Sun's Arthur Edwards speaks of media 'feeding frenzy'

The recent Press treatment of Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton reminded him of the "feeding frenzy" around Diana, Princess of Wales, a veteran tabloid photographer said today.

Arthur Edwards, The Sun's royal photographer, said he was horrified by images of photographers crowding around Miss Middleton outside her home on her birthday, in January.

He also predicted, based on conversations with Prince William, that the couple would eventually marry.

Mr Edwards, who was giving evidence to MPs about the self-regulation of the Press, said he felt sorry for Miss Middleton when he saw footage of the incident in January.

"I felt very sorry for that girl. I just didn't want anything to do with that. When I saw the pictures the next day with a girl with a camera right up to her face I was horrified," he said.

"When I saw the pack break and they all surrounded her I felt awful about that and it does remind me of what happened to Princess Diana and I hope we don't make that same mistake again.

"I think we should pull back a bit and start to look at this girl's life.

"She's a private citizen, she needs a bit of space, she's in love with Prince William – I'm sure of that and I'm sure one day they'll get married and I've talked to William about this."

He added: "I have talked to him about that and he's made it clear… he wants to get married."

Mr Edwards said the royals had been "open season" for The Sun in the 1980s but his job was very different now.

He described the treatment of Princess Diana towards the end of her life as a "feeding frenzy".

"After her death – where photographers pursuing her car had something to do with it, I believe – I certainly looked at what I was doing and how approached and photographed the royals," he added.

But Mr Edwards said many celebrities courted the Press to promote themselves.

"When celebrities appear in newspapers I just think a lot of it is brought on themselves – they call the papers, get in there and, by and large, they enjoy it," he said.

"It helps them sell their music and their films."

Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International and chairman of the editors' Code of Practice Committee, which draws up the code overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, said things had got "out of hand" with Miss Middleton.

"I would guess that the vast majority of those people outside (her home)

were in fact not acting upon assignment from a big media company," he said.

"That didn't matter, we were all part of that and it stopped because it was clearly wrong."

The two men's comments came at a hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee which is investigating the self-regulation of the Press.

The inquiry follows the royal phone-tapping scandal in which News of the World reporter Clive Goodman was recently jailed for intercepting private messages.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas told the committee that the illegal procurement of personal data by journalists was widespread.

Private investigators were paid to obtain information by impersonating individuals or employees of data handlers, such as Government agencies, he said.

The practice was outlawed by the Data Protection Act in 1994 but the legislation was being ignored, he told the committee, adding: "It's wholly unacceptable."

Mick Gorrill, the Information Commissioner's head of regulatory action, said 26 such cases were currently under investigation.

He was becoming more concerned about the targeting of medical records, including requests about whether women had cancer or had undergone an abortion, he said.

The National Union of Journalists defended self-regulation of the Press but said the current system needed strengthening with penalties and the ability for third parties to make complaints.

General secretary Jeremy Dear said union members often complained about being pressured into breaking the PCC and NUJ codes of conduct in the pursuit of stories.

"We think there needs to be a system of penalties that penalises those that breach these codes," he told MPs.

"They all sign up to (the codes) yet when there is a commercial reason to do so they are willing to break them."

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ's ethics council, also called for a "conscience clause" for journalists.

Mike Jempson, director of the MediaWise Trust, demanded tougher sanctions against newspapers.

He said he knew of newspapers which continued to pay ex-convicts for their stories through friends or offshore accounts.

"It's all about making money, so people will do what's necessary," he said.

But he added: "Some are bound to be worse than others."

Mr Jempson proposed that there should be a newspapers ombudsman, a system of compensation and a statutory right of reply.

Paul Horrocks, president of the Society of Editors and editor of the Manchester Evening News, said he had not seen journalists pressured into breaking the PCC Code of Conduct.

"That's not, in my experience, a big problem that people are being forced into breaking the code or pushing the boundaries of what the code and law say you can do," he said.

Mr Horrocks added: "One bad apple doesn't mean that the whole barrel is rotten. I don't accept that there is widespread bad practice."

PICTURE: REUTERS.

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