Leveson Inquiry: BBC 'has not hacked phones'

Mark Thompson: "It was appropriate to ask the question is there any evidence"

There is "no evidence whatsoever" any BBC journalist has hacked a telephone, the BBC's director general has said.

At the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, Mark Thompson said a BBC review had found no "rumour or whisper or suggestion" of phone hacking by staff.

Also appearing in London, BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten said politicians had grown too close to the newspapers.

They had been "kidded ... that editors and proprietors determine the fate of politicians", Lord Patten said.

Highest standards

Mr Thompson said he had ordered a wide-ranging review of issues including whether staff at the BBC had engaged in phone hacking, made improper payments to police and any use of private investigators, in the wake of the emergence of phone hacking at the News of the World newspaper.

Appearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday morning, Mr Thompson described this review as "necessary and appropriate".

He added: "The BBC is not a business and it might well be that someone running a media business might take a different view from the view that I took as director general of the BBC.

"The BBC is a public service broadcaster. It is committed to be the most trusted, trustworthy source of news in the world and we want to maintain the highest possible standards in all matters, including matters relating to privacy.

Start Quote

Patten at #leveson : made self unpopular with colleagues as Tory chair by declining to call editors complaining about coverage”

End Quote Ross Hawkins BBC News correspondent

"It being undetermined how widespread some of these issues have been in the media, I think it was prudent to look at whether the BBC could, in its journalism and journalistic practice, hold its head up and say actually, we don't do these things."

Mr Thompson also said the BBC had not made any improper payments to police officers.

He explained that when police officers appeared on the Crimewatch television programme, they were sometimes given a "very small payment" as contributors.

The director general said private investigators were sometimes used by BBC for "security and surveillance services as a whole".

Investigators had also occasionally been used to find people featured in BBC content, so they could be given a right of reply, he added.

The inquiry heard that between January 2005 and July 2011, the BBC spent £310,000 on 232 instances when private investigators were used - of which news accounted for 43 occasions, at a cost of £174,500, with the rest for TV programmes.

'Grovelling'

Appearing after the director general, BBC Trust chairman Mr Patten - also a former Conservative Party chairman - told the hearing that recent decades had seen politicians get "closer to editors and journalists … and not always to their advantage or benefit - indeed very often the reverse".

Lord Patten said that he was "in favour of talking to editors and journalists, but I am not in favour of grovelling".

Lord Patten says Rupert Murdoch blocked his book to curry favour with the Chinese authorities

"I think the major political parties, and particularly their leaders, over the last 20 or 25 years have often demeaned themselves by the extent to which they have paid court to proprietors and editors," he said.

"I think that politicians have allowed themselves to be kidded by editors and proprietors that editors and proprietors determine the fate of politicians.

"I think that there is plenty of evidence that in some cases, particularly News International newspapers, will back the party that is going to win an election - so they give you what you don't need in return for more than a great deal of faith."

He went on: "I think that politicians in office, or for that matter some of them out of office, would sleep better at night and make better decisions if they weren't quite as affected by the front pages of the newspapers."

Regulation

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The public have got uniquely high expectations of the BBC”

End Quote Mark Thompson Director general, BBC

Questioned about the truth and accuracy of its journalism, Mr Thompson said that the BBC put those ahead of speed in its editorial guidelines.

"We would rather be right than first," he said. "Frankly, where we can, we would like to be right and first. But [if] we have to choose, we would rather be right than first."

He added: "Research with the British public suggests the public have got uniquely high expectations of the BBC. In other words, the standard to which the BBC is held by the public is higher than for any other medium."

Mr Thompson warned of a danger that the phone-hacking scandal might result in a perception that all tabloid journalism was "bad or dishonest".

"That simply isn't the case, and I think that trying to keep objectivity about the range of journalism and about the quality of much of our newspaper journalism is an important part of the story as well," he said.

Lord Patten said he was against state regulation of the press, believing "politicians should be kept out of these areas", but feared it could be imposed if the industry itself failed to agree controls.

"I think it would be far preferable if the written media themselves could clean out the stable," he told the inquiry.

Also appearing on Monday, Channel 4 News editor Jim Gray said he was "anxious about a heavy form of statutory regulation of print", which he feared could be used "to curtail, to constrain, or to limit freedom of expression and provision of important information by the media".

John Battle, head of compliance for ITN, said he "wouldn't recommend" making newspapers subject to the strict regulatory regime faced by broadcasters.

"My experience is that the broadcasters would perhaps take a risk level akin to something like a broadsheet newspaper, but a tabloid newspaper may in some circumstances take a higher risk than a broadcaster - but that's the nature of the plurality of the media," Mr Battle said.

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