25 June 2012

Leveson Inquiry - June 26th 2012 - Day 21 - Riddell, Grice, Webster, Snow and Walters.

The Royal Courts of Justice

Useful Links:
Leveson Inquiry Witness Statements HERE 
Leveson Inquiry Witness Lists HERE 

Video Recordings of each day's proceedings HERE

Live Feed From Leveson Inquiry Site HERE

BBC Democracy Live Feed HERE 
Guardian Live Blog HERE

Links to relevant articles, information and comment: (links to Google digest of media articles in right-hand sidebar of this blog) ---->>>
Hear that #Leveson has refused Osborne, Gove and Cable core participant status (key evidence ahead of time) for next part of inquiry
@TomJHarper: Jon Snow asked the public gallery: "Do you think I'm going to get spanked..." as he left #Leveson courtroom
@lisaocarroll: Strong stuff from Jon Snow. Associated Newspapers sometimes pernicious, mendacious #leveson . They will not be happy with that.
Monday, 26th June 2012

Lord Justice Leveson addressing the Inquiry before proceedings begin.
Judge's Comments in relation to Mail on Sunday Article in Full
@nataliepeck: We're off at #Leveson. The judge says he wants to address concerns in the press over his approach to the inquiry. #Leveson discussing Mail on Sunday story about phonecall over Gove comments. Says made clear story would run regardless of response. #Leveson: The story was picked up and repeated in other papers, further amplified in the Daily Mail. #Leveson points out he would have raised the matter if the inquiry was sitting last week. #Leveson: My purpose was simply to give AN opportunity to pursue the allegations they made on the front page of their newspaper before me. #Leveson: Gove went further than emphasising the impotance of freedom of expression [on chilling effect of inquiry].

#Leveson wanted to know if Gove was speaking for govt in press gallery speech.
From Guardian Live Blog:
Leveson says it is important to underline that Michael Gove "went further" than speak in favour of free expression in his "chilling effect" speech on the inquiry in February.
The judge says everyone is entitled to an opinion on his inquiry "and Mr Gove is no exception".
#Leveson references Hacked Off's open letter to David Cameron referring to PM and Gove's comments.
#Leveson: I was concerned about the perception that the inquiry was being undermined while it was taking place.
[You can read the Hacked Off letter here: #Leveson]
#Leveson: I was assured that no view had been formed and it would be wrong to infer anything from the PM's comments.
#Leveson: The decision that Mr Gove should be called to give evidence was made before his speech.
#Leveson: Is absolutely correct that the press should be able to hold this inquiry, in general, and me in particular, to account.
#Leveson: No recommendations have been formulated or written, no conclusions have yet been reached.
#Leveson: For my part I will not be deterred from seeking to fulfil the terms of reference that gave been set for me.
Paraphrase LJ Leveson: There is no hidden agenda.... (to this Inquiry)

Peter Riddell   

Guardian Live Blog HERE
Andrew Grice begins his testimony..
@nataliepeck: Peter Riddell (director of the Institute for Government and formerly of the Times) is the first witness, questioned by David Barr.
Mr Barr questions Riddell..
@nataliepeck: Riddell had managerial responsibilities at the Times, singing off expenses and supervising budget for opinion polling. Riddell: Not all results of opinion polls were published but would have been accessible to readers online. Riddell: I thought system worked quite well under Alastair Campbell, everyone knew where he was coming from and who he was.
Riddell: 10 Downing Street is inherently a political place. One can't be too purist about it.  Riddell: None of this is new, there is always going to be a tension there. The danger is when the mutual dependency gets too great. Riddell: Remains power to have campaigns against people. Some newspapers decide are against someone and put the knife into them. 

Guardian Live Blog:
Riddell is asked whether he believes the No 10 spokesperson should be a civil servant in future. He says it is "horses for courses", but that a civil servant to deal with government matters makes sense. "But one can't be too purist about it," he says, adding that he believes Alastair Campbell did a good job in Tony Blair's New Labour government. "Downing Street is an inherently political place".
 Riddell believes there is an "inherent" danger in political journalism of growing too close to politicians. "The danger is when the mutual dependency gets too great," he adds.
@nataliepeck: Riddell's ws on part conference events:Often naive opinions and prejudices of execs treated with awkward politeness by politicians. [Correction: "Signing off" expenses rather than "singing off" in previous tweet! Riddell says he never observed any deals between politicians and newspapers. Not a formal tit-for-tat. Riddell: Politicians felt had to indulge senior editors rather than take their views seriously - although important exceptions.
Riddell: My view always been for editors, for proprietors, they should be a little more distant and treat it more professionally.

Guardian Live Blog:
Riddell says the only time he met James Murdoch was at a "pretty gruesome" dinner hosted by Alistair Darling, then chancellor of the exchequer. Murdoch criticised Darling over dinner for an earlier decision on BSkyB and ITV. "It was all just a bit embarassing. It was a classic bit of English embarrassment where nobody quite knew where to look ... it was all a bit gauche," he says.
The former political correspondent, who held senior positions at both the Financial Times and the Times, says he has never observed a "formal deal" or anything "more sophisticated" between proprietors, editors and politicians.
"You can't be too close that you can't be robust in your criticism of someone," Riddell says.
Riddell: [Journalists and politicians] should have lunches, they talk, but should not pretend to a kind of false friendship. Riddell: The selection of facts inevitably is a subjective process.

Guardian Live Blog:
Riddell is asked about fact and comment in newspapers, a recurring theme at the inquiry over the past few weeks. He says it is difficult to separate the two completely in newspapers. "You're observing something at one time, you're observing only part of it ... so while I always believed in trying to separate fact and comment as much as possible, space constraints made that very difficult," he says. "One's got to recognise that they will be blurred."
Riddell: Worked at one end of trade, those at Sun/Mail/Express would regard me as high-minded and a bit elitist and out of touch. 
Riddell explaining that it's more difficult to meet politicians in power than those in opposition.
Guardian Live Blog:
Riddell says he has never heard the Press Complaints Commission code invoked throughout his career in journalism. He says the culture of the newsroom is what is important.
Riddell: When the Times supporting New Labour, it and other titles favoured with some stories.
Riddell: In many respects, newspapers follow their readers rather than lead them.
Riddell: Not about floating voter, is much more seeing where power is going. Is virtually all following a shift in public opinion. Riddell advocates "Private Eye test" - if any contacts/details appeared in the publication, could you defend them?

Guardian Live Blog:
Anyone who has studied Rupert Murdoch knows he likes to back the winners, says Riddell. He believes that most newspapers follow the views of their readers, rather than lead them. That is a perfectly sensible commercial decision, he adds. 
Riddell: Naturally people follow what the leadership does, it requires an ethos in any organisation about how people should behave.
Riddell: I'm very much in favour of rigorous self-criticism. With the internet we are in a massively evolving state.  Riddell: I was never pressured by editors/proprietors on my opinion. Riddell: Spin has always existed. Elizabeth I's great speeches were spin. Political leaders have always tried to influence people.
Riddell: For politicians, the long-term is frequently a long time away when you have 24-hour news.
Riddell: Most newspaper opinions formed by half a dozen people. When papers claim to speak for readers, haven't analysed opinions.
Riddell: When somthing goes wrong it is always treated as an immense scandal and therefore someone's head must roll.
Riddell: Quite clear that the weakest area for induction and preparation is special advisers.
Riddell: Most SpAds are 24/25 years old with minimum understanding of political process and considerable influence.

Guardian Live Blog:
Riddell says it is "humbug" when newspapers claim to speak for their readers. "They haven't analysed their opinions," he says, adding that it is often judged on the volume of emails received from readers. He points out that most newspapers' leader columns are written by half-a-dozen people and most of the staff are not involved.
Riddell ws: Politicians and media are bound to have a close relationship. But it needs to be less cosy, more open and more robust.  Riddell: It's about personal leadership rather than rules.
Riddell: The culture of "the story's too good to check" always infuriated me

Riddell's testimony is now complete.

Guardian Live Blog HERE

@lisaocarroll: Andy Grice - Formerly worked for Liverpool Echo. Leveson tells him he may have crossed paths when he acted for the Echo 25 years ago
Carine Patry-Hoskins begins her questioning of Andy Grice..

Guardian Live Blog:
Grice was previously political editor of the Sunday Times. Carine Patry-Hoskins, counsel to the inquiry, is leading questioning of Grice.
Newspapers have sought to define a new role for themselves in the past 20 years, Grice says, with the advent of 24-hour television news and the internet.
"They no longer want to be what you might call a newspaper of record, they want to provide more analysis, more comment," he says. "So that has changed a whole culture within newspapers and the character of the product".
Andy Grice begins his testimony..
Grice: Newspapers no longer want to be a newspaper of record, do not want to regurgitate news bulletins from the night before.
Grice: Some of the issues we are dealing with are incredibly difficult and I think the horse has bolted on this one [PCC code].
Grice: Independent puts comment and analysis on the news pages but clearly labelled. Others have more traditional separation.
Grice: All newspapers could be clearer on whether we are writing news story based on fact and news story with a certain slant.

Guardian Live Blog:
Grice says it is a "fact of life" that news and comment is now blurred in almost all newspapers. He says most younger journalists are probably not aware that this blurring is prohibited by the Press Complaints Commission code of practice. "I think the horse has bolted on this particular one," he says.
Grice suggests newspapers could be clearer on branding news and comment in their news pages. Journalists should have this distinction in their minds when writing a story, he says.
Grice: There is constant dialogue between political editors and spin doctors, the press officers, working for opp and gov parties.
Grice: Independent and Guardian healthily sceptical but Mail and Telegraph have become too cynical. 
Grice: I know MPs who are reluctant to become ministers because they do not want to open up families to press intrusion.
Grice: Vince Cable sting did produce a sensational story but it was a fishing expedition that crossed a line.
Grice: There's a difference between exposing bad practices and posing as a constituent in hope of finding something interesting.

Guardian Live Blog:
Grice describes the Daily Telegraph's undercover recording of Vince Cable as a "fishing expedition" designed to obtain any bit of information from the senior Liberal Democrat.
He says the recording of Cable "crossed a line" and compares it with the recent cash for access investigation by the Sunday Times. "There's a difference between exposing bad practices through being an agent provocateur to posing as a constituent in the hope of finding something interesting," he says.
Grice: It is a relationship of mutual dependency, not new. I don't see how that relationship can be easily regulated or changed.
Grice: I suspect there was an understanding in the you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours that developed between Labour and NI.
Grice: I wasn't told at all to be nice or positive about the Labour Party (when at Sunday Times).

Guardian Live Blog:
Grice describes tabloid newspapers' coverage of Neil Kinnock in the runup to the 1992 general election as "personal and nasty".
Grice says he was not told to be positive about the Labour party while political editor of the Sunday Times in 1997.
But, he says he suspects there was a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" understanding that developed between Labour and News International.
Grice: Blair and Brown were determined their generation was not going to be treated in the same way by the press [as Kinnock].
Grice: A very old and respected veteran of the lobby when I joined, said: "You must preserve the mystique".

Guardian Live blog:
Political parties monitor media coverage "minute-by-minute" now, says Grice. "The people in parties and the politicians feel they have to respond even more quickly and more aggressively" given the news coverage on the internet, he adds.
Grice ws: The public interest would be served by a much tougher, independent watchdog with teeth.
Grice: Nobody in journalism thinks that the current system is adequate, strenuous, serious and sincere efforts are being made.
Webster: Very careful to make sure my stories didn't contain my views or anybody else's views, merely presented what was going on.

Phil Webster   Witness Statement in Full

Guardian Live Blog HERE
Phil Webster begins answering questions posed by Mr Barr...
Guardian Live Blog:
Webster says that as a political editor he was more interested in what politicians would say off the record, rather than on the record, because it was often more candid and closer to the truth.
12.25pm: Webster says treatment of some politicians – he refers to Neil Kinnock in 1992 – as "over the top" and too personal at times.
12.22pm: Webster has worked under eight editors at the Times. "They were all very, very good editors," says Webster.
Webster: I recall newspaper treatment of Neil Kinnock, John Mjor and latterly of Gordon Brown where it got too personal.
Webster: I think the current system where you have a civil servant briefing is probably the best one.
Webster: You will get more out of a politician off the record than you will on, and that is always going to be the case.
Webster: Very careful to make sure my stories didn't contain my views or anybody else's views, merely presented what was going on.
Webster: Provided what you're after is in the public interest such techniques (subterfuge) are perfectly OK.

Guardian Live Blog:
Newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph make a strong job of reporting what is happening, Webster says, adding that headlines will occasionally be presented as if they are the opinion of the newspaper. 
Webster: The stronger the public interest defence written into law, the better. We would like a firm defence in journalism.
Webster: If there are going to be changes in whole set-up as result of this inquiry, it might be time to solidify defence in law.
Webster: Politicians careful about who had lunch with. Was fortunate enough to work for the Times, not many people turned me down.
In his witness statement, Wesbter describes high quality champagne and late-night bacon sandwiches at NI receptions.
Webster: I was never told how to write a story with a particular slant.
Webster: In the world of Westminster, friendships are known about. Absolutely no point in going easy on a friend.
Webster: New Labour were very professional at making sure the Mail and Express got good law and order stories.
Webster: Times + Guardian leaked IMF report under New Labour but we both wrote critical stories and had a lot of angry phonecalls.

Guardian Live Blog:
Webster says he believes the government has, in recent weeks, given stories on welfare and law and order to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in an attempt to shore up public support.
12.47pm: Webster helped organise dinners with politicians and News International executives. He says the dinners were "convivial". Was there any omissions from the politicians invited? "I wasn't aware of a blacklist, no," Webster says, smiling.
Webster recalls "an evening of angry phone calls" from someone who leaked him and a reporter from the Guardian an IMF report which was "deeply critical" of Gordon Brown and the New Labour government. The Times and the Guardian splashed on the report and, Webster says, the story was exactly the opposite of what the leaker intended. 
Webster: We accept there is a need for stronger independent regulation, would prefer that to happen without a statutory backstop.
Webster: Whether can be done without statute is a matter for Lord Justice Leveson.
Webster: Hunt/Black models are the press solution and may well be that public opinion demands it is not solely press solution.
Barr asks Webster about the Times Online paywall.
Webster: We know our readers, we have their details. We do know their names.

Guardian Live Blog:
Webster is asked about the Times digital paywall. He says more than 100,000 people have signed up for digital access to the newspaper but hits have dropped by "literally millions".
"I think the future of newspapers is clearly going to be digital. One of the big things here is that much of the internet world is going to be outside the control of the new PCC,"
Webster adds that Times online is at a disadvantage to US websites who publish material banned in the UK.
Phil Webster's evidence is complete.

Guardian Live Blog HERE
Jon Snow beginning his testimony, questioned by Carine Patry-Hoskins.
@nataliepeck: Snow: I can't think of anything I have wanted to do in the public interest that was stopped by regulation. Snow: I can't say any of us looking in on the PCC process can honestly say it is a great example of regulatory authority.
@rosschawkins: Snow: not one single story I participate in on C4 news is not checked by a lawyer.
@nataliepeck: Snow: Newspapers have an ideological axe to grind. We are simply not allowed that.  
Guardian Live Blog:
Snow says regulation of TV has changed markedly over the years, and in the 1970s it was "pretty shambolic". Now, he says, every Channel 4 News story is checked by a lawyer to make sure what appears on TV is fair and balanced.
Snow: you see stories you've covered written up in papers that bear no relation to your experience. 
Jon Snow of C4 News is drawing stark contrast between standards upheld by TV news and distortions by newspapers. Says Ofcom is good.
Snow ws: I would guess I have known fewer than half a dozen cabinet ministers socially and on entirely appropriate terms.
Snow advocates "signposting" of comment and news, says front page difficult as headline big, opinion strong and news weak.

Snow: not sure there's a hunger for opinionated news.
Snow: became friendly with snr pol painting with his wife after meeting on holiday
Jon Snow: I can't honestly say I lie awake at night longing for another social occasion with a politician.
Snow: The Twitter and social media network is more elastic but still have to remember who we are, impartial operatives.

Guardian Live Blog:
Snow contrasts TV news coverage with that in newspapers where, he says "The headline is big, the opinion is strong and the news is weak".
Snow: in 10 years there probably won't be any newspapers.
Jon Snow says: The horse has bolted on regulating papers.Big challenge for Leveson.In 10 yrs, no papers in print.Hard to regulate.
Snow: You have to dot an awful lot of Is + cross a lot of Ts. I admire the Ofcom system but the compliance stuff has gone too far.
SnowL could be argued elections are less exciting because of TV news regulation.
Snow: get rid of broadcast regulation and you'll end up with Fox News.
Snow: we didn't ask questions about papers, might have been visited upon us.
Snow: My channel paid Monica Lewinsky for 1st iv after "shenanigans" with Bill Clinton

Jon Snow says he feels guilty he knew pols and press had overclose relations but didnt ask questions about it.Perhaps feared retribution.
Snow: I have been shocked by the payments. I find payments of public officials beyond anything I can imagine.
Snow: C4 paid Monica Lewinsky for interview but that is different. Idea you are paying somebody for info is totally unacceptable.
Snow: Used to laugh up our sleeves and say that is what the Italians did; now we discover we did it. It is amazing, I'm astonished.

Guardian Live Blog:
Snow says he is "guilty" of suspecting too cosy relations between some senior politicians and media executives, but never "really asked many questions about it".
He says seeing Rupert Murdoch going into No 10 by the back door "should have raised some alarm bells".
Snow: in depth news progs have more difficulty getting ministers on than those seeking single soundbite. 
Snow likens offers of press support for commercial interests (doesn't name names) to "things the Italians did". "Turns out we did them too."
[Snow didn't specify what he was talking about, but I think he meant Sky bid.A bit of a stretch by Snow there, if you ask me.]

Snow: Regulation needs to be independent of government and the press, would need to draw on press experience.
Snow: I think it would do editors no harm to know that they were going to be questioned about what they had done.
Snow advocates prominence of corrections and apologies.

Snow recommends readers' editors for tabloids.

Guardian Live Blog:
Snow says the new press regulator should have the power to investigate and question editors on bad practice. A readers' editor should be installed at tabloid newspapers, he adds. He advocates due prominence of corrections and apologies.
Snow: paper printed 5 pg inaccurate story about him, ran apology in one column, didn't want to print photo.
Snow: in my case right up to publication moment issue was whether to have smaller than passport size photo of me

Snow: What is so shameful about being wrong? Editors are human beings, they can apologise.
Snow: Recognise you have a terrible challenge, it is very difficult to protect free speech, not engage the statutory legal system.
Snow: People often reluctant to get involved in public roles as they don't want to be part of the public fray.
Snow: I do believe newspapers sometimes undermine or destroy people who don’t fit in with their interests.
Snow: Associated Newspapers are at least, if not more, pernicious than anything in the News International stable.
Snow: There is something more insidious about Associated Newspapers and very possibly they will go after me for saying so. 
Snow on Associated Newspapers: It is pernicious and I think at times mendacious

Guardian Live Blog:
Snow says that "demonsing" politicians and others by newspapers is "incredibly destructive".
Jon Snow's evidence is at an end.
Simon Walters 

Guardian Live Blog HERE

#leveson to MoS's Walters: no intention of asking any qs about article but there is some nonsense I'd like to deal with. (so #leveson won't question Mail on Sunday's man about #leveson threatened to quit article)  (but #leveson is very, very keen to point out Walters was going to be called in any case)
Walters answering questions put to him by Carine Patry-Hoskins.
@IndexLeveson: Walters: by and large public has a right to know what politicians are doing. That kind of reporting justified in many cases. 
@nataliepeck: Walters: I regard myself as news reporter and try not to get involved in political opinion or comment.
Guardian Live Blog:
Patry-Hoskins asks if newspapers have gone too far in exposing the private lives of politicians. "By and large I think the public has a right to know what politicians are doing ... I think in general terms the balance is about right," he says.
Journalists have always been "pretty sceptical" of politicians, Walters says.
Simon Walters Mail on Sunday poled: I try to write all news stories in a fair and balanced way but on occasion is element of interpretation.
Walters: If you simply reported what people had said and the bare bold facts, you would be left with a pretty dry story.
Carine Patry Hoskins questioning Walters on headlines. He points out he doesn't write them.

Guardian Live Blog:
Walters is being led through examples of MailOnline and Mail on Sunday articles that appear to include shades of comment in the headline.
One refers to "feckless" people. "To refer to them as feckless is not particularly unfair," he says.
Walters: I never go to lobbying briefings. Their main function is for daily newspaper journalists.
Walters: Governments needs to have a central message and coordinated response but downside is gives spokesman too much power.
Walters: If you want to get information you have to build relationships of trust with people.
Walters says only minister he was personal friends with was Mo Mowlam.
Walters ws: Blair's decision to court NI led to a very close relationship in which D St gave privileged info in return for support.

Walters: was open secret that Downing St could pick up phone and dictate an article in certain News Int journals.
(talking about Labour time in office)
Walters: clearly relations between News Int & Govt got much too close for a short period.
Walters: Blair Government too close to NI.
Walters: Plainly the relationship between NI and the government got much too close – it’s not the case now.
Walters on regulation: All I would say is going down the state road is dangerous.

Guardian Live Blog:
Walters says in his witness starement that News International was "treated to privileged information" from New Labour when in government. He claims it was an open secret that Downing Street could pick up the phone and "dictate an article in certain News International journals". He suggests that was in return for support from the newspapers for, among other things, the Iraq war.
Walters: If Black Rod hadn't come foward over Blair/Queen Mother story it would have had serious consquences for me and MoS.
#Leveson says he has been aware throughout the inquiry that reporters don't write their own headlines.
Walters: Headlines need to be treated with extreme care. Need to be handled sensitively because they can give wrong impression.

Leveson says he DOES understand reporters don't write their own headlines. But wants to get at "discordance" between careful language.......and headlines.Walters says Yes, headlines shd be treated with extreme care&senior reporters should be consulted on big stories [hear him]

Guardian Live Blog:
"Headlines have to be taken with extreme care," Walters says. He believes it is important for a senior reporter to be consulted on the headline over their article before it is published. "Headlines have to be written very carefully, yes."
Walters' evidence is at an end.