Former Sunday Times journalist attacks 'infantile' tabloids

A former journalist at the Sunday Times’ Insight team who was a victim of phone-hacking at the News of the World has attacked the ‘remorseless”, ‘infantile’and ‘pitiless’tabloid press.

Joan Smith, a journalist of more than 30 years who has contributed to The Times, the Evening Standard and The Independent, was first told in April that her phone had been targeted by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

When she met police for ‘a kind of ceremonial unveiling of the notes’she told the Leveson Inquiry that she discovered that Mulcaire was an “obsessive note taker’and that her contact details were written down on one of his notebooks.

One of the dates on which she was allegedly targeted was 4 May 2004 – around six weeks after her then partner MP Denis MacShane’s daughter had died after a skydiving accident in Australia.

Giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry this morning, Smith said she was ‘amazed at how shocked I was’to discover she and MacShane had been targeted at a time of bereavement, when she was also working as a columnist for the News of the World’s sister title The Times

Smith said she had written an article about privacy and the press and that ‘four weeks later the News of the World asked Glenn Mulcaire to spy on me”.

Asked if she thought there was a link, she replied: ‘I’m not sure there is one. I think that, from what I’ve been made to understand about Mr Mulcaire’s activities and the number of names in his notebook, it’s been said the spying was on an industrial scale and this could happen to almost anybody. That’s the astonishing thing.

‘You don’t have to be an incredibly famous actor. You just have to tangentially come into the orbit of somebody who’s well known. I think probably there was such a gap between the two cultures of the press – what I think of as the serious press that I work for, and the values of the tabloid press in so as far as they have any – that it wouldn’t even occur to them to look at what I was writing and think about the arguments.”

Smith went on to claim that the ‘ tabloid culture is so remorseless, it’s appetite is so unable to be filled that the people involved have lost any sense that they’re dealing with human beings.

‘Everything has become a story. We’re all caricatures. I’ve said in this in my writing, I think to the tabloid press we’re just two dimensional, we’re just fodder for stories.”

Smith said she did not complain to the Press Complaints Commission because she had seen enough forms of self-regulation to know she was wasn’t ‘going to get much in the way of redress”, though she remained opposed to state regulation and the licensing of journalists.

But as well as establishing a ‘more complex and capable’successor to the PCC, Smith claimed that ‘tabloid culture’also needed to change.

‘We do have a tabloid culture which I think is almost infantile in its attitude to sex and private life”, she said. “My impression is that tabloid hacks go around like children who’ve just discovered the astonishing information that they’re parents had sex, and they can’t resist peeking around the door in the hope that they might see it.

‘The rest of us actually get on and live our lives. I think that the obsession with sex and private lives has become remorseless and pitiless”.

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