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


  • Thank you, Mr Paxman, sit down, please. You kindly provided us with your name. You've also provided us with a witness statement, which is dated 25 April of this year. You've signed it and confirmed its contents are true; is that correct?

  • Mr Paxman, thank you very much indeed for your evidence. I appreciate, of course, that you are expressing your own views and not representing those of the BBC.

  • As you explain, Mr Paxman, indeed as we know, you for the past 20 years or so have been presenting Newsnight, this is paragraph 1.1 of your statement, and you explain what Newsnight does. And you describe your current occupation as a journalist and not as a presenter, is that fair?

  • Yes, it's a false distinction in the case of Newsnight, but there are -- all sorts of programmes have presenters. I would say I was a journalist, yes.

  • Thank you. As for arranging the agenda for the evening programme, that's paragraph 2 of your statement. Can I ask you, though, about the arrangements or the negotiations with politicians which you say can become very convoluted. This is paragraph 2.3. Can I invite you to expand on that for us, please?

  • Okay. The way it works usually is that we have a morning meeting when various ideas are kicked around. In an ideal world -- you then cast a discussion, as in an ideal world. So you might say, "What we'd really like to have in this discussion is the Chancellor, the Shadow Chancellor, I don't know, the boss of Marks & Sparks." And then during the course of the day there's a process of expectation management that takes place when you realise that for one reason or another these figures are unavailable.

    Now, you will if you're lucky still end up with a Treasury Minister or a shadow Treasury person or whatever, but the really big fish put themselves out pretty infrequently, and during the process of these conversations government departments or special advisers try to put down conditions. They say, for example, "Our minister is prepared to be interviewed but he will not take part in a discussion unless it is with someone of comparable rank". Ordinary people are, you know, not welcome in many of these discussions.

    I think we then have to make a decision as to whether we're prepared to moderate what our original ambition was. If the original ambition was to have an interview with A or B, then by and large you stick to that position.

    Actually these conditions that are laid down by government press departments of varying degrees of competence, they quite often are done unbeknownst to the minister, and when the minister comes in, and I've been told beforehand, "Look, he'll come in but he wants to be interviewed discreetly", and we've agreed to that, if I ask him or her when they come in, "Will you discuss A or B?", very often they'll say, "Yes, I didn't know there was any restriction on it". I don't know whether they're being truthful or falsely naive, I don't know.

  • So those sort of discussions. In the old days we used to say, "We asked so-and-so to take part but they declined". This is known as empty chairing. We did get to the point once where we actually did show an empty chair, which was ungraced by a ministerial bottom, but by and large these things -- they got wise to that and then they started saying, "It's not that we don't want to appear, it is that the minister or the individual concerned is unavailable", and there may be perfectly good reasons that they are unavailable. That then becomes more complicated, and I think you have to make a judgment, time after time, as to what is in the public interest.

    I would not claim any great -- anything more than an intuitive understanding of what the public appetite to know is, and you just must make a judgment about whether the conditions that are attempted to be imposed are acceptable or not.

  • Difficulties may arise when the minister or whoever imposes a condition that certain areas and topics are not going to be covered and it's understood therefore that you have to honour those conditions. Do difficulties arise at that particular point?

  • Only quite occasionally. If there's been in a Sunday newspaper story that someone has been up to no good in their personal life, it seems to me that unless their personal life is a legitimate matter of public interest, and in my view on many of the occasions it is not, because it doesn't compromise their ability to do their job and it doesn't prove that they have been deceitful with the public, then it seems to me that a condition -- stipulation that, you know, he or she will appear but he really won't be taking any questions on whatever the embarrassment is, that seems to me probably fair enough.

    But you talk about these things, and we're in a very fortunate position. We're on quite late at night, we have a highly intelligent audience. We do not have to get down and dirty in the way that some of our colleagues sometimes have to, so we're in a privileged position. So we can say, "Actually, that's fine, we will talk about the public debt and not talk about the mistress."

  • Not that that's a specific example, of course, just in case anyone wants to read anything into that!

  • I may have misunderstood the second line on the third page of your statement. Our page 00588.

  • I'm sorry, what paragraph is this?

  • Thanks very much. Okay.

  • I'll start from the beginning of the sentence:

    "These are generally along the lines of 'the minister will appear, but only if you undertake not to ask about X or Y' ..."

    That suggests that sometimes the negotiation is about particular topics which might be in the public interest but the minister is simply refusing to talk about them, but I think you're making it clear that that's not the nature of the negotiation. What you sometimes agree to is not to talk about personal matters which would not be in the public interest. Is that the correct sense of what you're saying?

  • That is the correct sense of what I'm saying, yes.

  • Can I ask you about the terms of engagement, which you mention in paragraph 2.5, where you say deals have been done. Can you give us an example of that, please, Mr Paxman?

  • Sure. Can I just find where this is? 2.5?

  • Yes. Five lines from the bottom of that paragraph.

  • "In cases where deals have been done, however, I believe it is absolutely essential that audiences ..."

    Yes, I understand. If there has been -- let me try to think of an example. If there has been an undertaking that the person will be interviewed discreetly and not engage in discussion, then I think the audience should be told. Our only obligation is to the audience, really, and so we should tell them how and why people are appearing.

    So if there are undertakings that have been given about things -- for example, something might be genuinely quite tricky, some political thing may be quite tricky, a Cabinet reshuffle, for example, going on, somebody freshly into a job who hasn't yet mastered their brief, there are extenuating circumstances in some circumstances -- sorry, extenuating circumstances occasionally, but if they exist, then the audience must be told about them, and if a condition of appearance is that they'll talk about A but not about B, or they will be interviewed but not engage in discussion, then I think the audience is entitled to know.

    I don't think there's any rule about that, it's just my personal prejudice.

  • It's an editorial decision for which you are responsible and you make personally, is that it?

  • Yes, I mean doubtless if my editor -- I'm just a hired hand, but were my editor to say, "You must not disclose the basis on which this interview or this discussion is happening", then I would have to make a judgment about whether I was willing to go along with that or not, and I'm pretty confident I wouldn't be willing to go along with it.

  • May I move on to paragraph 2.7 now --

  • Although the truth is there's nothing as contentious about it as that. These are discussions about what's appropriate for the programme where you and your editor presumably will usually agree?

  • Yes. We disagree about all sorts of things.

  • That's the nature of these discussions.

  • Yes. But ultimately you'll reach a way forward that justifies your view of the public interest, because that's actually quite important.

  • Well, one would hope so, yes.

  • "Almost all of my dealings with politicians are in the Green Room or in the studio. I do not have politicians as friends -- I find it altogether easier that way."

    That suggests that that's a policy decision which you've made and were it not for that decision you would have politicians as friends. Have I correctly understood your evidence?

  • Not necessarily. I mean, friendship is very often a consequence of the circumstances in which you find yourself, isn't it? But I do find it easier not to have politicians as personal friends. I do not -- I'm frequently tasked with this "lying bastards" thing -- I was actually just quoting somebody when I said that. I do not think that they're all like that, I do not think they're all scoundrels, I do not think that they're all liars. I think there are many noble people who are politicians, as there are scoundrels who are politicians too, as in many walks of life, but I take a general view that it is easier to maintain a distance. That's all.

  • In the context of the symbiotic relationship you go on to describe?

  • Yes. I mean, it is like ticks and sheep, isn't it? One can't exist without the other.

  • You describe what the dangers might be. You might go easy on them. You might become parti pris or become just a little too understanding. It's obviously those vices which you carefully eschew. Is that fair?

  • Yeah, I mean I don't want to set myself up as some sort of absolute prig here. It's a matter of practicality as much as anything. I find it easier and cleaner to have a disconnection, that's all, because as I think I say elsewhere in here, "tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner". Once you understand everything, your judgment becomes warped, and the only justification I think for our existence is that we act on behalf of the citizen. We don't act on behalf of the powerful or the vested interest.

  • Nobody will think you're a prig, Mr Paxman, having just compared yourself to a tick.

  • Well, who is the tick in this relationship, you know?

  • Or perhaps the sheep, yes.

  • I was also wrong, of course. The sheep can exist without the tick, they would rather prefer to exist without the tick.

  • Yes, I thought of saying that but decided against it.

  • That's quite right. There must be a dose of sheep dip around the place.

  • But this arm's length relationship which you describe, presumably it's one which you discern amongst your colleagues in the BBC generally, would it be fair to say that?

  • I don't know, I wouldn't ask them.

  • I mean, I can't comment on that. It's for others to say how they manage their relationships and I don't criticise those who come to a different conclusion. And as I think I remarked somewhere, if one of my colleagues, whether on a newspaper or in broadcasting, said, "That's a whole lot easier for you than it is for me because I am in the lobby, I am rubbing shoulders with these people daily, personal relationships inevitably develop", then I should have to acknowledge that. It is easier for me.

  • Yes. Because of the nature of what you do.

  • Yes, I'm locked away in a grotty old office in White City. I'm not down in Parliament. Personally, I think that most journalists should be remote from the people they report upon, but, you know, organisations come to different conclusions about that. The BBC has an entire edifice on Millbank staffed with people who are geographically remote from the main production centres. I think that distorts your judgment. But they obviously don't, and I don't want to be dismissive of them. I think they're probably doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances. It's a matter of geographical convenience, I suppose.

  • You say in paragraph 2.8 that you take politicians to lunch perhaps three or four times a year. Maybe this year it's been less than that.

  • You're quite right. I was just reminiscing. This year I don't think I've taken any politician to lunch. I think the last politician I took to lunch was probably around December, possibly January -- it was certainly cold -- and I'd be surprised, I don't think we're heading for three or four this year. I think we're probably heading for one or two, possibly.

    But it's useful -- there's nothing wrong with the practice, it seems to me. It's a way of finding things out, and it is important that you have some recognition of the water in which they swim.

  • Okay. So self-evidently it's off the record, providing you with background information which, I suppose, is context for subsequent interviews but would never be formally used; is that more or less the position?

  • That sort of thing or just generally shooting the breeze about who's up, who's down, who's a complete nuisance, who's very helpful, that sort of thing. You know, I mean it's contextual, I think. People do get stories out of taking politicians to lunch, but I don't think I have. Well, I've understood some background, you know?

  • Can I ask you about paragraph 2.10. You were asked a general question -- this is media influencing issues of public policy, Mr Paxman.

  • I don't know whether you had any particular cases in mind or whether this was perhaps too broad a question.

  • Well, I think it's difficult, this relationship. Politicians have come to care a great deal about what happens in the media, how they're represented, whether the government is seen to be competent, whether the opposition is seen to be competent, well led and the like.

    I think to care too much can lead you into all sorts of difficulties. It's not my job to look after politicians, they can look after themselves, they have elaborate, expensively maintained machines to enable them to do that. But I think if I were to be, heaven forbid, a government spin doctor or something, I think I would say, "Come on, let's roll with the punches a bit here", because if you don't do that, you end up with some weird pieces of legislation like the Dangerous Dogs Act.

  • Thank you. And then paragraph 2.11:

    "The claim that political journalism is seeking to influence political events is a familiar one, generally articulated by politicians, but it is the job of journalists to hold the powerful to account."

    So are you rejecting the proposition that political journalism influences political events or not?

  • I don't think I'm rejecting it. I suppose it does -- it clearly does have an effect, but the critical verb there is "seeking", isn't it? Seeking to influence events. I mean, it's the old power without responsibility argument, with which we're all very well familiar. So I've heard it said many a time by a politician that, "You guys are seeking to exercise power without having the inconvenience of being elected"; well, it's true.

    The big dividing line it seems to me between politicians and the rest of us is that the politician seeks to tell the rest of us how to lead our lives. That is essentially what the business of legislating is about, and I have no desire to do that. It's my job to hold them to account. And if you were to say to me, "Is there some great textbook or manual that prescribes what the function of journalism is?" I could not point you at anything. It is something, I think, that is a collective -- ideal is perhaps slightly too grand a term but a collective ambition, perhaps, of those of us who are in this estate, that that's how we justify our existence to ourselves. But it's very different to wanting to tell people how to lead their lives.

  • In the wider context of journalism seeking to influence political events, at least two witnesses have told us that the agenda is still set by the print media and the BBC and others simply follow suit. Would you agree with that sweeping statement or not?

  • No, I wouldn't. Sorry, you want me to amplify? I would not agree with it because I think it applies at -- it depends when -- what stage of the day you're talking about. It is very striking that earlier in the day, the agenda tends much more to be set by newspapers and there is a conviction among the broadcasters generally -- and, you know, we have a particular beef on Newsnight about this, that you could have someone on who would disclose something or make a contentious argument, which is not held by other broadcasters to be something that is a factual development until it has then been picked up and printed in the newspapers the following morning.

    So in the early stages of the day, I think much of the agenda can be set by newspapers. But as the day progresses, because newspapers are slower and slower, despite their blogs, but we're essentially still talking about paper publication, because they tend to be slower, the agenda -- it's an awful old cliche, but the agenda, if it's being set at all, the agenda is changing because of disclosures that have been reported in real time very quickly on the electronic media.

    So I think it changes during the course of the day, and certainly, you know, if you get a really distinguished political editor like Nick Robinson or someone coming on the 6 O'Clock News or the 10 O'Clock News and saying, "I understand X or Y", that has moved the story on or introduced an entirely new story. Or Robert Peston in business. These are individuals who change the agenda and they don't change it through newspapers.

    So I think it alters during the course of the day.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 2.12. You make a general point about the balance of power, really, at least as regards information, namely it lies with the politician because the politician controls the flow of information; it's the journalist's job to get hold of it. That's still the case, is it, in Internet age, in your opinion?

  • Yes, I think it is. I mean, far too much journalism -- speaking my prejudices -- is simply the recycling of officially approved disclosure. This is a problem that I think has got worse as resources have got more and more strained in journalism, with the development of 24-hour news channels and so on, where there is not the opportunity to reflect upon what is being said. There's far too much recycling of press releases. And so I would say that that is essentially what happens, and the aberration, the unexpected disclosure, the leak, the surprising blog, is still very much the exception to the rule.

    I don't know, what is news? My favourite definition years and years ago, when I was much more wet behind the ears, was that news was something someone somewhere did not want you to know. That's news. The rest of it is just public relations and there's far too much public relations, in my judgment, in the news streams generally.

  • Okay. Can I ask you, moving on through your statement to paragraph 6.1, our page 00592. The question was:

    "What lessons do you think can be learnt from the recent history of relations between the politicians and the media from the perspective of the public interest?"

    You say:

    "It might be an idea if all newspapers declared their hand the moment an election campaign was called, rather than waiting until the day before polling."

    Why do you say that, Mr Paxman?

  • I'm just sucking my thumb there. You're asking me to speculate. I say, I think -- I hope I hedged it around by saying "it might be" -- yes, "It might be an idea if all newspapers declared their hand the moment an election campaign was called". The public, I think, understand that newspapers, by and large, adopt different political perspectives. I was just thinking that a repetition of what that perspective is, or a statement of what that perspective is, in the context of a particular election, might be helpful in enabling people to understand what colours their coverage of annual election campaign. That's all.

    There tends to be an election day declaration saying: on the whole we're going to plump for the Conservatives, or we're going to plump for Labour, or the Liberal Democrats, or Clyde Cymru, or whatever it is. Maybe if it -- if reporting has been coloured during the course of the election campaign, it might have been helpful to know at the start whether they thought, for example, that another Coalition government, a different kind of Coalition government, a majority government of whatever hue would be a desirable outcome.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 7.2 now. You say you have a problem with the word "impartiality", and you prefer the term "fairness".

  • Could you be clearer, please, as to the difference between the two, and in particular, why you prefer "fairness"?

  • I'm sure you will be taking evidence from distinguished figures in the BBC who will tell you that both "fairness" and "impartiality" are watchwords. I find "impartiality" quite a difficult thing to define. I don't find "fairness" difficult at all.

    Impartiality -- well, what is it? Is it not covering something? Is it talking about a transport policy and giving equal time both to those who are making the policy and those who are opposing it, perhaps from 15 different directions? I mean, how do you measure it? Fairness I understand, though. We all instinctively, I think, understand fairness. That's why we exclaim periodically, "That's not fair!" when we hear somebody being interviewed or castigated in a speech.

    So I would say that I found it altogether an easier thing to adjust to than the idea of impartiality. I mean, people much greater than me will tell you how they measure impartiality. I find it quite tricky to measure, other than in very dull mechanistic terms.

  • So does that mean -- and I appreciate the broadcasters' operating rules -- that broadcasters should be fair and have to be fair, in your terms, but the print media doesn't have to be fair and that's a positive thing?

  • No, I -- if you'll forgive me, I don't --

  • I don't think that follows at all.

  • No, it doesn't follow at all. I'm not suggesting it does.

  • Although some people have given evidence that the press must have the right to be wrong.

  • One of the questions which we may come on to is the difference between broadcasting and print journalism, and I appreciate that you're very much cast in the former, and you may not want to speak about the latter, but do you think that it is open to your print colleagues to say, "We don't have to be fair, we certainly don't have to be impartial, we can be utterly partial", and in that context, if you're going to say, "Well, they certainly can be partial but they shouldn't be unfair", you have actually demonstrated the difference in meaning between the two words?

  • You've done it much more eloquently than I could have done, of course. I agree. I don't think there is any -- the primary requirement, surely, of a newspaper, indeed one of our primary requirements, we go away from it at times when we have to be very, very dull, but the primary requirement surely is to be interesting, because you have to catch the eyeball, and if you don't catch the eyeball, then you are absolutely talking at the wall.

    So I think that I would not expect newspapers to be impartial. I also think that newspaper readers understand -- I speak here purely as a personal prejudice, but newspaper readers understand that the Guardian approaches a subject from a different direction to that taken by the Daily Telegraph, for example. So I don't find that -- no, I don't -- people have -- impartiality, as I say -- I don't know how you would measure it, but fairness, I think we all tread a very thin line here, or a very difficult line here, because the public have a very strict sense of fairness, and they -- you know, you hear it on the street, "You were well out of order with so-and-so, guv", and sometimes they're right. One has been unfair. One should strive to be fair and I think it's something we don't just take unto ourselves as journalists. I think the public have a very strong sense of what is fair and unfair.

  • I think you're right, and the word "fair" is a word that I have used continuously throughout the process of this Inquiry. Whether I'm achieving it is another matter, but certainly I've been using the word. But I was simply asking the question to demonstrate that actually they're not synonyms. Fairness and impartiality are not synonyms, in the context that you're talking about.

  • No, no, it's the specific point that I'm making, that these are two slightly different things and I find the latter much easier to judge myself and my colleagues and others in the trade by than the question of strict impartiality.

  • I understand, I understand.

  • Of course, impartiality may have as much to do with the substance of the position you take than the procedure, the process by which a position is tested or an individual is questioned. Would you accept that?

  • I might if I understood the question, but I'm afraid -- forgive me, I don't. I don't quite understand what you're getting at.

  • Okay. When you're impartial, you would always or generally take the mid-point between two positions, or possibly on one day you would adopt one position and on another day you would adopt a different position.

  • You're talking about the substance, you're not talking about the process. Fairness is about process, isn't it?

  • Is it? Fairness is about process? It's about -- no, I don't think it is just about process, if you'll forgive me.

  • And it is certainly -- the earlier point you adduce about coming at things from the left or the right, one does sometimes feel completely ridiculous in having started out an interview attacking someone from the left on a subject and then, for the sake of fairness or rigour or whatever, attacking them from the other side, and occasionally a politician will pick up on it and say, "Hang on a second, you've just told me that's illiberal and now you're telling me it's ..." this happens occasionally and one should try to do it with a degree of subtlety, but both -- I think a consistent approach from one side or the other is not going to help anybody.

  • I think we've done those two words to death.

  • Yes, I think we have as well.

  • The issue now of regulation, Mr Paxman, paragraph 8, and indeed paragraph 9 of your statement. You're not keen putting the media under the control of government, but can we be clear about our terms, because of course the BBC is under the control of a statutory regulator, isn't it?

  • And you don't see any difficulty with that, presumably, do you? Or do you?

  • I used to find when I travelled quite a lot for work that it was very difficult when people said in some benighted foreign country, "Oh, yes, you're the state broadcaster". I understand a state broadcaster to be something like Pravda was, where the content of the broadcast is controlled by government, and that is not the case in the BBC. Indeed, there are numerous instances that you will know at least as well, probably better than I do, of clashes between the government of the day and the broadcaster, so I don't have a problem with that.

    But if you were asking me do I think that there was any case for government control of the news media, the answer is no. As any journalist would say, I think.

  • I don't think there's a case for government control of the media, but is there a case for some input on structure for control, not touching content at all?

  • I don't quite understand what you mean.

  • Nobody, as I understand it, is suggesting and I'm certainly not suggesting that there should be any control, statutory or otherwise, of the content of the press, what they publish, but that's not quite the same as saying that it isn't appropriate to provide a structure within which the press can be regulated independently. In other words, if I give you an example that I was talking about this morning, there is a mechanism for fast-tracking privacy invasion questions or challenges as to content that allows everybody to access it without great expense in relation to any publication.

    Now, what the decision in the particular case is concerned has obviously got to be independent, but I'd be interested to know whether you see a problem in the structure for that to happen being provided by the state. Not the people, not the decision-making, but there should be an ombudsman, the ombudsman can have these powers, these powers can be enforced in this way. That sort of thing.

  • Well, I suppose if you could organise such a thing in such a way that it did not involve direct government control of the media, I suppose I can -- I could see -- I wish you joy of it. I find it hard to imagine how such a thing would operate without there being tremendous dangers.

  • Well, you have to put all sorts of checks and balances in, but the alternative is that there is simply no regulation, because nobody can require a newspaper to be part of a system that is entirely subject to local agreement. And indeed you're probably well aware, I'm sure you are, that one of the national groups are not within the PCC.

  • Yes. I think I mentioned in my statement here that since the only thing the proprietors seem to care about more than their prejudices, articulating their prejudices, are their profits, then there may be mechanisms under which different tax regimes -- it's not my idea -- you're VAT exempt only if you take part in a particular self-regulation mechanism.

  • Except, for the purposes of argument, the VAT mechanism doesn't work.

  • Okay, you tell me so, yes.

  • Well, I am told so. But there it is.

  • This is the European element, is it? I'd forgotten that, anyway. I'm so sorry. Yes.

  • Thank you. We're going to take as read the rest of your statement, unless you wanted to elaborate on section 10, 10.3 to 10.5 in particular, Mr Paxman. We're looking at campaigns. This is page 00596, in the internal numbering page 11.

  • I don't think I have anything much to say about campaigns. For obvious reasons, the BBC doesn't do them because if you're running a campaign you may be effectively taxing somebody to attack something that they personally believe in, so the BBC has particular difficulties with campaigns. And while many a time I have said to an editor, "Isn't it time we started a campaign on X or Y, usually a frivolous matter, one knows it's not going to go anywhere because of that difficulty with the whole funding mechanism. This is a problem that doesn't apply in newspapers.

  • I am going to change the subject now. I've been asked to ask you about a lunch at Trinity Mirror on 20 September 2002, which was hosted, I think, by Sir Victor Blank. First of all, do you have any recollection of that occasion?

  • I do indeed. I can't swear to the date, but I remember the lunch very vividly because it was the only lunch with this guy I'd ever been to.

  • First of all, can you remember where the lunch was?

  • The lunch, as far as I recall it -- as I say, I can't be specific about the date, ten years ago, I suppose something like that. It was in Canary Wharf. It was upstairs in a long room which looked out over the quayside there. I wasn't clear as to why I'd been invited and I frequently asked myself over the course of lunch why I'd accepted, but that's neither here nor there.

    It was -- I think the invitation did come from Sir Victor Blank -- do you want me to go on about it and describe it as much as I can?

  • Yes, please. Set the scene and tell us who else was there, please.

  • So it's upstairs, I would guess something like the fourth floor, big glass windows, a long table. I don't know precisely how many people were there. I would guess it was probably a dozen or so.

    The other people there were Sir Victor Blank, as I say, who was the host -- I think was the chairman of Trinity Mirror, Piers Morgan, the then editor of the Sunday Mirror, a woman whose name I've unfortunately now forgotten, Ulrika Jonsson, Philip Green, and that was -- those are the only ones I really remember. I can't remember who else was there.

  • Okay, so you've set the scene. Mr Morgan in particular, did he say anything during the course of this luncheon which was of interest or unusual?

  • Well, it's really the only -- there were two reasons I remember the lunch. One was that it was so unusual to be invited into such a bestiary. The second of which was that I was really struck by something that Piers Morgan said at lunch. I was seated, as far as I recall, between him on my left and the editor of the Sunday Mirror on my right, and Ulrika Jonsson was seated opposite, next to or semi next to, almost next to, Philip Green, and Victor Blank on her other side, I think.

    Morgan said, teasing Ulrika, that he knew what had happened in conversations between her and Sven Goran Eriksson, and he went into this mock Swedish accent. Now, I don't know whether he was repeating a conversation that he had heard or he was imagining this conversation. In fact, to be fair to him, I think we should accept both possibilities, because he probably was imagining it. It was a rather bad parody.

    So, yes, I do remember it, and I was quite struck by it because I'm rather wet behind the ears in many of these things. I didn't know that that sort of thing went on. Indeed, when he then turned to me and said, "Have you got a mobile phone?" I said, "Yes", and he said, "Have you got a security setting on the message bit of it?", I don't think it was called voicemail in those days, I didn't know what he was talking about, and he said -- he then explained that the way to get access to people's messages was to go to the factory default setting and press either 0000 or 1234, and that if you didn't put on your own code, his words, "You're a fool."

    Now, I don't know whether he was making this up, making up the conversation, but it was clearly something that he was familiar with, and I wasn't. I didn't know -- I didn't know that this went on. If you were to say as a journalist, "You damn well should have known what was going on", I'd have to accept the criticism.

  • What was the reaction of anybody else there, which you can recall?

  • I didn't like the atmosphere, so -- I can't be specific about how anyone reacted, but it struck me as close to bullying, frankly, to be teasing someone about private messages. I didn't ...

  • Thank you, Mr Paxman.

  • Mr Paxman, I have one question, which is actually one of the reasons that I was keen to be able to call you. It's this: have you ever felt disadvantaged in holding politicians to account by reason of the obligations that you have to be impartial, or fair, as you put it?

  • I don't think so. No, I don't think so. I think there are ways in which one is at a disadvantage. I mean, unlike someone who appears in the court, there are no rules of evidence. There is no compulsion. We have not, for example, on Newsnight interviewed -- we had George Osborne on one night because Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, was on and I was keen to talk with him, but we haven't had Cameron on, we haven't had Clegg on, and apart from that one incident, we haven't had Osborne on.

    These people will decide when it's useful to them to appear. There is no constitutional requirement on them to appear. We have no way of saying, "But you must come", so in that respect you operate at a disadvantage. And unlike -- Mr Jay here has had, whatever it is, 50 minutes or something, we have to do it in five minutes or six minutes or eight minutes, or if it was an interview with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it might be half an hour, but it's certainly not an extended period of time. There's no requirement for them to behave by any particular rules in those interviews, and I don't find it -- and it's not surprising, it seems to me, that in the early -- still relatively early stages of a government, they don't think there's anything in it for them.

    There isn't, necessarily, unless you believe in accountability, and the difficulty with accountability is that you can appear to discharge it without actually discharging it, and so that is an area in which one operates at a disadvantage.

    I don't think an expectation that you will be fair -- of course, part of being fair is being unfair and getting the wrong end of the stick, so -- but you must allow people the opportunity to explain themselves.

    So I don't feel an imposition which says that you have to be fair, actually -- I don't think it does stop me doing my job. There are many other things that stop me doing my job, notably the decision about whether or not someone will be made available. That's the key most difficult thing, and as I say, we have no right to insist.

  • I understand that. I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at --

  • -- namely the great argument: well, the press hold politicians or National Health Services or all sorts of people to account, and that's what they do and nothing must stand in the way of them being able to hold the powerful, including the judiciary, to account. I see the great force in the requirement to be able to do that, that's what a democracy is all about. But what I'm really questioning is whether it follows from that that a regulatory regime, which isn't entirely consensual, forbids you from doing that, and you work in a regime that is not at all consensual, you have the BBC code, you have Ofcom ultimately in the background, and that's why I was very keen to know whether you felt over the many years you've been interviewing people -- and I understand your problems about getting people to come on -- that you've been inhibited in been able to hold those who you've got hold of to account.

  • I wouldn't have said so. One chafes against these things, one has little rants at senior figures in the editorial hierarchy with indeterminate titles periodically about this or that or the requirement to interview a particularly irrelevant person or party, but, you know, I don't find it is generally something that inhibits what one does.

    In fact I hear rather the reverse accusation from people in newspapers, which is that, oh, you people in the media -- and there's an element of justice -- in the electronic media, you don't think it's true unless it's appeared in a newspaper, you don't really go out of your way to cause trouble, whereas we in the print media do. I've heard this accusation -- well, less frequently recently, but I've certainly heard it in the past.

  • People have suggested to you that you don't go out of your way to cause trouble?

  • Correct. Personally, I think it's my only function, but exactly, yes. There are certain sorts of journalism that are not really -- I can't give you an example now -- that are not really practised, they would say, in broadcasting, and they hold us -- or they held us in contempt for it. But I can't give you an example off the top of my head now. I wish I'd thought about that.

  • Do you see it as part of the function of the media to hold the press to account?

  • Sure, but newspaper editors are even more difficult to get on television than Cabinet ministers are, so -- yes. Yes, of course. It seems to me that we should all of us in the media, in whatever section we find ourselves, be pretty rigorously trying to enforce by whatever Heath Robinson impromptu mechanism happens to be at our disposal -- trying to operate in the public interest, and that involves, I think, holding all powerful vested interests to account, whether they be politicians or big business or lobby groups or trades unions or indeed newspapers, yes.

  • Thank you. Is there anything on the subject of the remit of this Inquiry that you'd like to add that you don't feel you've had the opportunity to say?

  • I wish you joy of it, because I think it's a very, very difficult job you've got, and, no, I have nothing -- I wouldn't presume. You've heard all the witnesses, I haven't, but it seems to me an extremely difficult job you've got, and when one looks back, there were a whole spate of these sort of inquiries in the 1950s, weren't there? When you look back at them, I haven't done so for a number of years, there does tend to be -- sorry, is this lese-majeste? I don't want to be too cheeky.

  • I think your challenge is to stop yourself becoming a total irrelevance. That what will happen -- what happened in the past, and we've seen it more recently with Calcutt and others, is that you have this great brouhaha, there'll be an Inquiry, there is an Inquiry, and it produces recommendations that are quietly forgotten. I wish you every success in not having that fate.

  • Mr Paxman, I am entirely cognisant of the problem and have said on more than one occasion during the course of this Inquiry that the one thing I am determined not to do is to produce a document which simply sits on the second shelf of a professor of journalism's study for him to discuss with his students as yet another attempt that went nowhere.

  • Yes. As high as the second shelf, eh?

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

    We'll just take a couple of minutes now. Thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • Good afternoon, sir. The final witness today is Lord Reid.