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

  • MR JONATHAN GEORGE SNOW (sworn).

  • Please sit down, please make yourself comfortable, Mr Snow.

    First of all, could you give your full name to the inquiry?

  • Mr Snow, thank you very much indeed for your statement and the assistance you have provided. I am grateful.

  • You have provided us with a witness statement dated 14 May 2012. Could you please confirm that is your formal evidence to this inquiry?

  • That is my formal evidence, yes.

  • If I move on to your career history, please, Mr Snow. I know there was something you wanted to say about the fact that the views in your statement are your own and do not necessarily represent the views of your employers?

  • The views in this statement are entirely my own and they have no bearing on anything my employers may think or otherwise wish.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Turning to your career history, it is set out at paragraph 1 of your statement. I will just summarise it and you can tell me if I have any of it wrong. You are, as I'm sure we all know, the main presenter for Channel 4 News, a position you have held since 1989. You joined ITN in 1976 as a reporter and in the public realm, you have held a number of positions, including trustee of the National Gallery, trustee of the Tate Gallery, member of the Tate Modern Council and chair of Tate members.

    You have also written a book about your journey in journalism called "Shooting History" and you have also written articles down the years for the broadsheets and a few times also for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Have I accurately summarised your career history, Mr Snow?

  • That is entirely accurate, yes.

  • Let's move on to the first section of your statement, dealing with the relationship between politicians and the media.

    You explain at paragraph 2(a) of your statement that from your perspective as a television journalist, the dynamic between media and politicians has changed considerably over the years. Can we pause there. When you say "the media", what do you mean?

  • I encompass both the written and the electronic media, yes.

  • You then go on to differentiate between broadcast media and newspapers. You say this:

    "Television and video have long been governed by a regulator and that regulation has been rationalised and strengthened. The regime ensures that I am aware of conflicts and of interest and constantly aware of the need for balance."

    Then you say this:

    "The ownership aspects of the regulatory regime have no so far impacted on my work."

    Before we move on to what you say about newspapers, let me ask about the relationship between television or broadcast journalists and politicians in this way: Ofcom is your regulator. As a political journalist and somebody who obviously regularly interviews politicians and, some might say, holds them to account, has the Ofcom system of regulation, in your view, ever hindered you in that process?

  • I can't honestly think of a single occasion on which I have wanted to proceed with something which I believed to be in the public interest and journalistically sound that has been stopped by anything to do with regulation. Obviously there are lots of compliance issues about right to reply and the rest of it, but I have never found it a burden.

  • Again, before we turn to newspapers, you note at the end of this section, right before the answer on 2(b), at the top of page 2:

    "Viewers need to be assured that the regulatory system accords them a right to question whether we have done our job properly and to provide for them to complain should they wish to demand a wrong be put right. Ofcom has maintained a useful and balanced role in this regard."

    Can you expand a little on that; why do you take the view this role has been provided?

  • Well, I think that the role of the regulator has improved vastly over the years. When I first started in television it was pretty kind of shambolic. There was very little legal input into it. It was conducted by well meaning and bright people but nevertheless it wasn't as coherent as it is now. I can illustrate this by saying when I started in the 70s you would see a lawyer in the office perhaps once a month. Maybe a little more, maybe once a week sometimes. Now there isn't one single story that I am participating in on Channel 4 News which is not checked by a lawyer.

    So the whole sense of respecting the regulatory process is very much alive and with us, but I would say that the legal scrutiny and the regulatory scrutiny is scrutiny designed to try to get the story on the air, but to ensure it gets on the air in a fair and balanced way.

    As far as the written press is concerned, I mean, well, I can't say that any of us looking in on the PCC process can honestly look to it and say there is a great example of regulatory authority. Judges are judges in their own cause, so you have editors who have often themselves offended judging other editors. It seems to me that their regulatory process is exactly the antithesis of ours, which is in fact to ensure that the public is not protected but that the newspaper publishes and is not damned.

  • We will come on to discuss perhaps the future of press regulation in a little more detail. Can we move back though to newspapers. You explain that you consider there to be a difference between broadcast journalists and newspapers. What is the difference and what special pressures are their on newspapers, in your view?

  • I think the difference fundamentally is that newspapers are clearly opinionated. They have an opinion from which they spring and you don't need me to tell you who springs from which proclivity but it would be blind not to accept that they have an ideological axe to grind. It may vary, but it is there.

    We are simply not allowed that. We do not -- we have to make a very clear distinction between what is news and what is opinion. In the newspaper, I would say that this is an extremely blurred area. Very often, you see news stories that you have yourself covered which bear almost no relation to what you have experienced in that story because the thing has been given a very specific slant to fit with the ideological outlook of the paper.

  • Right. We have heard from witnesses this morning on the same subject, the blurring of the line between news and comment. Is this a concern in your view, and if so, why is it a concern?

  • Well, you know, what is truth, asked Pontius Pilate, and that is a pretty big question. If truth is something which is supported by the facts, then it seems to me that we have some building blocks towards reporting a good story and a story that is true. I think if the building blocks are interfered with by cement that is in some way contaminated with a view into which these building blocks have to fit then I think you start to get a wildly distorted account of what is actually going on. I think that happens a great deal.

  • Could it not be said that an informed reader would be able to differentiate between the news and comment aspects of a particular story or article?

  • Yes, one should never underestimate the capacity of the viewer and the reader to see through what the media is up to. That I fully accept. But sometimes some of this is extremely cleverly done and if it is done in extremely emotive terms, as with issues like welfare or immigration or any of the great political issues of our time, if it becomes contaminated with a view that a certain course of action should be pursued and the news story is made to fit these parameters, then I think you get into some difficulty.

  • All right. Well, you raise it as a concern. This blurring between the two is already prohibited by the PCC editors' code. I don't know if you are aware of that. Is there anything more that could be done to address this concern, in your view?

  • Well, I think the biggest thing that can be done is very clear signposting. I don't one should in any way treat the reader as an idiot, but I think it should be very clear -- and I believe -- my own experience of living in the United States for a period of time is that there it is much clearer. The New York Times and Washington Post are very clear as to what is opinion and what is news, and although you can argue that they may have mild ideological affiliations, generally speaking, I think you get a clearer account of what is going on.

  • Do you mean signposting in the sense that each page would have, at the top of it, whether or not news or comment appears on that page or do you mean in a headline it should be made clear, or does it not matter?

  • No, I think you can only compartmentalise it, as you suggest, with a heading at the top of the page, which suggests opinion is on there. Some of the broadsheets do that perfectly happily and it is very clear that opinion pages are either sort of in the middle of the paper or in the front or the back, but it is where the front page is, in the end, part opinion and then I think that is difficult, because the headline is big and the opinion is strong and the news is weak.

  • All right. Could this signposting solution concept be applied right across the press, do you think, right through from broadsheets to tabloid press?

  • I don't really see why not. I mean -- and I am not sure there is a hunger for opinionated news, to be honest. I am not sure people are any better off by having their own prejudices fulfilled by the paper. Maybe that is what sells papers. I am not -- I have written lots of articles for papers, but I don't think I have ever written an opinionated article. I have written an opinion for papers and I have written a new story for papers, but I don't think I've ever written an opinionated news story for papers. There is a big distinction.

  • What about the argument that newspapers are essentially having to compete in an increasingly competitive field? They have to compete with broadcasters, increasingly the Internet, social networking sites, and by providing opinion in this way, they are actually trying to create a niche for themselves, which is the only way they can be survive. Is there any merit in that argument?

  • We're all looking for an identity of one sort of another, and opinion may well help shape that identity but, you know, at the end of the day, it seems to me that you are looking at press standards and it seems to me one of the standards that has slipped is the distinction between fact and opinion, and I think that that is an important and clear distinction, and one that it would be possible to address in a regulatory form.

  • Right. Can I ask you now, please, about paragraph 2(c) of your statement. You explain that over the years -- this is about interaction between politicians and members of the media and here you are discussing your own contact. You explain that over the years, you have regularly intersected with politicians and public officials over the years but you would guess that you have known fewer than half a dozen Cabinet ministers socially and then on entirely appropriate terms. That begs the question: what are "entirely appropriate terms"?

  • Well, I mean, you intersect with people socially because, as social animal, as you have something socially in common. But simply because you are a hack and they are a politician, that I don't think is necessarily going to produce what I would call an appropriate social engagement. I mean, we are talking about a period of over three decades and I would think it would not be more than three or four politicians I have ever come to know particularly well. In one case, for example, I could -- by chance, I met a senior politician on holiday, and his wife painted and I paint and so we painted together, and that is where the friendship came from. So I call that entirely appropriate. That wasn't because I work on Channel 4 News and she is married to a Cabinet minister.

  • All right. Insofar as you have not become socially friendly with other politicians, is that a moral or ethical decision or simply something that has arisen?

  • I think it is natural accretion. That is how it works. I can't honestly say that I lie awake at night longing for another social engagement with a politician.

  • Can I ask you to turn now to (g) of your statement. It is at the top of the third page. This is discussing the rise of 24-hour television news, together with the development of internet and social networking. You explain:

    "This has undoubted impacted on what we once understood as news."

    I note that you yourself are a Twitter user and blogger as well. How do you consider yourself to be regulated in those spheres, if at all?

  • Well, I mean, technically, legally, we are not regulated in those spheres, but we have an understanding certainly in my place of employment, that in a moral sense and in a sort of quasi-legal sense, we are governed by the same regulation as Ofcom metes out to us in a television context, that all the platforms upon which we work we work essentially to an Ofcom guideline.

    But that is something we have established together in the workplace with our editors. I would say that the Twitter and the social network aspect is more elastic, and they are more generous to us in those circumstances. We are a little more permissive. But I would say that we still -- you know, we have to remember that that is who we are. We are essentially impartial operatives and we can't get out into a huge amount of opinion on that platform.

  • Is that because you blog and tweet as "Jon Snow, presenter of Channel 4 News"; would it be any different if you were tweeting or blogging as Jon Snow, also a private individual?

  • Well, I do in fact blog and tweet as "Jon Snow, Channel 4 News" and I don't have any other outlet, nor would I, I think, seek to have one. Once you are in a position like this, it is difficult to say one has nothing to do with the other. The one can pollute the other.

  • Is there anything you would like to say, Mr Snow, about regulation of these particular spheres, the blogosphere, social networking and so on; is there anything you would like to add on this thorny question?

  • I think one could say a lot, but the horse has bolted, it seems to me. I don't see actually that there is much that can be done -- and this, in a way, is a huge challenge to the Inquiry, I suspect, in that it is one thing to talk about regulation and the newspapers; well, in 10 years, there probably won't be any newspapers. They will exist on other platforms. Then you would be getting into a very confused area. I think it is going to be very, very difficult to regulate the web, and I am not sure how it can be done.

    We have done it this way. We have done it by an understanding. But it wouldn't hold water in a court, I suppose.

  • I think the answer to my question is "no"?

  • "No" is the answer. Sorry, I was a bit verbose.

  • Not at all. I don't think anyone has come up with a magic solution, in any event.

  • Turning to paragraph 2(h) of your witness statement, please. You explain that in your experience -- I will pass over how long that experience is -- the relationship between Number 10, the government, public bodies and the media has become rather more stage-managed. You explain that access to ministers and public officials has become more tightly controlled. You also explain that in your own experience when you were able to interview politicians in the studio or for a report or even on a doorstep, their willingness to communicate tends to be either because they want to promote a line or the politician or the party is making a rapid effort to shut down or reorientate a troublesome story.

    You then go on to discuss Ofcom in this regard. You say you have had concerns about Ofcom being a little Draconian on compliance in news and current affairs. Can you expand a little on that? It is just below that, paragraph 2(h), just below where I have been reading them.

  • Sorry, what exactly ...

  • You say this. You say:

    "I have had concerns that Ofcom could be a little Draconian on compliance in news and current affairs."

    Although obviously you say --

  • I work in both news and current affairs.

  • And make documentaries sort of from time to time.

  • And the compliance, particularly in documentaries, is very, very burdensome indeed. It doesn't stop you doing what you want to do but you have to dot an awful lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts. I could possibly argue that whilst I admire Ofcom system, I think the compliance stuff has gone too far and that we have to carry out a lot of activities which are beyond the real need.

    But on the other hand, it is probably better that way than the other way, but ...

    Yes. For example, last year I made a documentary about dodgy doctors and some element of the compliance to do with phraseology and various other things had not apparently been quite right. As a result, we had to reshoot several days of material and that is tough when you have a heavy work schedule and the rest of it. You build in the blocks to do your stuff and then -- so it is there, it is very much there, and it would be wrong to suggest that you could come up with a regulatory system which was as detailed as Ofcom and not think it would affect the working practices of every journalist.

  • Is that complaint about the fact that you had to go ahead and shoot various bits of it again or did the regime stop you from putting out the documentary that you wanted?

  • No, if you want to put the documentary badly enough, you will eventually put it out, though it may be a bit of a shadow of what you originally wanted to put out. I think in this case it seemed to me to be such a small issue that it wasn't really worth burbling about. It never stops you doing the story but it might stop you doing it in a certain way. That may indeed be the design of some regulation. Who knows?

  • Can I ask you to go to section 5 of paragraph 5, the fourth page of your statement. This is about elections. Just to draw the contrast, please. We have heard a lot about the role of newspapers in elections. You give us the other side of the coin from the broadcaster's point of view. Can you just tell us, please, why you consider this to be one of the most carefully managed and regulated aspects of your job?

  • Well, until the event of the Internet, clearly General Elections were very ferociously fought in my working lifetime on television. Television was the main platform. Although minds are often made up by the written press, the information and the colour of an election campaign and very often many of the messages were transmitted on television. Television was seen as an increasingly powerful element. Therefore the obligation on television to get it right, certainly on public television, was very, very strong indeed. I would say that it is the area of our work that probably has the most careful scrutiny when it comes to compliance and to balance, and you are under very considerable balance circumstance. You have to give opposing parties equal access to time, so if you do, one night, a big investigation into some party policy with one party, you must visit the other party either within 24 hours or even within the same programme.

  • Again, does this aspect of the regulatory regime, in your view, hinder you in accurately or fairly reporting the issues that you have to report on?

  • There is a present debate going on about whether general elections can be made more exciting and it could be argued they are made less exciting by the degree of regulation that we have to go in for. On the other hand, if the choice is between BBC 10 o'clock and Fox News, I think most people in Britain would rather go for the BBC 10 o'clock news, simply because Fox News has become a major player in the very contest in which they are supposed to be reporting. And that is where we can go, if we want. If we want to get rid of regulation, that is where we will end up.

  • Turning to paragraph 6 of your statement, please. This is discussing the history of relations between politicians and the media. You say that like many others, you have been astonished by what we have been learning about the relationships of some parts of the media with politicians and public officials. Having listened to this Inquiry, what is it in particular that you have been astonished to hear?

  • Well, I have actually -- I think I should have added the word "guilty" as well, because I think we suspected that this was going on, that the access was as has been described. There were a few moments when one would be staking out Downing Street and you would be aware of the comings and goings of some of the individuals who have figured in this inquiry. I don't think we ever really asked many questions about what they were doing there and I don't really know why we didn't. I think in some cases we didn't because we thought it might actually be slightly visited upon us. Sometimes if you go nosing around what newspapers are doing, it ends up in some degree of trouble.

    But I think -- I have been shocked at payments. I mean, I find payments to public officials beyond anything I can imagine. I mean, I have been taking officials or anybody else that I have needed to get to know for a cop of coffee or whatever, but we have never gone to the Ritz or Claridges or -- it just wouldn't cross your mind, and the idea that you would pay somebody for information in that way is not something which has ever crossed my -- again, I can't think of a story I have ever been on when -- you might have a victim of some crime or something who will only speak if they are paid and then there is an issue as to whether anybody is going to do that, and I will admit that my channel paid Monica Lewinsky to give me the first interview she gave after the shenanigans with Bill Clinton. But I see that really as almost -- that is different. I think the idea that you are paying somebody who is actually paid to get on with a job of work to give you information about that work is -- or to give you access to material that they are able to access through their work is totally unacceptable.

  • I think we have to add, of course, that that is an allegation and we will have to wait and see --

  • Of course, I mention no names.

  • We will have to see what happens at the conclusion of the investigation.

  • Absolutely.

    You alluded to the comings and goings of individuals at 10 Downing Street --

  • I mean, we can be very clear that we were very well aware of Rupert Murdoch's movements, either at the back of the premises or the front. They tended to veer from one to the other. Not always, but sometimes. And that should have raised a little bit of an alarm bell.

  • What is it about what you have heard that has astonished you about the access or level of access?

  • Well, I mean some of it is allegation, isn't it? So one has to be careful.

  • I am shocked that there is the strong allegation that there was an attempt to change legislation affecting the commercial interests of a broadcaster -- that would seem to me to be amazing -- in reward for -- in return for support for a particular election campaign. Those sort of things. You know, we used to laugh up our sleeves and say that is what the Italians did. Now we've discovered we do it. It is amazing. I am astonished. One can be cynical as a journalist and say they are at it all the time, but actually I never did think they were at it. I didn't think we were a particularly corrupt society. I have always worked on the basis that there was something a bit better.

  • Is there anything you would like to say about the future of the relationship between senior -- either editors or proprietors and journalists, given what you have heard, the evidence you have heard at this inquiry?

  • I think as the competition gets fiercer and the terrain changes, it is going to get worse. I think money is now on such a scale -- I mean, some of the commercial interests are so big and the need is so great for bandwidth, for licence, for access -- I think it will get worse. I don't see -- you know, this wasn't -- when I started, we had four channels of television, and they were all publicly owned. So now we are in an arena, only two decades later, where there are thousands of channels, massive corporate interests, and the poor old politician, civil servant, whatever, is still having the vineyard and they want to come in and splash a bit of stuff about. I think it will get worse.

  • Is there anything that can be done to ensure a level of ethical behaviour? Is there anything that you would point to as being something that could help achieve a solution?

  • Access and transparency.

  • Access is increasingly controlled and reluctant, I would say.

  • I am very conscious that the indepth news programmes have a greater difficulty attracting a major ministerial interview than the soundbite on the 24-hour television outlet. If you can get away with coming out of your ministry and saying, "It was all right when I last saw it", rather than having to sit down and have a long discussion about what happened and the rest of it, then you are going to go for the former.

    I don't see -- that is not really a matter of regulation. It is a matter of reality.

  • All right. Okay. Can I ask you now to move on to paragraph 7 of your statement. You explain -- and I think you have in oral evidence as well -- that there is a difference between the press and other media, and regulation has contributed, of course, to that difference. You simply say that you don't believe that the newspapers can be subjected to an Ofcom-style regulation, and with the growth of the Internet, in any event the horse has bolted.

    Is there anything else you want to say about why you think the Ofcom model could not be used?

  • Well, the Ofcom model rests on the reality that the government owns the bandwidth and the other broadcasting paraphernalia that enable us to get to air.

  • And therefore you can be licensed --

  • -- to have access to these bands. A newspaper needs no such licence to do anything --

  • -- and nor should they have it. If we are going to have a free press, freedom of speech, then it is healthy that anyone can spring up and run some kind of a news sheet. That must be the fundamental difference. There is no stranglehold of that nature.

  • All right. You then go on at paragraph 8 to discuss what a new regulatory system for the press would need to look like. You explain certain elements of it. It needs to be impartial. You said right at the start of your evidence that one of the things it needed to be was that editors should not be allowed to sit in judgment on other editors, and so on. Is there anything you would like to -- can you set out for us the elements that you would consider needed to be changed?

  • I don't think I have anything that hasn't already been said here before, but I do think it needs to be independent, independent of government and independent of the press. But I think inevitably it would need to draw on some experience of the press somewhere within it but that that experience should be outnumbered by people whose main mission in life has not been the press. They should not be sitting in judgment on themselves.

  • But above and beyond anything else, it seems to me that it is what this regulator has to do, and I think the regulator needs to be pro-active, it needs to be prepared to say, "Oi" when they see some indiscretion going on or some foul play.

  • Can I ask you to pause there. Do you mean by that that it should have the power to go in and enquire after a story even if no complaint has been made?

  • Yes. I think it should be about maintaining standards, as much as anything else, and integrity. And if, for example, there has been some glaring failure, it would be interesting to know why. Even if it is a relatively -- I think that it would do editors no harm to know that they were going to be questioned about what they had done.

  • Right. You then say at the bottom of that paragraph that there have been some improvements in recent years. Readers' editors you are a fan of and daily corrections columns:

    "But [you say] material that has been proven plain wrong has not been matched by a similar size of apology and rectification."

    Can you tell us a little more about that?

  • Well, readers' editors have been around in the United States for some time. They have been here now for several years. Several broadsheets have readers' editors. I would like to see tabloids have readers' editors where the views of the readers are represented and where -- it is not the letters column. This is somebody saying, you know, would you please correct something or whatever.

    But also the corrections column has been absolutely standard practice in the Washington Post, for example, for at least two decades. And I don't see -- what does a newspaper have to lose if it simply has a column saying, "By the way, we called Mrs X Mrs Y; she is in fact Mrs Q" or whatever? There are ways in which you can perfectly easily -- one paragraph, you correct the things that are wrong. The date, whatever it is. Some of these things are relatively small, some are quite big.

    When it comes to apology, I mean, obviously on the basis of gravity of offence, apologies should be commensurate with the scale of what was got wrong in the first place, and I think that that would be a fantastic pressure on editors to get things right.

    If you knew you were in fact possibly going to have to run a front page in which the typeface was going to be as bold as the original assertion, you would think twice about whether you were going to risk it, because you are just going to look an idiot.

  • So by prominence, you mean located in the place and given the same --

  • If the offence is bad enough, yes. I mean, I think there is no problem with that at all. I am not saying that would happen every time but there would be varying degrees of it. But as somebody who has been apologised to by a tabloid, the original offence spread over five pages. The confession was that it was completely untrue and they accepted it was untrue and they retracted it and apologised. The apology was 1.5 inches by a column, and then the wrestling was over whether there should be a photograph of me above it. They didn't want the photograph because that would draw attention to the apology. Actually, in the end, we got the photograph, but I mean, this is pathetic. Wrestling over 1.5 inches when you have had five pages of something which the paper itself deems untrue? That is not the way forward.

    The way forward has to be that people -- that a newspaper suffers when it gets things wrong. We suffer when we get things wrong. We have to correct them. We have no choice but to correct it if it is wrong. We will often, if we can, apologise in the programme. I am afraid I have had to make far more apologies than I care to admit, but they tend to come at the end of the programme: "I'm very sorry to have to say that when we reported X at 7.10 tonight, actually we had a mistake there, and it was X, Y, Z", whatever. You know, it is standard practice and right.

    What is so shameful about being wrong? We are all human beings. Let's admit it. There is no exceptional about an editor. Editors are human beings. They can apologise.

  • How important is this idea of a photograph -- I understand that your main view would be if there has to be an apology, it should be given the same prominence as the article which led to the apology. In the alternative, what is in this idea of a photograph to draw attention to a particular --

  • The whole idea of apology is to hide it, is to keep it as low key as possible. In my case, it was on page 2. I didn't know, but page 2 of a tabloid is the least read page. There will be people here who will confirm that that's not true, but I think it is true. Page 3 is the one you look at, not because Murdoch has made it a sort of nude job but because that is where your eye falls, and so if you can get the apology out on page 2 and little and preferably without anything which defines it as anything more than just a couple of columns of boring print, you are in business.

    So in case, right up to publication moment, the issue is: would we allow a less than passport photograph of me to go at the top of the column or not? And they said no and we said yes, and in the end, they caved in and this vast concession was made to put a photograph at the top of the apology, which, as I say, extended for 1.5 inches. That is the process we have at the moment. That is justice; that is the way any reader who -- or any person offended by a paper who has something wrong gets redress.

  • So we have discussed independence from government, from the press, pro-active powers, prominence of apologies. Is there anything else about the future of press regulation that you would like to draw attention to or to discuss?

  • No. I mean, I have fully recognised that you have a terrible challenge. It is very difficult to protect free speech, not engage the statutory legal system and all the rest of it, and yet have a fully credible independent regulatory system. But I am absolutely convinced that newspapers will be better for regulation than they are now and nobody can pretend that what they have had is any real sort of regulation.

  • Can I ask you to look, towards the end of your statement, at the final paragraph under section 10. It is at the bottom of page 5 of this statement. You say that you believe in general electronic media have had less access to politicians precisely because you are seen by many of them as less malleable. You say this:

    "I do criticise the popular written press for the low regard with which people in public life are held and for the obsession of prying into the private lives of both ordinary and extraordinary citizens. Indeed, I go further: I believe the constant undermining of people in public life may deter many from entering it."

    Let me ask you two questions about that. The first is the last sentiment in that paragraph, about deterring people from entering it. Do you mean across public life or are you talking about politicians there?

  • No, I think that in all sorts of areas of public life -- and it's not just politicians; it could be in terms of other public roles -- people are very often reluctant to get involved because they don't want to be part of this public fray. I do believe that some newspapers have an agenda for undermining or destroying people who don't fit with their particular interests, be they commercial or ideological, and that the -- I mean, you can see it in as simple a thing as the appointment of the manager of the England football team. It is very clear that one or two elements of the press didn't like the appointment and lampooned him and sent him up, you know, ruthlessly, played with the fact that he couldn't roll his Rs. This is pointless, absolutely pointless. Whole vast headlines on the front page of the paper. How does that encourage people to want to make the extra effort in public life? He is not a politician; he is an England football manager.

  • You have probably covered my second question. You say you criticise the popular written press for obsessional prying into the private lives of both ordinary and extraordinary citizens. Can you give us a bit more detail about why you take that view? Again, do you limit this to any particular newspapers? Is there any particular modus operandi that you would criticise?

  • I think two things here. One, if you are a journalist, you are exposed to other people's journalism across the world and I don't think that there is -- on this scale, I don't think we have this manifest in any other system. People point to Bild in Germany, with is a tabloid, but frankly it is mild by comparison with what goes on here. France, of course, there are none, but that is partly because there is a Privacy Act. United States, the National Inquirer is sold in a different part of the shop. I mean, it is not seen as true. I mean, it is good fun, but -- you know, it is crazy.

    Here, it is part of the newspaper. This is news. It is on the same scale as the liberation of Tahrir Square and the arrival of a Muslim brotherhood president and all the rest of it. That gets the same treatment as Mr and Mrs or Ms X and their private life, and so it becomes a very big and destructive thing.

    I believe one of the problems about the environment in which this inquiry is set is that there has been enormous emphasis on the Murdoch papers, on News International, and possibly not enough on other areas of the press. I would say that Associated Newspapers are at least, if not more pernicious than anything you see in the News International stable. They are vying with each other, perhaps, but there is something more insidious about Associated Newspapers and very possibly they will go after me for saying so. But I believe they have an agenda for trying to undermine or wreck the careers of individual people in public life, and I think that is unhealthy. I think people should stand or fall by what they achieve or fail to achieve in the job they are employed to do. It is of no interest that they have -- unless it is in some way in conflict with their actual responsibility. But if it was found that the a Archbishop of Canterbury was -- and God rest our souls that he would never be found here, but just supposing he was frequenting Soho or something. That would obviously have some clear public interest.

    But I'm afraid to say this goes way beyond anything like that, where people who have a quite modest, perhaps, role in public life are undermined. It is part of the fare, it is part of the staple diet, and I don't think it is a diet actually that people really need even.

    It is not a question of suppressing press freedom; it's just: why don't we deal with the important things in life? And, you know, it is not -- it is, as I say, pernicious and I think at times mendacious. I don't -- I try to analyse it a lot. I try to see what it is that makes this worthwhile. Where does it come from? What role does the editor at Associated Newspapers have in this? You have heard the atmosphere there can be quite difficult and I know -- and it is something I really want to say to you, is that Fleet Street, as we still call it, even though it is nowhere near Fleet Street, is populated by really decent, good, wonderful journalists. No question. Every single paper I have ever had any contact with on Fleet Street has superb people working for it. But somehow this culture sweeps through and is allowed to prevail, irrespective of the quality of the people who try to work there. And it doesn't happen in broadcasting, and it is not just because we are regulated. It is because we don't see it as any part of our news function.

    For example, in the chitty chatty days before Diana's demise, we took it as sort of almost self-denying ordnance. We said, "Look, who she is dating, what she is doing is not really our business. If some news development occurs, there is some mêlée or something and she is in danger, then we will report it, but fundamentally her private life is not an issue for this programme."

    Then, of course, she died, and she became a massive interest and we had to talk about people we had never talked about before, somebody called Dodi Al Fayed, et cetera. These people had to be resurrected.

    But in my view, this is the great need, is for this area either to be divorced from our understanding of news and placed somewhere else, maybe in a brown paper bag under the shelf, but for it to appear as being mainstream news is incredibly destructive. I think people get a distorted a view of the world in which we all function.

    After all, Britain is made up mainly by people who live by the law, do their best -- politicians, workers, people in the health service. These are the people who make this country work and simply demonising them, exposing them for some human frailty, is, I think, very destructive.

  • Mr Snow, thank you very much. Those are all my questions. The judge obviously may have some questions.

  • No, Mr Snow, thank you very much. That is very powerful. Thank you.

  • (The witness withdrew from the witness box)

  • I don't know whether you wanted to take an early break before the next witness or whether ...

  • We will take a break now and then come back. Thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • Sir, the second witness this afternoon is Mr Simon Walters.