Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has warned Lord Justice Leveson against statutory regulation of the press – arguing that the ‘heinous crimes’which have emerged at his inquiry were already illegal.
Hislop was also critical of newspapers’ coverage of the press, claiming that newspaper groups ‘tended to operate a code of we don’t write about each other”.
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Leveson repeated comments made last week when he told Hislop that nobody had ‘kept the nose of the press to the grindstone”.
When Telegraph Media Group chief executive Murdoch MacLennan gave evidence on January 10, Leveson claimed that if the phone-hacking scandal had involved ‘some other organ of the state’it would have been exposed earlier.
“I do think that statutory regulation is not required,’said Hislop. ‘Most of the heinous crimes that came up and have made such a splash in front of this inquiry have already been illegal.
“Contempt of court is illegal, phone-tapping is illegal, policemen taking money is illegal. All of these things don’t need a code, we already have laws for them.
“The fact that these laws were not rigorously enforced is again due to the failure of the police, the interaction of the police and News International – and let’s be honest about this, the fact that our politicians have been very, very involved in ways that I think are not sensible with senior News International people.”
He was also critical of national newspaper coverage of the Leveson Inquiry.
Last week Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond and several of his current and former editors appeared before the inquiry – but neither the Daily Star nor the Daily Express covered the inquiry the following day.
‘Look at the coverage of this inquiry,’he said. ‘Why have they missed out the bits that are critical of them? Is it because they’re in tune with the readers, or the editor is embarrassed, or the proprietor doesn’t want to read it?”
Hislop said that when it comes to proprietorial influence Desmond was ‘the worst example, obviously”, and that the Murdoch press is pretty clear in a lot of its manifestations of what its agenda is going to be”.
He said action needed to be taken to reduce the cost of libel cases and privacy injunctions, telling Leveson that 40 libel actions had been brought against his magazine since 2000, of which 26 were withdrawn, 11 settled, one resulted in a hung jury and two were won.
‘I think justice should be cheaper and faster,’he said. ‘I think there should be early resolution. I think you should be able to have a judgment on meaning far quicker than you currently get in the court.
‘There are plenty of ways to speed up justice through the courts if you think the courts is the right way.”
Hislop, who has edited Private Eye since 1986, claimed that Mohamed al Fayed commissioned Benjamin Pell, better known as “Benji the Binman”, to go through Private Eye’s rubbish.
“We put a camera up and found out Benji was going through our bins,’he said. ‘Mr Fayed was looking for things to print about Private Eye at the time.”
When asked if he had any evidence for the claims, he replied: “I think the fact that it appeared in Punch, which he owned, was a giveaway.”
Hislop also claimed to have been targeted by private investigator Steve Whittamore.
When asked for his general comments, Hislop said that a free press “isn’t always pretty and there are things that go wrong, but I really hope this inquiry doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water”.