In the end, the reporter saw the sense of what I was saying and told me, and so we remained friends.

  • So the distinction is: you as his editor are entitled to know but you will fight vigorously not to tell anybody else?

  • Yes, that's right. Because the person who's told us may well find themselves exposed --

  • As we're finding right now in Scotland, where someone who is suspected of being the source of a story in one of Jonathan's stable has been summarily dismissed, without any hearing or anything like that, because he's suspected of being a whistle-blower, and we have to do all we can to protect people who come to us with information which may well be in the public interest.

  • Mr Feeney, do you align yourself with the McLellan school on this or do you take a different view?

  • No, I take exactly the same view. I think it's just a given that the editor has the right and an obligation to know what the source of a story is. I don't say I ask every reporter on every story, "What's your source?" but there are certain stories where I think you just have to know. How do you go about protecting the identity of a source if you don't know who the source is? It just seems to me it puts you with a conflict.

  • Thank you. Mr Russell?

  • Broadly, I take the same view, but I would also take the view that I would try, while I would endeavour to find the organisation or whatever it is of the source of the story, I would be reluctant to ask the reporter to give me the specific name of the person, because I think that the source has a right to expect the reporter to protect him from the editor, but we have example and I have had occasion where I've had to say, "Without knowing the name, the story can't go in the paper", and then it's really up to the reporter to decide how to deal with that.

  • So there's a subtle but distinct difference there?

  • I think so too. It largely depends on how well you know and trust the reporter and his sources previously, so I wouldn't automatically expect to ask the specific name of the person, but if necessary to satisfy myself of the veracity of the story, then yeah, we would.

  • Mr Gilson, are you of the Russell school, the McLellan school or is there --

  • I think there's a third middle way there. Clearly you need to, on big stories that you're dealing with, you might need to splash on, it follows that you have to -- that the provenance of it. I think there are times, as Jonathan said, where if you've been working a long time with reporters who consistently delivered that you may say, "I accept and I trust that reporter's word", if there are reasons that he or she might not want to divulge, but generally I think that would be rare, but I do think there are reporters and very good reporters, and track records come into play there, so I think I would take a slightly middle way.

  • Just to come back on that, I would say that if I'd worked with a reporter for a long time and knew and trusted them, then they're unlikely to have any problem telling me if I asked --

  • It works two ways. They know and trust you.

  • Your point is it's essential for the safety of the newspaper and for you taking responsibility for the story?

  • Sorry, what I was saying was if a news editor said to me, "This is the story and we got it from X, our reporter", then you'd either be very confident or not that it was true or not, and I don't think there is every 100 per cent time where I would say, "I need to know the name and address of the person involved in that story."

  • The next thing I'd like to ask about is phone hacking, interception either of conversation or voicemails. I'll start with Mr Gilson. I have a letter which is in the bundle at page 394 and 395 under tab 8. It's towards the back. It's a letter on the Scotsman's headed paper dated 30 October 2007. It has the name "Mike Gilson, editor".

  • Is that 8J or where are we looking?

  • It's under tab 8 towards the end.

  • Is this your letter to Sir Christopher Meyer?

  • Who was then the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. It says that on behalf of your chief executive, as chairman of the Johnston Press Editorial Review Group, you were replying to a letter about subterfuge. In the course of replying, in the fourth paragraph, you say:

    "On subterfuge and issues arising from the Clive Goodman case, I have to say there are not that many occasions in our group when such practice is ever deemed necessary."

    Could I ask you what you were referring to by the words "such practice"?

  • Just to give you some background, the Editorial Review Group was, as it says there, a group of editors which I chaired, which advised the Johnston Press board on ethical and journalistic issues and we were asked to look at this. I think what I was saying -- again, this was 2007 -- but we had a fairly extensive trawl through the newspapers to see was any of this sort of thing happening and I think what we were saying there was that at some points, and obviously with public interest reasons, that subterfuge of some form was not something you could rule out.

  • So is your answer you were referring to subterfuge in general and not to phone hacking specifically?

  • Sorry. If that's your question, it's subterfuge in general, yes.

  • Mr Gilson, following up with you, have you ever come across phone hacking during your career as a method that's been used to obtain journalistic information?

  • Can I ask you the same question about payments made to public officials to obtain confidential information. Mr McLellan, have you ever come across that during your career?

  • No. As a result of all this we asked many of our reporters if there's ever been an issue here, they were asked for money and it's just not something that's come up for us at all. Many, many years in Edinburgh covering many stories with local government, police and all government agencies, it's just not been an issue.

  • The same answer. I've never done it, never been asked to do it.

  • Coming on to subterfuge, where Mr Gilson has told us that there might have been some occasions where it had happened, the question is: in what circumstances is subterfuge practised by your titles and with what controls? Mr Gilson, could I start with you?

  • Certainly, yes. I think, like I said before, the decision about whether this is in the public interest becomes first. There is a rigorous and strong debate. Lawyers may well be involved as well. If an issue needed a journalist to pretend so be somebody other than a journalist, that would only be sanctioned by myself, there have been, you know, two or three cases, certainly one recent case that I can think of, in which we sanctioned that, because the public interest, in my view, made it necessary.

  • Is a written record kept, however succinct, of the reasons, the fact of the decision to use subterfuge and the reasons for it?

  • Not written, no. It will be the subject of numerous meetings. This particular case took three, four months to come to gestation, and at that time it was on a regular weekly meeting about how are we going, where are we going, have we overstepped the mark? And that was always involving myself, reporters and the deputies.

  • No. Well, we didn't, no.

  • The reason I ask is because there is a risk that if something happens, and, for example, the story doesn't come out as you want it to and then it all emerges, that justifications come later, whereas if they're at the time, they're that much easier to pin down and to recognise as clearly justifiable.

  • Yes, I take your point. The only things we'd have had on that one were legal letters and emails about how we should --

  • About which you would say you're not prepared to waive privilege. Probably.

  • Indeed. But I take your point. As I say, those things, when you are involved in those things, they take long periods, they're not done overnight and the journalists were thoroughly briefed and controlled. As this case happened, it turned out that we exposed some considerable wrongdoing, so again it was justified in my view.

  • Thank you. Mr Russell, does the Herald ever use subterfuge, and if so, subject to what controls?

  • I would say the potential is there for it to be used and it has been used. I would say there's different levels of subterfuge. It's a very broad word, I suggest. If I thought there was anything that was likely to be illegal or be in breach of the Editors' Code of Conduct or morally questionable, it would be brought to my attention for a decision whether or not to go ahead with it.

  • Are reasons recorded or not in writing?

  • No, they haven't been up till now.

  • We haven't used subterfuge in the time that I've been editor of the Evening Post. I can't answer for if it was used before, I don't know. But generally, on a general point, when I have meetings with reporters to discuss different issues, they're always minuted and notes are issued.

  • I think it's fair to say subterfuge has played a part in most journalistic careers to one degree or another. In particular, I remember an instance where we sent a male and female reporter to investigate a new swingers club just off Prince's Street and of course they were not swingers and had to pass themselves off as swingers, but that was not something which we had any great moral debate about as to whether or not this was something worth exposing in the public interest.

    It is true to say that custom and practice in newsrooms has been to discuss these things and then go on and do it, and not to note it, not to minute it and not to maintain a paper trail. I'm fully aware that that is something which is now -- if not changing, it has changed, and the new guidelines for the industry as a whole will be that any form of subterfuge that requires a public interest justification must have a paper trail so that, as you say, things gone wrong or something that happens that shouldn't have happened, that there is an audit that can be referred to so that the process can be scrutinised quickly and effectively.

    But, you know, there are elements of subterfuge which, you know, are at the frivolous end. We had a discussion amongst Johnston Press editors not that long ago whereby the one of the daily papers said, "What about my secret diner feature? Is that now off limits because I'm using subterfuge?" So it goes from that right the way up to the Daily Telegraph reporters purporting to be members of the public to get information out of Members of Parliament at their surgeries, right the way down to that, so it may seem trivial, but it's not, that the tightening up of subterfuge rules and regulations has an effect over all kinds of different things which the industry up until now and the readers would have regarded as just part and parcel of what we do: exposing things, finding out things which otherwise might not reach the public's attention.

  • I think obviously one has to look at all this with a broad brush and with a degree of common sense.

  • Somebody said, "We couldn't possibly write it all down because it would all take too long." I'm not trying in any sense to suggest a bureaucratic process, but it's really a question of self-protection as much as anything else.

  • I think it's very easy to put up an argument against it, but the sense of it seems to me to outweigh the objections. Given that we have daily conferences, it's not that difficult to make sure that there's a minute of a discussion that took place surrounding an expose that was going to be worked on.

  • Where you're using public interest type explanations to justify what the code would otherwise say was inappropriate?

  • I don't suppose that would cover your secret diner.

  • Exactly. I don't think you'd have to jot that down every time you sent somebody out to have a surreptitious meal. I suppose the swingers club might require a minute, though.

  • I'm going to keep up with that theme because I wanted to move on to the question of how you deal with privacy. If we take that story as an example, if you're going to expose people going to a swingers club, you are invading their privacy to an extent. Did you, when you published the story about that -- I'm assuming you did?

  • Did you identify individuals who were visiting that club?

  • Not so that they could be identified. There were names given, but not full names and addresses or occupations or anything like that.

  • Was that a deliberate decision to protect their privacy?

  • No, I just don't think that the full information was obtained because the situation these people were in was not one where you would normally say, "What do you do for a living? What's your second name?" It wasn't that kind of environment and that might have blown their cover.

  • I can quite see that, Mr McLellan. Perhaps I can put it on a more general level. If you are going to publish a story which invades somebody's privacy, do you see any difficulty with, where at least it's a feasible proposition, giving prior notice to the subject of the story so that they have an opportunity to object before irreparable damage is done to their reputation?

  • I can't think of an instance where that's been a scenario we've had to deal with, but we would always -- in general we would go to the source of the story and say, "Here is the story that we are considering publishing" --

  • No, you go to the subject of the story.

  • Yes, subject, "What is your reaction to our findings?" And that would be pre-publication, not post. But in terms of an invasion of someone's privacy, I can't think of an instance, other than something like that club, where it was an issue. At the Scotsman we tend not to deal with that kind of material on a regular basis anyway.

  • Mr Feeney, I need to ask you the same question. Is privacy and giving prior notice an issue for you?

  • As far as prior notice is concerned, again, as a general rule we approach people who are the subject of stories before the stories are published to give them an opportunity to respond. It's not unusual for us to delay publication of that story by 24 hours, if they request that, to give them time to gather their response, although it's made clear to them that it's not a means whereby they can suppress publication and if we delay for 24 hours, we won't delay any further.

    I think in terms of views of invasion of privacy, then that's something that's very much to the forefront of our minds anyway. We're running a series of stories at the moment, for example, there's a young American woman who's gone missing while on a visit to Swansea. We have been provided with some information about her private behaviour which has come from a source, I know the source and I know the source is impeccable, and that information may well be useful in helping to find the whereabouts of this young woman, but I've chosen not to publish that information because I felt it was too intrusive.

  • Likewise, if a subject of a story is to be shown in a poor light or criticised, it's incumbent upon us to go to that person for a reaction or a rebuttal or right of reply.

  • Mr Gilson, do you agree?

  • Yes, I do. I think in the example I mentioned to you, which was a case of a gentleman using a high office in politics to get sexual favours, we would go to him and gave him a short period of time to respond. I think in the land known as the land that invented the superinjunction, something the legal profession is very proud of, there are times certainly in Northern Ireland and certainly in some newspapers where you have this issue of beating the possibility of an injunction. There have been a case where people haven't been approached, but in my time in two and a half years at the Belfast Telegraph that hasn't arisen.

  • Thank you. Sir, is that a convenient moment?

  • Yes, certainly. You are aware about when these gentlemen have to --

  • Yes, I've established that none of them will be inconvenienced if we continue this session after the lunch adjournment.

  • I'm sure about that, but as long as we know when their flights go. Thank you.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Thank you, sir.

    We were hearing, Mr Gilson, just before the short adjournment about the superinjunction in Northern Ireland. Have you had experience in Northern Ireland of superinjunctions being defeated by new media?

  • No. There's certainly been -- there are currently about four or five superinjunctions in operation that we know of, but no, I've not heard any anecdotal evidence or otherwise of them being beaten that way.

  • Mr McLellan, you tell us in your statement about the decisions that you made for your paper in relation to the Ryan Giggs story and your paper published a story which in effect put the story out of the social media and onto the pages of a national newspaper. You tell us in your --

  • It was the Sunday Herald.

  • I've got the wrong paper, I'm terribly sorry.

    Mr Russell, is that your judgment?

  • No, I am the editor of the Herald and the editor-in-chief of the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times newspapers but the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times both have their own editors who are free to edit their titles as they see fit. They do answer to me. My involvement with those two titles tends to be more about budgetary and corporate nature.

    But the editor of the Sunday Herald, you know, spoke to me on the Saturday to say this is what he was planning to do regarding the Ryan Giggs story, which is what you're referring to.

  • It's explained that the decision was taken not to reveal any more names and it's explained that's because it was thought there was a risk of privacy litigation?

  • I think that -- I don't really want to speak for the editor of the Sunday Herald particularly, but a large part of the thinking of what was done was to show or to sort of illustrate how the superinjunctions aren't really working when the name of the person concerned was, you know, very well known to parts of the population all over social media and the Internet, et cetera, and it was really to show that or illustrate that the legislation wasn't really working.

  • How is this problem coped with in Scotland?

  • The whole business of privacy being protected by injunction, is it?

  • There is means for the Scottish courts to grant an interdict, but my understanding is they're not quite as wide-ranging necessarily as the so-called superinjunctions are down south.

  • Perhaps if I can come back, what I was referring to was that once the Sunday Herald had taken the decision to publish Ryan Giggs' name, we had a discussion about whether or not we should follow suit and name the other people who were known to have injunctions against publication. We decided not, on the basis that even though there was no injunctions applicable in the Scottish jurisdiction, that it wouldn't protect you from legal action for breach of privacy in Scotland, and we took the decision that the situation was markedly different with Ryan Giggs compared to the other names, and that even if we chose to push back the boundaries, the chances of us being able to defend a privacy action against us were few and far between so we decided not to.

  • Which takes me on to the next aspect, the cost of legal proceedings --

  • Just before you go to cost, if there is an interdict granted in Scotland, does that bind everybody?

  • In the same way that an injunction would work here?

  • Yes, it does. It's just the fact that if you don't go through the Scottish process, you still have a choice open to you as to whether or not you go ahead and publish, but it doesn't protect you from further action anyway, so you still have -- just in the same way that you could wilfully publish something that was going to either be in contempt of court or defamatory, but you would know that there was going to be a legal come-back. Similarly, where you know that there are individuals who are acting to protect their privacy, you could well face action for that anyway, whether there's an interdict or not.

  • Moving on to costs, the question is, and I'll start with you, Mr McLellan: does the cost of litigation have a chilling effect on what your newspaper publishes?

  • It's certainly a factor. You know, for instance in a criminal story where you know that you're not perhaps going to be -- there's no chance of prosecution for contempt of court, but there may be a chance of action for defamation, so that by and large you would step back from that, even if you thought that you were going to be in the right, that if it was felt that you're likely to face an action, you're better off not publishing because we wouldn't be able to afford the cost of defending our position. I can't remember the specific instances of it, but that has happened more than once. It happens on more than an annual basis.

  • Do you have CFA, conditional fee agreements, in Scotland?

  • They affect us whether they're in Scotland or in England. We do come across them, the Chris Jefferies case being one in point.

  • Mr Feeney, is the cost of litigation a problem for your newspaper?

  • I think the threat of potential cost with CFAs clearly has a chilling effect on all newspapers and it causes you to think very deeply before you decide to publish something.

  • I think, as with a lot of legal issues, there's a risk balance. For the sake of a story that might make only a few sentences, it wouldn't be worth necessarily taking on a risk that could cost you many thousands of pounds in legal fees. If it was an important story that was bound for page 1, then the risk, if there is such, becomes -- you know, the balance changes and you may be more inclined to publish.

  • Is it the risk of litigation that's really in your mind or is it the cost of the litigation?

  • It's largely the cost. I mean the risk, if you don't believe the story to be true it shouldn't be published, well, you know, whether it's five paragraphs or pages 1, 2 and 3, it's the cost, sometimes it's not worth the cost and the time that would be incurred by putting a small story in the paper.

  • I don't think there would -- I can't think of examples where I would not publish thinking about the cost of legal action. I think the more heartbreaking thing is the amount of complaints that we've abandoned afterwards because of the cost of proceeding with them and given in the early -- or in ways that we wouldn't have done if the costs weren't involved. But I don't think there are many times that we would just think, "That's going to cost us too much to run".

  • Can I come to some of the methods that might be used to stop a complaint escalating to litigation? First of all, there's been a suggestion that a readers' editor is one way of managing comments and complaints cheaply and speedily and reducing legal costs. For your newspapers, I'd like to ask each of you in turn, do you think it's a good idea?

  • We have one. We've had one in every newspaper I've edited in the last few years, and we created one. In fact, the readers' editor is the managing editor of Independent News, whose statement you have there, and he has a brief to take all complaints and be honest, he writes a weekly column, he adjudicates on things. In fact, two weeks ago he effectively in his column said that we were wrong to publish a front-page picture of a minister grieving at the funeral of her father. I don't particularly agree with that, but his column said it and I think there's -- it performs a very good role with the readers.

    One of the things we need to think about is the relationship we have with the readers. They are the judges in the end, they'll buy us or not. I think it serves a good purpose to show we're thinking, debating the ethics, having discussions.

    Paul sat down with me and asked me why I'd done it and I said the reasons why I did in his column, it's not binding, but I think it serves quite an important purpose to show that you're thinking about things and you're not just sort of whizzing through publishing and be damned.

    So I've always had one and I think it's a great idea. We publish prominent corrections and clarification columns as well. And I just think as long as you give he or she some independence to make genuine decisions, or certainly come to genuine opinions, it can work. Obviously they're not binding in any sense, we could do the same thing again, but it's hard, it's hard to go against what your readers' editor has said in the columns of the newspaper.

  • Mr Russell, you've heard that evidence of a successful exemplar. What's your view?

  • The Herald doesn't have anybody with the specific title of readers' editor. I don't think that's necessarily necessary. But we have -- any sort of readers' complaints are always dealt with as efficiently and quickly, as thoroughly as possible. Complaints either come directly to myself or our senior assistant editor who's a very experienced journalist and he effectively fills the role of readers' editor and he does our liaising with the PCC, et cetera, and if a clarification or correction needs to be printed, he will action that.

  • That arrangement, I understand, it doesn't have quite the same independence, does it, as the scheme that's just been explained to us?

  • On the face of it, no. You could argue that, but ultimately he's -- his role is to come to me with his recommendations. He's not free to publish anything he likes about his investigation into a complaint, but he will come to me with what he recommends as the best course of action. But ultimately he is an employee of the paper, as is -- the case just described is also an employee of the same company. So it's kind of -- it might be a semantics to describe quite how independent somebody would be in those circumstances.

  • Thank you. Mr Feeney?

  • I'd like to think that I'm the readers' editor on the Evening Post. All complaints come to me, I lead the investigation into them, I question the reporters involved, the section editors involved. I decide if the complaint is justified. If it is, I agree the wording of any clarification, correction or, if necessary, apology with the complainant. And corrections and apologies are always placed on page 3 of the newspaper.

  • That is a system which has the virtue of taking the complaint straight to the top at the outset, but the vice of no independence at all; is that right?

  • Yes, but in the same way as if there was a readers' editor, that reader's editor would presumably still be an employee of the company.

  • I'm the same as Spencer really. Complaints come to me and I either -- we will publish a large number of these, I'll engage with the complainants either by writing to them directly or by publishing my views alongside theirs in the paper. We don't have a formal readers' editor column as such, but we do, in common with most papers these days, have a prominent clarifications and corrections section.

    There's two elements to this really. One is whether or not you have a system which reflects openness and a willingness to accept criticism and other people may have a view to what you've published and the question you raised at the outset is whether or not this helps deflect expensive litigation. My view is that an open attitude that's prepared to publish criticism is a good thing from the point of view that Mike raises, but as far as deflecting litigation is concerned, if somebody thinks they have a case worth money, no readers' editor column in the world is going to stop them going after you for cash.

  • I'd also add that our letters page is open to readers to put alternative points of view. If they disagree with the way that the newspaper has handled a story, they're quick enough to write letters for publication telling us that, and we publish them.

  • If a letters page is a vehicle for any reader to express a view about a story that you've published, can I use that as a peg on which to hang the hat of moving on to the right of reply? Where you publish an article which offends the subject, what are your approaches to a right of reply? Perhaps I can start again with Mr Gilson.

  • I would say it depends on the circumstances. Obviously in a story which you would have thought -- well, you hope would have been well researched and well rounded and fair and accurate, then that person would have been in that story, if he was an important part of it.

    Obviously letters pages are very important. Right of reply can be done in all kinds of ways. If on balance you look and think there's something we missed, probably by accident or because we weren't aware, there are all kinds of ways that you can write another story, a follow-up story to include someone in. There's a range of different tactics.

    In terms of a formal thing that says right of reply, I -- we would tend to put that in the letters page or, if not, come to some agreement where a genuine point moved the story on, we would run the follow-up.

  • Do any of the rest of you adopt any different approach or is that the general way it's done?

  • We're very fortunate, we have a large comment and opinion section, and it's a variety of different lengths in there, so we're quite happy to give people the right of reply that is neither a follow-up story, which is a disguised correction, or something in the letters page. We can offer something that's somewhere in -- there's an alternative to that and we do that quite regularly, and in fact, in the spirit of openness and debate, we're quite happy to do that. It's not something that we feel that we're backed into.

    If someone has a different view, then I feel that's a positive thing to be able to allow them to express that in our pages. In fact, with our columnists, we almost encourage our columnists to argue with each other, so there's a free flow of opinions, and that helps demonstrate that we don't regard ourselves as having the monopoly of wisdom over anything we publish.

  • I think it's worth bearing in mind there's a vast difference between a complaint that's been made because of a factual inaccuracy or because they feel they've been treated unfairly or just that they don't like the story. I think that's worth bearing in mind. There's a lot of stories appear in all newspapers and magazines that somebody just doesn't like, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they're entitled to a right of reply necessarily.

  • Moving on to a slightly different topic but connected. I showed you, Mr McLellan, this morning an article dating from 2003, which has been sent to us by a member of the public. The member who sent it in takes issue with it and thinks it shouldn't be published. Indeed she says it was taken down at one stage and reposted.

    I don't want to go into the rights and wrongs of the specific complaint, but given that the article dated back to 2003, I wanted to ask you: does your newspaper have a policy on for how long old stories remain on your website?

  • There's a difference between remaining on the website and being part of the electronic archive and I think that we have a very extensive electronic archive. If we decide to take a story down, then the story remains down. Now, how this story -- the first I knew of it was when you presented me with the letter this morning. How that story reappeared is a mystery to me.

  • I'm not really wishing to explore that because I quite accept it's not something you can deal with now, but I'm interested in the general proposition that once news is out there on the Internet, if someone is contesting it, it seems once it's there to stay there and even if you take it down from your own website, it can then circulate in other ways?

  • What policies do you gentlemen have for how long you keep material posted, whether on the main site or on an accessible archive? Perhaps if I start the ball rolling by asking Mr Russell: what does your newspaper do about that?

  • As regards the actual website, stories don't tend to stay up on it for that long because the contents are constantly updating on a day-by-day basis. As John said, in terms of something that's gone on the website today, you'll be able to access that for many years to come just because it's -- I'm not an expert on the technology behind the Internet, but it's there, you Google it and you'll find it.

  • Do you think there ought to be some sort of policy whereby news comes down after a certain period or are you committed to keeping it out there?

  • Not really. I think there may be an occasion where it would justify it, but generally, I mean the archives of our newspapers going back years and years are available to members of the public in public libraries, national library of Scotland, et cetera, so it's not as if it's the only place you could find these stories. In a year or two years' time, the content is still available to members of the public, either by buying back copies from ourselves or going to the national library et cetera.

  • Do you think there's a different responsibility these days? Certainly the old chestnut was that your newspaper today wrapped your fish and chips of tomorrow. And of course somebody could, with enough diligence, research back into a story and go into those wonderful libraries with enormous volumes and turn over the pages, I've done it myself, but there is a difference between being able to do that and being able, with four or five clicks of your mouse, to access any story, however long back in the past it was.

  • I take the point you're trying to make. I don't know that it's -- it would be correct to have a change of policy just to the availability of these stories just because modern technology makes it easier to find these stories than it was say 10 or 15 years ago. If the stories there are publicly accessible and it's there publicly accessible --

  • In one sense you're right, but it may be that the past allowed stories to have a shelf life which, as I say, could be researched, but now there is no shelf life. That might actually mean that people get more concerned about what's in the paper today because it's in the paper today, tomorrow, next year, next decade, 30 years' time.

  • It's certainly a point of view. I'd go back to as long as archive newspapers are kept, I don't personally see a huge difference just because it's easier to access it online than go to the national library. I don't see why that means you should be taking stories offline when they're still available in other places.

  • I'm not saying necessarily you do. I'm merely identifying the problem.

  • You have read in the newspapers more than once of criminal trials that are affected by the ability of jurors to research on the web and so learn things about those who are on trial which are not in the trial and which of course they could have gone to the National Archive and found out if they wanted, but who would do that?

  • I agree, but I think that's not just a newspaper problem. If a notorious criminal is on trial, there's an awful lot of material available on that person on the Internet that isn't in newspaper archives.

  • I entirely agree. You shouldn't be defensive.

  • I'm not in attack mode, I promise you. I'm simply trying to investigate the reality of the position.

  • And to wonder whether we should be thinking about this. Not necessarily in the context of conduct.

  • I agree that it is an issue and it is something that should be addressed, but I think that's more a wider Internet problem than a newspaper electronic archive problem, personally.

  • I think there's a clear clash in the availability of information, particularly for local newspapers, for the access to details about relatively minor offences and the principles behind spent convictions. It's very obvious that if something is a spent conviction but the public can easily access information about something which is by law supposed to be buried in the past and that person is supposed to have, you know, paid their dues to society, then that is something which we as an industry haven't wrestled with and certainly the Internet as such has no interest in wrestling with it, but as a moral question it's a live one.

  • Your comment there throws out a slightly different point that is very focused on what I'm thinking about, namely what are the differences between the newspaper industry and what I've called the elephant in the room, the Internet, on the basis that the Internet just contains -- I say just -- it contains facts, information, undigested, unfiltered material. Whereas the press can sell itself as providing mediated fact, assured facts -- this is what you were talking about at the beginning of your evidence -- and responsible comment. And whether there is anywhere bridging that. The problem that is generated by the Internet, so as to maintain a healthy, vibrant press.

  • I think taking a story down off a newspaper website isn't difficult, but it doesn't solve the problem, as we found with a bit of experience. We were trying to resolve a libel claim, and we took the offending articles off our website, but the complainant's lawyers kept on pointing out they could Google their client's name and find references to the inaccurate stories all over the web. In the end, we went to Google and said, "Can you help us with this, can you do something that would just make sure all of these articles were removed?" and I think Google's response was, "Well, we might be able to but we're not going to because our ethos is cyberspace information hangs there". I think it's a problem that actually has to go as high up the scale as the big search engines to try to resolve it, if it can be resolved.

  • I think that it may be that some of the search engines will be giving evidence, but I'm very conscious one of the witnesses to the Inquiry was Mr Mosley, who is going around the world taking down stories about him in relation to a case where he succeeded in litigation in this country. I don't need to identify the story because each one of you knows exactly what I'm talking about, but it is a problem.

    But on the wider question, I'd be interested in any of your views.

  • It's going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle with this information overload. For our own newspaper, we will think very hard about putting minor court cases up in the first place because there is the issue of spent convictions. Obviously historical issues in Northern Ireland and the Troubles are up there for anyone to see. In fact, our Troubles archive is a unique resource for people. But I think -- and we will also go back in and correct stories, and that's about as much as we can do once it's out there.

    I think there has to be -- things you mentioned about court cases and people looking at past stories about them, it's an issue for everybody. The courts as well as newspapers. And all we can do with our own sites is do what we do now, which is correct and take down. Certainly in terms of previous convictions, which is your concern there.

    I think the other side of it, though, is once it's out there as a story that someone did something ten years ago, it's just out there, it's a matter of record. I'm not so sure that is necessarily a bad thing.

  • I'm not adjudicating that, I'm merely identifying the consequential problems, which are real.

  • There's a growing number of requests/complaints to us from people who have appeared in the paper at some point in the past, some black mark in their lives and they want it erased. It's not rare for those requests to come in and that will grow and grow the more stories appear, and on the Internet, as time goes on, there will be a lot more people than there have been whose names and faces have appeared in newspapers and they don't want them to be on websites any more.

    As we've already heard, we can do all we can, but by and large, if you put something up, it's up there.

  • On the question of apologies and corrections, one proposal is that the principle should be that an apology is printed in the same place that the offending article took place. Parity of prominence. Would any of you like to express a view either in support of or criticising that proposal?

  • I think there's a whole sliding scale of how much was wrong, the size of the error. To make a very blunt instrument of that was the splash therefore it should be on front I think would be something that I would be very concerned about. I think a regular place where people know and come, and we have that and a lot of newspapers do now, where there are corrections, is a good method because it does -- it puts them all together. Some days you look like you've made a hell of a lot of mistakes and that's not a good thing to happen, but the practicalities of same place, same prominence, I think, are a problem.

  • Is there room for exceptions?

  • Yes, I think there is always room when you've negotiated say a page 3 or -- page 1 is always a problem, I think, because it would have to be -- you know, every aspect of that story would be so wrong, and obviously there have been examples that we know about, where you can see that was right to do that and actually the paper had to do it to protect its reputation, but I can't think of too many examples where you would say, "That was the splash, therefore we should splash it on the front". It would be disproportionate.

  • Do any of the rest of you take a different view or are you in agreement with that?

  • As I said earlier, all of our corrections appear on page 3. That means for the vast majority the correction is appearing at a much earlier position in the paper than the original story. I have agreed on one occasion to publish a correction and apology on page 1 because, as Mike said, the error was sufficiently serious to merit it. You can still agree a page 1 correction and apology if it's merited, but if you have a fixed position, then the majority of cases, unless your fixed position is somewhere at the back of the paper where I think you're then not entering into the spirit of it, then your fixed position is going to be earlier than the original story anyway.

  • I think the public expectation is that any rectifying of an error should be proportionate and that the proportionality, I think we have to accept proportionality has to be part of the process of deciding what is the right level of correction to take place, in order for the industry to make sure that it is as much in line with public expectation as possible, that's what we're about, being in line with the way our readers think, and I think we have to accept that the greatest transgressions have to be rectified in a suitable and proportionate manner.

    I carried a front-page correction where a story was completely wrong 14 years ago, so it's not as if this is suddenly something which we're all having to come to terms with now. It has happened and happened a long time ago.

  • If everyone has said what they want to say on that issue, I'm going to move to the question of contact with police officers. Can we start with off-the-record conversations between reporters and police officers? Does any one of you prohibit such conversations? If you all are content for your journalists to have off-the-record conversations with policemen, what controls, if any, do you think there ought to be, or guidance to your journalists, when engaging in that sort of contact? Mr McLellan, could I start with you?

  • I think the principle of reporters talking to other members of the human race on an on the record or off the record basis should not be up for debate. That's what we're about. I think it's as much for public bodies to decide how their employees and representatives interact with us. We are supposed to be out there digging things up that people didn't know about, things that perhaps people don't want us to know about, and it's part of our function to talk to people, be they police officers or any other members of establishment bodies. For us to limit who we can and can't talk to I think would be counter to everything that we're about.

    But if police forces or health boards want to ban their employees from talking to us, that's a different matter. But for us to instruct our people not to talk to people, that would be very strange.

  • Does anyone take a different view?

  • I would just like to say in a lot of cases nowadays chance would be a fine thing. One of the things that followers of the Inquiry might have formed the impression that this is going on all the time. I have to say that the way that information is closed off these days by organisations employing huge numbers of press officers to stop the sort of thing that you're talking about is enormous. In some areas press officers outnumber journalists.

    The old arrangements which we all are old enough to come up with of talking to a policeman on a basis of trust in a way that John said, in a way that we should do, that's what we employ people for. We employ people to get around press officers, let's be honest. But actually the truth of the matter is perhaps apart from -- and I've edited quite a bit around the UK but actually my experience is a gradual closing down of these things to the point where it's bad for democracy. The amount of crime that happened in your patch hardly gets reported, so -- sorry, I didn't quite answer your question there, but I think it's --

  • No, it's a valid point, and indeed one of the things that was said to me when I visited a regional newspaper was in terms the inability for the crime reporter to speak to the detective on the ground rather than to have to go through a press office. But that works both ways, doesn't it? It requires trust and confidence, but it equally requires the same from the reporters.

  • Can I just say in terms of press offices, I think all organisations have these press offices now and very often they're poaching our most experienced reporters to staff them, but in our experience, very often these press officers themselves will request off the record meetings and briefings to provide us with information that they think is useful but they don't want to be attributed back to their organisation. So it's not a case of the journalist seeking a whispered conversation in the corner. The press officers themselves are saying, "Can I tell you things off the record which you can use in the paper but don't quote me."

  • I think that's quite an important point. If we speak to police, whether it be on the record or off the record, it's not just to get a story for the paper. The police need the press, the broadcast media hugely for witness appeals, to help solve unsolved crimes, et cetera. When I was editor of the Paisley Daily Express I had a meeting with a senior officer one time who said not a day goes by where they don't get a phone call into the CID room saying "I'm phoning about the story in the Paisley Daily Express, I think I know something" and I think it needs to be borne in mind that it's not just, you know, so we get stories that we have contact with the police.

  • I think it's very clear from all of your statements, which are going to be posted on the Internet, the very valuable work that's done by the press to help the police in their work. For the purposes of the Inquiry, what I'm interested in is: do you sense an attempt by your local police forces to try and shape the way in which they are reported in your newspapers to help to mould their image and if so --

  • If you speak to the chief constables they will be open and tell you that they are charged with controlling the public's perception of crime and they are very anxious to not see too much crime reported in local papers.

  • I see Mr McLellan nodding there. Mr Russell, Mr Gilson. Mr Gilson, you're nodding. Mr Russell, is that your experience?

  • There's an element of that as well but I don't think -- I think it would be unfair to criticise the police. Any organisation, if you're doing a story on them, they want their organisation painted in the best possible light and I don't think the police would be any different from any other organisation in that regard.

  • But it is actually a Home Office directive to chief constables to manage the perception of crime --

  • (Overspeaking) I think the whole idea, the whole issue, you're right, Spencer, is this message went out to try and -- the fear of crime was bigger than the crime itself, as against our reporters, even on a local level, we would say if your shed was burgled down the road, and I lived in the same road, actually I'd quite like to know about that.

  • I think that's a very good point because there's different kinds of publications. Now I live in Edinburgh. I have heard the Chief Constable say that we've got to be very careful about creating a fear of crime where, as far as we're concerned, you people live in a very safe environment, and by and large Edinburgh is a very safe environment. So the police policy is not to give us information about minor crime, and so the pages of the Evening News are not filled with bicycle thieves and sheds being broken into. That's a policy of the police.

    Go to another publication, the local Neighbourhood Watch newsletter, you will see stuff there from the beat cop who is telling people, "Be careful because there's been a number of break-ins in this street and we're investigating". So the police are controlling what goes in some media, but then the beat cop is quite happy and able to talk to his local Neighbourhood Watch who then publish a newsletter that goes out to all the houses in that neighbourhood.

    So therefore you have two very different perceptions of what's going on in communities and two very different publications, but in terms of the Inquiry, those are still publications. The Neighbourhood Watch newsletter is a publication as much as our newspapers are, and the police have a different viewpoint to what goes in one and the other.

  • The real trick is how to get balance in this. If I wear a different hat, as I do, I am very keen in my capacity as chair of the Sentencing Council to do what I can to promote confidence in the criminal justice system, and I do that by identifying what in fact is happening as opposed to sometimes what is said to be thought to be happening, and they're not necessarily the same.

  • You want to instill confidence by suppressing what is actually happening and --

  • -- that's what happens when the police don't inform us of crime.

  • One of the problems of that is that when I started at the bar there was a reporter in my local court who would then accurately tell the story of what happened in court so that those who read the account in the local newspaper could see the facts. What tends to happen now is there isn't a reporter in a local newspaper and a police officer will give his version of the facts, which may be rather higher than actually the jury ultimately convicted of, so they tell an assault case as deliberate, intentional knifing, whereas he wasn't convicted of wounding with intent but of a much lesser offence of violence. So the facts are reported at the higher level and the sentence is then reported at the lower level and everybody says, "What's going on here? This is ridiculous". That's because of lack of accuracy.

  • I would be very, very loath to take any policeman's view of a court case and run it in a paper because you've lost your privilege. But I think the other issue is trying to get back to the old days of trust. If you meet people on a regular basis face to face talking about it, the next time either one of you does something that breaks that trust, that's what used to be the good old-fashioned journalism which I worry we're now seeing as almost like a crime itself and I think we need to be slightly careful about that. Because what we would like, and as I said at the start, I take on reporters who will not stop at a press office. That to me is no good. I want to speak to the people who are actually doing the things, making the decisions, and despite what it might come over in terms of dealing with the Met police, for example, I'm afraid we are in a democratic deficit with the amount of information that is being kept in all these organisations. In my view.

  • Am I right in saying that there aren't local reporters going to courts any more?

  • I think that's a bit too brutal, but --

  • -- nevertheless it is a real concern. In certain towns and cities there are -- bloggers don't go to the town halls and to the courts. Local reporters do.

  • One might say equally the same about local government and --

  • Indeed and that kind of shining a light sadly is at risk, there's no question about that.

  • If a town loses its paper, then clearly courts and councils are not being reported and held up for public scrutiny. I don't know about my colleagues, but in my paper we cover the courts still. But I think what I was talking about more was crime reporting than court reporting. It's the incidents of crime that I think the police are deliberately downplaying.

  • There is also a balance for us as editors to make sure that our pages are not crammed full of depressing news about our communities and the only picture we paint of our communities is a relentless one of crime ridden estates where everybody lives in fear of their lives. We have to strike a balance. Certainly the courts, more now than ever before, are the preserve of agencies. Some are very good agencies who supply very reliable copy.

    There's a case just going through the PCC recently which was a mistake as a result of information passed on in good faith by court officers, a Crown Court, where the case was -- I think it was Cardiff Crown Court it actually went through and the case was involving somebody living in a newspaper area that was not in the Cardiff area and the information was picked up wrongly and the result was a complaint.

    I think it's fair to say that we don't staff up district courts and magistrate courts the way we used to. I used to spend every Monday and Tuesday in Chester Magistrates Court and knew the clerks and lawyers and it was a great grounding, but I doubt very much whether or not the local papers are staffing magistrates courts at the same level as we used to. We certainly in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Evening News hasn't staffed the sheriff's court regularly for the best part of 15 years.

  • Thank you. Moving to the question of contacts with politicians, what I'd like to explore first of all is whether any of you as editors seek to influence your local politicians, for example by getting them to support a campaign that the newspaper is running or something like that. I'm not putting this question with any pejorative angle, I just seek to understand the sort of contact that there is between you and your local politicians; obviously in the case of devolved governments, with your regional MPs. Could you help us with that starting with you, Mr McLellan?

  • It's the other way around. They want our support to help them. Especially there's a little debate going on in Scotland right now, for which both sides would like our newspaper to support them. In fact, we've been asked just recently when is the Scotsman going to come off the fence as far as the independence question is concerned? I said with three years to go, not yet. Obviously we do -- over the years I've recruited the support of local politicians for our campaigns, but by and large certainly in the position of the Scotsman and Scotland man on Sunday it tends to be the other way around.

  • If there is that hunger on the part of the politicians to get your support, does that put you in a position of some power over them?

  • I think it puts us as being an important part of the debate and that's the way it should be. Certainly we're fortunate enough to live in a country where we do have a great variety of publications and a number of different views would be held, and I think that the courting of politicians of editors to discuss the things that they want to see enacted seems to me to be part of the process.

  • We heard yesterday from the editor of the Guardian, talking about power that he held as an editor of a major newspaper, and you're the editor of a major Scottish newspaper. With that power, what responsibility is there vis-a-vis your dealings with politicians?

  • Responsibility in what regard?

  • Ethical responsibility. Do you think you're under any particular ethical constraints in your dealings with politicians?

  • I'm not sure that I would necessarily describe it as an ethical one. I think it's a necessary part of our job to listen to all sides of any argument and come to a view ourselves as long as we feel that our view is being honestly held and we can defend it and that we've listened to what has been told to us from lots of different sides.

    We're in a different position because we serve a small country, and it's not in our interests to drive a particular -- a narrow agenda because even from a practical point of view we don't have the readership mass to be able to take a niche of our readership and say we're going to agree with this section of readership and not this one.

    Obviously there are lots of people who would challenge me on that because so far the Scotsman has not been a cheerleader for independence and no doubt you could find not a small number of members of the SNP who would argue that we are taking a position. We have previously set out our stall in favour of fiscal autonomy, for instance, which is not a policy favoured by any of the parties particularly right now because the SNP's policy is for full independence.

    So we will take a balanced view given what we think the majority of readers will empathise with, and we will take a view what we think is the right position to take, but not necessarily follow any particular party political line, but it's part of the warp and weft of a political newspaper operating in that sphere that there will be things that people agree with and things that people don't and we have to take cognisance of lots of different views.

  • If you say the word "we" a lot in that answer, can I pick up on that. Accepting entirely that as the editor, it's your call.

  • It's part of the editor's function, if you do come off the fence in what you've described as the little question in due course, is that a decision that you will discuss with the proprietor of your newspaper before coming off the fence?

  • On a major decision we will let the managing editor know what we're going to do but we don't consult them as such. We don't seek permission to take a position. It's a courtesy to inform them what position the paper is going to take, but there's no process for them to -- commercial people to come in and say, "We think you should be doing this because we think we're going to be in a stronger commercial position should you do this". That doesn't take place.

  • Is there discussion and are views expressed by the people at proprietor level, if I describe it that way, seeking to influence you, accepting though that the ultimate decision is yours?

  • I've never had a discussion with anybody at Johnston Press senior management level about the direction the paper is going in. I've never had the conversation.

  • Johnston Press own how many titles?

  • When I was editor at the Scotsman, which is a few years ago now, coming up to the election the Scotsman came out for the SNP in the election under my editorship, or was about to, and the chief executive -- this is all a matter of record -- approached me at the time and said, "Look, you're the editor, I understand all that, but we're a little concerned about what you're doing in the Scotsman", as is right that he should do so, he's the chief of the company. We had a discussion about the position of the paper and in the end, as he rightly admitted, it was my decision and although he wasn't in favour of it, we did come out in favour and say that the SNP should win that election.

    So that's the sort of relationship that I've always had. Absolutely right we have a discussion, a sounding board and positions and fears. Obviously this was more on the business grounds, I think, were the fears at the time. But having listened to what he said and having talked and thought where our readers were, which is much more important, at that time we thought it was time for a new government and we carried on supporting the SNP.

  • Mr Russell, your experience perhaps, using the little question as an example, are you the subject of a lot of contact with politicians on it at the moment?

  • Yeah, I wouldn't say a huge amount, but yes, I speak with politicians, a politician or politicians, not necessarily every day, but I reckon one or two, three times a week, yes, and they're interested in our views as a paper, I'm interested in their views and how they see the debate moving forward, the consequences of what would happen if this happened sort of thing and there's a lot of discussion about that. It's really for them to become -- they sometimes see the Herald as a barometer of public opinion so they'll ask us about readers' letters that we've had, et cetera, and our views, and it's good for us to know what's sort of going on in their heads as well.

  • Is the paper's editorial line on that or perhaps other important political questions something that's discussed with the proprietor?

  • It would be discussed with them, with my -- the managing director of Herald and Times Group, I'll have an occasional discussion with him about it. He will perhaps ask -- he may well give me his opinion, he may well ask my or the paper's opinion, he may well ask me why I made certain decisions, but it would be wrong to suggest he has tried in any way to influence the paper's political line.

  • Thank you. Mr Feeney, relations with politicians?

  • I think it's worth bearing in mind for a local paper the politicians that reporters have most contact with will be local councillors. You need to keep that context in mind. We're not talking about having conversations with ministers of state or the high and mighty. We do also talk to our MPs and our Welsh Assembly members, but we all live in the same town, so our contact, I would say, is constant and everyday.

    Yes, we always ask them to support our campaigns. They always seek the newspaper's support for their objectives. Their objectives and our campaigns often chime. They tend to be retaining local facilities or jobs so it's not a case of anybody being in another person's pocket. Why the relationship is close inevitably is because it's geographically close. It's not cosy in the sense that we wouldn't criticise what they're doing. Tory and Lib Dem MPs are quite rare in South Wales but we do have a Labour government in Cardiff and while I meet and speak to the AMs regularly, we won't hesitate to criticise Welsh government policy.

  • If you won't hesitate to criticise, does that instill any fear in the politicians of the power that you wield as the editor of the most popular local newspaper?

  • Fear would be overstating it, but the very fact that they're keen to get the newspaper to support their objectives I think indicates they realise the importance of a local paper that's well connected in the community.

  • One of the topics that I'm required to look at is the relationship between the press and politicians at a national level here in London. I have in you four gentlemen representatives of the most significant newspaper organs that have to deal with very important government institutions that are locally based: The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Do you consider the relationship that you have with your respective governments at that level is too close, not close enough, about right, works, doesn't work? And what is it about it that works or doesn't work? I'm asking a very general question. I won't ask you to comment upon the situation here in London because that's not what your experience is, but if you could give me some assistance, I'd be grateful.

  • I think in Northern Ireland it's a unique government because it's a mandatory coalition after the Good Friday Agreement, so there is a degree of unanimity in government which doesn't create an adversarial parliament. Very often, and this has been said by many people in Northern Ireland, the press is actually the official opposition, so that puts us in a slightly different position, which means that we see ourselves as a critical friend, but decisions are made in a slightly different way within the executive of five, and the way that we're governed doesn't really allow a situation where we could favour one or the other.

    We're effectively putting them all to task within the context, of course, of where we come in Northern Ireland and where we are and the fact that the government is actually working and devolution is actually working. We have to be careful. A critical friend is how we see it, but in terms of parties we are really sort of on behalf of our readers trying to expose what's going on in Stormont and how far we have to go. It's a fairly simple relationship.

  • I'm comfortable with the relationship myself and the paper has with politicians. Sort of aside from what Spencer said, most of my dealings wouldn't really be with local councillors, it would be kind of similar to John, it would be with senior government -- with whether it be Scottish government or UK government ministers, et cetera.

    In terms of the relationship, I think it works well. We like to think we share the common goals of the politicians, which is to make Scotland a better place for Scottish people and our readers. I think the important thing is yes, it could be easy for either a politician or for an editor to go too far or for the relationship to become too cosy sometimes and it's incumbent upon your professionalism and moral compass that both sides don't allow that to happen.

  • Let me stay with Scotland while I can, then I'll switch to Wales so I have it sorted out in my mind.

  • I suppose I'm satisfied with the situation the way it is, because if I wasn't, I would do something to change it.

  • I'm not close to any of the politicians. I know them but I'm not close to any of them or the parties. Certainly no version of lavish Chipping Norton parties in Scotland as far as I know. I think that's probably the way it should be, a healthy relationship but a certain amount of distance.

  • I think the great merit in Wales is the ease of accessibility to the people running the government in Wales. It's a smaller pond, if you like, and that's a great advantage, that it's quite easy to get to speak to people and get your point of view across and have the discussion but in no way is it a cosy relationship. I'd say it works well.

  • The final topic is the future of regulation, obviously from the starting point of whether or not the existing system needs change at all. Can I ask you first of all looking forward in whatever form regulation might take, how can the regional voice and the regional interests of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales best be secured going forward? Mr McLellan, could you start?

  • Sure. I think from a very straightforward point of view I think whatever system we have in the future, I think what we in Scotland need is an assurance that we have the same kind of representation that we have just now, not necessarily from a point of view of an editor from Scotland being on whatever the PCC/Press Standards Authority, whatever it may be called is concerned, but there's a guarantee that someone from Scotland is involved in the new process.

    I think there's a pretty strong likelihood that serving editors will no longer be part of the day-to-day Commission. I think we all pretty much accept that's likely to happen. So therefore that removes the guarantee that Scotland has of a representation on the body, and I think we'd really be looking for some kind of replacement that enshrines a Scottish place in the new body, not necessarily a serving editor as at present.

    Certainly as far as -- and similarly for the Code Committee. Obviously the Code Committee issues are different to those being discussed as far as the make-up of the Commission itself is concerned. But that would certainly go a long way to guaranteeing that we have that unique representation on the new body.

  • Implicit in what you're saying -- I've been doing my homework as well so I'm pretty sure I know the answer to the next question -- you're in favour, are you, of a single body, not separate Scottish and English bodies?

  • Yes. As I said this week, we would have a situation where if there was a separate Scottish body, then most of our organisations would have to deal with two bodies and two sets of regulations, and that would involve a cost and a considerable complication for us, that a story published in our newspapers could end up being brought to two press standards bodies.

    I think it's important to us, setting aside the politics, I think it's important that we deal with one body. As far as the national press is concerned, with papers, the highest circulating papers in Scotland now are London papers, and it would be strange for them to have to deal with two bodies. I think a single body serving the needs of Scotland as well as the rest of the UK would be a preferred solution.

  • Mr Russell, do you agree with that?

  • Broadly. I'm not ideologically opposed to a Scottish press standards authority, but I think as things stand the practical difficulties would be fairly large and substantial and that's not to say they couldn't be worked through, but I think it would be very difficult to see how you could work a Scottish press standards authority while the PCC or an equivalent is still running in England dealing with London-based titles, but it is something that would need to be given more thought because if Scotland does move towards full independence in the next few years, clearly there may need to be more thought given to that.

  • Mr Feeney, for Wales, would you contend for a separate body or not?

  • No, I wouldn't, and I don't think it's necessary to insist that you have an editor who is working in Wales on the PCC or whatever follows from the PCC. The code of practice applies right across the UK. Certainly as far as Wales is concerned, the law is the same as in England and journalists should be following the code and obeying the law.

    I do think there needs to be a single regulatory body. Not as much as splitting England and Scotland but I've seen it suggested that perhaps the PCC could continue and simply regulate for the local and regional press, something else could regulate the national press, and I disagree with that because I think that would suggest that the PCC, or whatever follows it, and the regional press in some way is second division or the journalism that's being regulated is lesser --

  • Actually, it might say quite the reverse.

  • Well, I would argue that journalism in the regional press is not lesser than the journalism in the national press, so I wouldn't support an idea that you had separate regulatory bodies for regional and national papers.

  • Mr Gilson, the same issues?

  • Yes, I think a single body makes sense. I think a single body that recognises there's a lot of different countries in the UK, there's a lot of different circumstances would be fine, and also a lot of different newspapers doing different things, not all of them breaking the law. I don't think you could ask for much more than that. I don't see a point of separating it. I think it's right that it's a UK-wide body.

  • Mr Gilson, I am going ask you this because you work in Northern Ireland and it may be that you speak to your colleagues in the Republic. There's a system of regulation operating there which has been the subject of quite a lot of positive comment. If you have discussed the pros and cons of our respective systems with your colleagues in the Republic, could you help us with the benefit of those conversations?

  • I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to give you information that would be of that much use to you. I don't really know that much about it. Obviously I've had experience over here with the Code Committee, but I do think that the Republic copied a lot of the early PCC model, as indeed most of the world, let's be honest.

  • Although it's enshrined and encapsulated within legislation, isn't it? There is a background act --

  • So I'm afraid I wouldn't be an expert on that.

  • Compulsory membership of whatever regulator emerges in the future, is anybody against compulsory membership?

  • It's very difficult to know how you can compel without some kind of statutory background. That's the issue we're all wrestling with, and even the proposal to have some kind of civil law contractual underpinning still doesn't answer the question about how you compel someone to sign up to a contract.

  • You're absolutely right. What you say is that actually there is a framework and that you make it independent regulation by insisting that the way in which the framework operates, the way in which the standards are devised are all entirely independent; in other words, run by the industry and others, but with no government involvement at all, and that in some way you find an independent standards regulator who again is not answerable to, appointed by or in any sense linked with government or the state. That's the issue that we're struggling with.

  • But that might be a way forward. Although I've not got there, as I say to everybody who I raise this question with; I'm merely thinking.

  • I think the suggestions about the Reynolds defence enhancement for any organisation signed up to a new system I think looks good on paper but would have to be demonstrated in fact. I think Mr Desmond was up last week. The root of his decision to be outwith the system is a financial one and the thing that will compel him to come within the system will be a financial one as well. The morals and the ethics of it all are not part of that process.

    I think that without a compelling reason to be within the system that's not statutorily binding, it's difficult to see how that can be cracked until it can be proved that actually being outwith the system costs you money. That's the thing which the Reynolds defence attempts to deal with that.

  • It's very difficult to change the law for one group of people and not for another.

  • Absolutely. Very dangerous, too.

  • Thank you very much. Yes.

  • Cost. Obviously at the moment if you're within the PCC you make a contribution to PressBoF and any future system is going to have to have an arrangement by which it is funded. Do any of you have thoughts about that that you would like to share with us?

  • We heard from Lord Hunt just before Christmas about the hope that by reforming the way in which we regulate internally will reduce the workload on the current complaints body, which will free up resources to pay for the enhanced functions that are being talked about around the edges of the current system.

    I think we have to give that a chance, if we can, by being more proactive on our side, and with the PCC, or whatever it's called, passing more things back to us. If resources can be freed up within the existing arrangement and the enhancements can be funded from within the existing payments, then great, but we will have to see whether or not that actually happens. I have doubts as to whether or not it will be as simple as that, but if there is a brief from within the organisation that we can reapportion resources by taking on more base then we will -- that's something which the industry, I think, will have to take on board.

    For the national papers, not such a problem because they have managing editors, deputy managing editors, assistant managing editors. For us it probably means more work for us as individuals, but that's just the way it is.

  • I think your concerns are very realistic.

  • I think I would just say don't replace the PCC with something vastly more expensive, which is going to cost us a lot more to be involved with it. We heard before lunch that the regional and local press is in a fragile financial state, its health is fragile, and please don't make any recommendations that's going to exacerbate that situation.

  • It may be one has to be more imaginative about the way in which it's all funded. I understand the problem. I make it abundantly clear I am a great believer and always have been in what local newspapers do, and by local I'm not merely talking about those that serve particular areas, I'm also talking about the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh papers, and their position is very familiar to me so I've got the message. I'm not promising anything, as I say every time I say something like this, but I understand the point.

  • Finally, the Inquiry is hearing a lot of evidence about different proposals for the future. If any of you have particular points about the future that you would like to raise now, please do so. If you have thoughts which can't be communicated succinctly, then by all means contact the Inquiry in writing setting them out. If anybody would like to say anything orally, please do so now.

  • I think I've just made my point.

  • I think it's been an excellent opportunity to address you today. I think we just have to bear in mind that we're here because of an exceptional set of circumstances, and I think that if we've done anything to get over to you today how seriously we take our responsibilities to our readers and our ethics, then we'll have done all we can do.

  • Thank you very much indeed. I accept that of course it's an exceptional set of circumstances that's brought us all here today, but as I've said to many people, over the last 40 years there have always been exceptional circumstances, then there's been some inquiry or something that happens and everybody says, "Oh, it will be much better tomorrow", and it is, it is, until the day after tomorrow, when there's some other great story, and over a period of time, so we've bounced along. I am very keen to find a way that respects all the positions that you've described, deals with all that is good in journalism, which is a very, very great deal, but actually does find a method of coping with what isn't so happy.

    Thank you all very, very much indeed for coming to give evidence. Thank you.

    It's probably sensible for me to rise for a few minutes while we change teams.

  • (A short break)

  • Could I ask that the witnesses are sworn in, please.