Leveson Inquiry: Ian Hislop says new press laws not needed

  • 17 January 2012
  • From the section UK
Media captionPrivate 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.

"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.

"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.

Related Internet links

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