Politicians deliberately withhold information from the public by obstructing the work of journalists, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.
John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, which champions freedom of expression, said there is “a determination” in the corridors of power to keep ordinary people in the dark.
- November 21, 2017
- June 22, 2017
- June 20, 2017
The former journalist, who has worked for titles including the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times and the New Statesman, said there was a “very secretive Whitehall mindset”.
He said: “There’s a suspicion, invariably, of information and … there’s a determination to keep as much information out of the public domain as possible.”
He said Parliament had “rolled over” on the issue of superinjunctions, but it did not do enough for freedom of expression.
“The record of Parliament in implementing a force towards better accountability and better transparency is very poor indeed,” he said.
Recalling an incident in his time as chief political correspondent for the Financial Times, he said he refused to be “fed stories” by a spin doctor, whom he did not name.
The man apparently said: “Take it down if you want more from where this came in the future.”
There was “a culture of complacency and duplicity”, he said.
Kampfner was giving evidence alongside Jonathan Heawood, director of English PEN, which campaigns for writers and journalists.
The pair were asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, about the balance between Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy, and Article 10, the right of expression.
Heawood said: “I think ultimately those are both right.
“This is not simply about one right trumping another.”
Kampfner said Index on Censorship believes the right to freedom of expression can outweigh privacy.
“I think I would take a more emphatic position,” he said.
“We, as an organisation representing freedom of expression in the UK and around the world, do regard Article 10 rights as fundamental to democracy.”
He said there are examples where the right to freedom of expression is necessarily restricted, but his organisation would like public interest defences to be in laws which currently do not have any.
“But where there are competing rights, Article 8 rights, as determined by judges … will come up against those competing rights, but we do start from a straightforward Article 10 position.”
Kampfner warned that “the continental view of privacy, which is pretty much everything is private unless we seek to make it otherwise” is “wrong and dangerous”.
Referring to high profile privacy cases involving footballers, he said: “These are difficult issues and there does need to be a public interest, a strong public interest defence.
“We would very much assume a public interest unless there is a convincing argument that there isn’t – and certainly the public realm is a public place.”
Ryan Parry: ‘Happy with how I conducted myself on Jefferies story’
The inquiry then heard from three journalists who worked on various titles covering the murder of Joanna Yeates over Christmas in 2010.
Ryan Parry, a reporter for the Daily Mirror, Gary O’Shea, a reporter for the Sun, and Stephen Waring, the publishing director of the Sun, were quizzed about their newspapers’ treatment of Christopher Jefferies.
The landlord of Miss Yeates’s Bristol flat, who has already given evidence to the inquiry, was arrested for her murder and has since won libel payouts from a number of newspapers.
Lord Justice Leveson asked Parry to look at background stories he wrote on Jefferies.
“Just looking at them now, do you see that they may cause potential prejudice to jurors?” he said.
The journalist, who won awards for a story in which he gained a job at Buckingham Palace to expose security flaws, said: “Well, obviously hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and looking back everybody at the Daily Mirror is very regretful of the coverage and we do apologise to Mr Jefferies for vilifying him in such a way.
“But you have to understand at the time it was such a high-profile murder investigation, there was huge public interest and concern over the tragic death of Joanna Yeates.”
Lord Justice Leveson replied: “That’s one of my concerns, that everybody in retrospect will say, ‘Well, that clearly went too far and this clearly was wrong and that shouldn’t have happened and we’ll put in place mechanisms to try to prevent it in the future’ – until the next enormous story comes along and it all just drains away.”
Parry accepted it was a “watershed moment” for the newspaper industry.
He added: “As a reporter, as a journalist, I am happy with the way I conducted myself on this particular story.
“I tried to present as balanced an article as possible and the decisions that are made at an editorial level are out of my hands.”
O’Shea: Sun should have been more ‘dispassionate and neutral’
O’Shea, a Sun journalist since 2003, was asked to talk about stories he helped write that claimed Mr Jefferies was “obsessed with death” and showed his pupils a film about Nazi death camps.
Also apologetic, O’Shea said an article he co-wrote was based on an interview with a former pupil of Mr Jefferies, but should have been more “dispassionate and neutral”.
“We quoted him fairly and accurately, I believe, as you’ll see from the transcript,” he said.
“And we have accepted and I’m happy to accept here that our tone of coverage should have been more neutral and dispassionate, and I can accept that including this material in the piece which appeared on that day, that we didn’t adhere to perhaps our obligations to report on this case in a dispassionate and neutral manner.”
‘No difference between page 3 tabloids and pornography’
The inquiry earlier heard from representatives from women’s groups.
Anna Van Heeswijk, the campaigns manager for Object, which aims to challenge the objectification of women in the media, called for reforms to regulation.
She said there was a discrepancy because there are rules for when and where nudity can be displayed on television and in pornographic magazines, but “Page 3 tabloids” are available to anyone at anytime.
She said there “isn’t a marked difference” between The Sun, The Daily Star and The Daily Sport and classified pornographic magazines, except how they are regulated.
“One could say that it is actually more harmful to have these images within mainstream newspapers because of the normalising effect that it therefore has and the legitimising effect that it has.
“Again, this type of material wouldn’t pass a test for pre-watershed broadcast media, so again I think that there is an issue there of why it is seen as acceptable for them to exist within print-based media.”
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