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

  • This Inquiry was established because of very real public concern regarding the activities and influence of some sections of our news media. So far, it has focused on press dealings with the public. It now turns to press dealings with the police, and later, with politicians.

    Each involves a number of strands. First, there is the culture and ethical approach of newsrooms in general, and one in particular. This includes what some editors may have perceived to be in the public interest, and the extent to which the label of public interest is used to mask the pursuit of goals linked to commercial self-interest.

    The second tier concerns the collective internal regulation of the press and the true impact of the PCC.

    Third, there is the adequacy and the impact of the operation of the criminal and civil law.

    In order to obtain insight into the extent of the problems in relation to the press and the public, the focus has inevitably been on illegal or unethical practices, and I recognise the disquiet felt by responsible members of the press that the evidence that I have heard is not representative of the way in which the industry as a whole generally operates.

    For that reason, I have repeatedly emphasised the vital role that responsible journalism plays in our society, and I have recognised that the overwhelming majority of journalists work to high standards day after day. In that regard, it is particularly appropriate to say that there is no better example of the very best in journalism than that provided by Marie Colvin, whose determination to illuminate events in the most dangerous corners of the world, whose life, body of work and the ultimate sacrifice that she made in doing so all serve to underline the need to preserve and protect free speech and a free press. To say that she was a fine reporter does not do justice to the attribute that she is owed, and which I am very pleased to acknowledge. It is particularly apposite to do so during the course of this Inquiry.

    As we have also talked about the work of photographers, it is right to reflect on the plight of Paul Conroy and others, who, behind the camera, represent the unseen face of this vital reporting.

    In the light of recent publicly expressed concerns to the contrary, I am very happy, yet again, to reassert my commitment to a free press and to freedom of expression. These freedoms are vital entitlements of every one of us, but they are rights which do not exist in a vacuum. In a democracy, they do not obliterate or trump all other rights, not the least being the operation of the rule of law for all. Where different aspects of the public interest are in competition, a balance has to be found. This Inquiry was set up, at least in part, because of public concern that there is insufficient acknowledgment of the fact that sections of the press were behaving in a way which was actually undermining the public interest. That concern does not in any way understate the importance of a free press and freedom of speech.

    Being more specific, I refer to the evidence that I have heard over the last few months. When what is published in a newspaper has no remotely arguable public interest, I do not consider that freedom of the press or freedom of speech extends to permitting the interception of mobile telephone messages or invasions of privacy or confidence. I believe that only one witness has suggested that it does. Neither do I consider that efforts to find a system that satisfactorily regulates illegal -- or what are agreed by all to be unethical -- practices, while properly preserving free speech and a freedom of the press, threatens either.

    Further, with extremely limited exceptions, nobody has said that the present system of regulation is adequate or sufficient.

    Finally, everyone has agreed that the civil system of justice is both slow and expensive. It is only sensible that better ways forward are considered. Good practice, the proper operation of the rule of law are the guarantors of a free press, not a threat to it.

    For the avoidance of all doubt, let me make it clear that I have no wish to be the arbiter of what a free press should be or should look like, and I have no interest in doing so. Publicly to express concern effectively about the existence of the Inquiry, when it is doing no more than following its mandated terms of reference, is itself somewhat troubling. For my part, given the background, I do not believe that the Inquiry was or is premature, and I intend to continue to do neither more nor less than was required of me.

    We will now proceed to module two, although there are a number of aspects of module one that are left unfinished and to which we are return. Although I provided a deadline of last Friday for submissions on the credibility of witnesses, with perhaps one exception, I've not received them. I will extend the deadline to Friday of this week. Although I have previously been prepared to accept late submissions, I make no such promise any longer, and those who do not make submissions will be assumed to have none to make.

    At the same time, I intend to give a further direction as to submissions. I have heard evidence from Lord Hunt and Lord Black about the proposals which are being formulated by the Press Complaints Commission. I intend that they shall return to give further evidence as they make progress with their plans.

    I accepted the offer made by Mr Max Mosley, given during the course of his evidence, to consider a regulatory structure, and he has provided his views. I have also received a submission from a group called Media Regulation Roundtable, brought together by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the Media Standards Trust, which has been drafted by Hugh Tomlinson, Queen's Counsel. I am grateful for this assistance, and I will decide whether either should give further evidence about their suggestions.

    Having said that, I would also ask any other person, organisation or group, whether newspaper group, practitioner or academic, who has any suggestion to make in this area, to do so in writing by the end of May. All help from anyone will be very gratefully received.

    So that it is clear, I have no intention of reaching what I have referred to as emerging findings until I've had the opportunity of considering all the suggestions that I have received by that date. Again, I do not undertake to consider representations received thereafter.

    I will now invite Mr Jay to open module two.