Clifford: Editors too frightened to expose MPs' expenses

Publicist Max Clifford believes the MPs’ expenses scandal would not have been exposed in the current climate because editors would be too frightened to run the story.

Clifford told a Parliamentary committee on privacy and injunctions that while a free press was essential so too was a ‘responsible press”, adding: ‘In the current climate an awful lot of journalists, particularly investigative reporters, are not doing what they should be doing because they’re frightened of what’s come out over News International.”

Clifford claimed editors would have been reluctant to run the MPs’ expenses story in the current climate because they would be too worried about their readers’ reaction to the methods used to obtain the data. The Daily Telegraph paid £150,000 to a source for a data disc containing the full unredacted list of MPs’ expense claims in 2009 for a series of stories which led to three MPs being jailed and many more losing their seats.

‘It’s gone from one extreme to the other, and hopefully it will get back to a half-way house,’he said.

‘In the current climate you wouldn’t know about MPs fiddling their expenses. There’s lots of things like that I think wouldn’t have come out in the current climate because editors haven’t got the desire to potentially antagonise people in powerful positions in a way that they wouldn’t have thought about two years ago.’

He added: ‘It’s not black or white but it would be a lot more difficult to bring out a major expose… that involved anyone remotely powerful in the current climate.

‘I think they [editors] would be far more cautious and there has definitely been a change. I’m aware of many, many stories which would have made the front pages of the tabloid papers in the last six months which haven’t appeared anywhere.’

Asked whether he was concerned about the lack of regulation on the internet, Clifford responded: ‘I don’t have the same worries about the people that were here before [representative from Twitter, Facebook and Google].

‘To me it doesn’t have the same credibility. Anybody can write anything on Twitter, on this and that, and the vast majority I’ve ever read is absolutely bloody nonsense.

‘It has no credibility, no strengths, no depth to it.”

He added: ‘If it’s on the front page of the national newspaper… the vast majority of people are either believing it or are influenced by it.

‘In terms of what’s achieved, I think that with regard to the national press they are far more powerful to me, and certainly to the world that I’m in the middle of, than the Twitters and the Facebooks etc.’

Former News of the World editor Phil Hall was also giving evidence today.

Hall claimed that during his time as editor between 1995 and 2000 the paper helped jail 110 people thanks to a dedicated investigations team which was ‘constantly threatened with legal actions”.

Such investigations were now uncommon because ‘good public interest stories take a while to dig out’and editorial staff on the nationals have been scaled back, said Hall.

The number of journalists working at the paper halved between 2000 and 2011 when the newspaper was shut down by News International, he said.

‘Just look at some of the front pages,’he told the committee. ‘They’re a lot safer, they’re following live news stories rather than digging out their own.

‘I think there’s also a real issue of resources, they’ve all been cut back to the such an extent.”

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