Leveson Inquiry: Ian Hislop says new press laws not needed

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop: ''Statutory regulation is not required''

New laws are not needed to govern the press, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has told an inquiry into media ethics.

Practices such as phone hacking, paying police officers and being in contempt of court contravene existing laws, Mr Hislop told the Leveson Inquiry.

He said the inquiry should examine why the laws were not rigorously enforced.

Meanwhile, News International chief executive Tom Mockridge told the inquiry its editors had been instructed not to use private detectives.

He acknowledged a "particular sensitivity" around using investigators, which the inquiry has heard were hired by the company's News of the World (NoW) title for surveillance of public figures and to illegally access voicemails.

Mr Mockridge's witness statement also revealed a Times journalist had been disciplined for hacking into a computer.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, the Times' James Harding and Sunday Times' John Witherow also addressed the inquiry on Tuesday.

'Utterly revolting'

Mr Hislop, a panellist on BBC satirical quiz Have I Got News For You, was the day's first witness at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

"Statutory regulation is not required," he said.

He referred to the News of the World hacking murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone and press coverage of the arrest of Jo Yeates murder suspect Christopher Jefferies - who was innocent - that was in contempt of court.

There were gags. There were laughs. But the setting was a courtroom, not the Have I Got News For You studio.

From the man whose satirical magazine regularly pillories aspects of the press came a defence of the "importance" of newspapers - though Ian Hislop acknowledged it "wasn't always pretty".

The law, not government regulation, was the answer. The problem was the too-cosy relationship enjoyed by police, politicians and proprietors.

While Hislop's talk of the Murdoch family being "deeply embedded in our political top class" will command the headlines, an admission from News International will also attract attention.

In 2009, a Times reporter was disciplined after attempting to access someone else's computer. It's a reminder that phone hacking is just one of the issues facing this inquiry.

"Most of the heinous crimes that come up and have made such a splash at this inquiry are already illegal," he said.

Mr Hislop criticised close relationships between the press - naming News of the World owner News International in particular - and both police and politicians.

"There are reasons News International thought it could get away with whatever it liked... [its bosses] the Murdoch family was deeply embedded in our political top class," he said.

However, he defended the practice of blagging - obtaining information by deception - saying it had been "very effective" in investigations. He referred to a Channel 4 documentary where reporters posed as lobbyists and "greedy MPs and members of the House of Lords" offered their services.

And Mr Hislop said he feared widespread coverage of celebrities' evidence to the inquiry could prompt the public to think newspapers were "utterly revolting" and should all be closed.

"I wanted to put in a plea for journalism and the concept of a free press, that it is important; it isn't always pretty… and I hope this inquiry doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater."

Public interest

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry last July in response to revelations about the NoW's hacking of Miss Dowler's phone after she disappeared in 2002.

Tom Mockridge, made News International chief executive when Rebekah Brooks resigned in the wake of the scandal, told the inquiry on Tuesday that the firm had changed its policies.

Hislop in quotations:

On News International: "If you're the editor of a Murdoch paper and you see the prime minister is organising a slumber party for the proprietors' wife at Chequers… that gives you unbounded confidence to do whatever you like."

On Express owner Richard Desmond: "The person who didn't understand what ethics was, was Mr Desmond. You shouldn't use that as a rule of thumb for anyone else."

On ex-Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan: "Piers' memory is quite selective. He is capable of remembering things that didn't happen... perhaps his diaries weren't written contemporaneously. There are a number of glaring errors. He has tea with the wrong prime minister."

On editors and ethics: "A reasonable editor would not have thought 'I must hack into a murdered girl's phone', or 'I must run a story about someone about whom there appears to be no evidence and say he's a murderer'."

"It might be over-ambitious to say the culture entirely has changed in six months, but there has been a change of policy… and individuals are rigorously applying policy," he said.

Times editor Mr Harding said publishing the bank account details of Adam Werritty during an investigation into his relationship with friend and then-Defence Secretary Liam Fox was "clearly in the public interest".

He said the level of access enjoyed by Mr Werrity to the Ministry of Defence was "something that the public should know about".

Mr Harding agreed there was a correlation between the level of public interest and how intrusive reporters could be.

He added: "There is no absolute right to privacy and there is no absolute right to freedom of expression."

The Times had published an editorial ahead of Mr Harding's appearance, backing independent regulation of newspapers but defending the principles of a free press.

More on This Story

The Leveson report

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More UK stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • RomeTop coffee cities

    These six places are known for their top-notch brews and caffeine-focused cultures

Programmes

  • Papers Please gameClick Watch

    Meet the ‘bedroom programmer’ whose game has sold half a million copies and won a Bafta

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.