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

No, I entirely concede that. That's why I indicated it as an illustration of the sort of thing one could look at.

I think where people have been seriously maltreated, I think cash compensations or fines might be appropriate, either on the offender or perhaps on an industry fund. The purpose of an industry fund rather than the offending newspaper is that it would put peer pressure on the offending newspaper from the rest of the newspapers who had behaved properly. These are all below-the-line options I think should be considered.

The other option I think should be considered is making proprietors and editors personally liable for the content of what appears in their titles. That may appear severe, but I would like to make a general point about that.

We only have this Inquiry because proprietors and editors have not instructed their reporters to behave in a way which 99 per cent of our public would require as proper. If Mr Murdoch, Mr Black, Lord Rothermere and the others had said at some stage: "You will not hack phones, you will not use long lens cameras, you will not pursue children on motorbikes, you will not do ..." all the things that this Inquiry has heard that have been wrong -- if they had set out to their reporters that they shall not do that, we would have had no need whatsoever for this Inquiry and no need for any discussion about sanctions of any sort, let alone statutory bodies.

The only reason we have this discussion and we have this Inquiry is because proprietors and, to a lesser extent editors, have failed in their duty to hand that responsibility down to their reporters. The reporters operate within a culture, it seems to me. They have to provide stories or they're in difficulties. The way in which they've obtained their stories -- I find it very difficult to accept, as a lay onlooker, that editors and proprietors do not know how their reporters obtain stories. I find it very difficult to accept that when they get cash expenses of a significant size because they paid for something that they don't ask, "What that's from? What's that for?" It defies credibility that they actually don't know what is happening, and I think the "I had no idea what was going on below me" argument is one that I find extremely difficult to accept.

And since they could set a climate simply by sending an instruction out to their reporters, I think to encourage them to do that, I think the prospect of making them liable for the content of the press reporting in their titles is something that might encourage better behaviour.

A defence to that? I think a perfect defence to that would be clear written instructions from the proprietor or the editor as to the things that are unsavoury that their reporters should not do. If their reporters are in receipt of written instructions to that effect, then I would argue that in any legislation that should be a classic defence on behalf of the proprietor or the editor.

But I return to the central point. This whole Inquiry has only come about because those who could have ensured proper behaviour have not do so, and they could do so and they still could do so.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech