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

Yes. In my view, it's very dangerous to bring a statute to bear on these matters, because I've explained in my life as an editor I had great trouble with statutes and also with common law which had been congealed from very different cases, usually to protect property. So in the thalidomide case, a great injustice lay for ten years because of the misapplication of the civil law of contempt, and so on and so on. Many instances of that.

So I'm very, very -- personally very leery of an attempt to write a law which can meet the subtlety and the changing circumstances and is adequate for those occasions when you have to consider doing something questionable for the sake of a greater public good. This is the tricky area.

I mean, I took a chance in the thalidomide and I was vindicated in the end, but I was pursued all the way to the House of Lords and finally the European Court of Human Rights.

I think the best answer is to have an ombudsman or a senior -- a man of some intellectual and journalistic distinction as the chairman, with legal advice, with the power to issue a subpoena, with the power to punish and holding the press to the very highest standards. That, I think, is what should be done, rather than having a -- divine a statute, retain the flexibility of an ombudsman who is experienced in these things. Can you go to him before -- I'm not particularly keen on going to him before, but in some circumstance you could go and say, "Look, there are these gangsters who are doing this; is it permissible in this case to bug their phone?" And if I were the ombudsman, I might well say no. I might say, "That's a police matter, you should go to the police and tell them that."

However, that's the kind of situation which nobody can predict, nobody can predict the amazingly complex and difficult circumstances that may arise almost in a night for a newspaper editor. So the newspaper editor has to have judgment, he has to have principles, and he has to have the freedom within those constraints to do what he thinks is in the public interest, and then bear the consequences of making misjudgments.

For instance, I have never been -- I mean, there's a very good interesting new defamation bill going through Parliament at the moment, and it probably is a big improvement. It's not nice to see Britain become the tourist libel capital of the world, and I think superinjunctions are an appalling abuse of power. It's not nice to see any of that, but it's much better if we could have a self-regulating system that works. What we've had is a self-regulating system that didn't work.

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