Good afternoon, sir. We have two witnesses this afternoon. The first witness is Mr Jon Snow.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Thank you. MR JONATHAN GEORGE SNOW (sworn) Questions by MS PATRY-HOSKINS
Please sit down, please make yourself comfortable, Mr Snow. First of all, could you give your full name to the inquiry?
A. Jonathan George Snow.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Mr Snow, thank you very much indeed for your statement and the assistance you have provided. I am grateful.
You have provided us with a witness statement dated 14 May 2012. Could you please confirm that is your formal evidence to this inquiry?
A. That is my formal evidence, yes.
Q. If I move on to your career history, please, Mr Snow. I know there was something you wanted to say about the fact that the views in your statement are your own and do not necessarily represent the views of your employers?
A. The views in this statement are entirely my own and they have no bearing on anything my employers may think or otherwise wish.
Q. Thank you very much indeed. Turning to your career history, it is set out at paragraph 1 of your statement. I will just summarise it and you can tell me if I have any of it wrong. You are, as I'm sure we all know, the main presenter for Channel 4 News, a position you have held since 1989. You joined ITN in 1976 as a reporter and in the public realm, you have held a number of positions, including trustee of the National Gallery, trustee of the Tate Gallery, member of the Tate Modern Council and chair of Tate members. You have also written a book about your journey in journalism called "Shooting History" and you have also written articles down the years for the broadsheets and a few times also for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Have I accurately summarised your career history, Mr Snow?
A. That is entirely accurate, yes.
Q. Let's move on to the first section of your statement, dealing with the relationship between politicians and the media. You explain at paragraph 2(a) of your statement that from your perspective as a television journalist, the dynamic between media and politicians has changed considerably over the years. Can we pause there. When you say "the media", what do you mean?
A. I encompass both the written and the electronic media, yes.
Q. You then go on to differentiate between broadcast media and newspapers. You say this: "Television and video have long been governed by a regulator and that regulation has been rationalised and strengthened. The regime ensures that I am aware of conflicts and of interest and constantly aware of the need for balance." Then you say this: "The ownership aspects of the regulatory regime have no so far impacted on my work." Before we move on to what you say about newspapers, let me ask about the relationship between television or broadcast journalists and politicians in this way: Ofcom is your regulator. As a political journalist and somebody who obviously regularly interviews politicians and, some might say, holds them to account, has the Ofcom system of regulation, in your view, ever hindered you in that process?
A. I can't honestly think of a single occasion on which I have wanted to proceed with something which I believed to be in the public interest and journalistically sound that has been stopped by anything to do with regulation. Obviously there are lots of compliance issues about right to reply and the rest of it, but I have never found it a burden.
Q. Again, before we turn to newspapers, you note at the end of this section, right before the answer on 2(b), at the top of page 2: "Viewers need to be assured that the regulatory system accords them a right to question whether we have done our job properly and to provide for them to complain should they wish to demand a wrong be put right. Ofcom has maintained a useful and balanced role in this regard." Can you expand a little on that; why do you take the view this role has been provided?
A. Well, I think that the role of the regulator has improved vastly over the years. When I first started in television it was pretty kind of shambolic. There was very little legal input into it. It was conducted by well meaning and bright people but nevertheless it wasn't as coherent as it is now. I can illustrate this by saying when I started in the 70s you would see a lawyer in the office perhaps once a month. Maybe a little more, maybe once a week sometimes. Now there isn't one single story that I am participating in on Channel 4 News which is not checked by a lawyer. So the whole sense of respecting the regulatory process is very much alive and with us, but I would say that the legal scrutiny and the regulatory scrutiny is scrutiny designed to try to get the story on the air, but to ensure it gets on the air in a fair and balanced way. As far as the written press is concerned, I mean, well, I can't say that any of us looking in on the PCC process can honestly look to it and say there is a great example of regulatory authority. Judges are judges in their own cause, so you have editors who have often themselves offended judging other editors. It seems to me that their regulatory process is exactly the antithesis of ours, which is in fact to ensure that the public is not protected but that the newspaper publishes and is not damned.
Q. We will come on to discuss perhaps the future of press regulation in a little more detail. Can we move back though to newspapers. You explain that you consider there to be a difference between broadcast journalists and newspapers. What is the difference and what special pressures are their on newspapers, in your view?
A. I think the difference fundamentally is that newspapers are clearly opinionated. They have an opinion from which they spring and you don't need me to tell you who springs from which proclivity but it would be blind not to accept that they have an ideological axe to grind. It may vary, but it is there. We are simply not allowed that. We do not we have to make a very clear distinction between what is news and what is opinion. In the newspaper, I would say that this is an extremely blurred area. Very often, you see news stories that you have yourself covered which bear almost no relation to what you have experienced in that story because the thing has been given a very specific slant to fit with the ideological outlook of the paper.
Q. Right. We have heard from witnesses this morning on the same subject, the blurring of the line between news and comment. Is this a concern in your view, and if so, why is it a concern?
A. Well, you know, what is truth, asked Pontius Pilate, and that is a pretty big question. If truth is something which is supported by the facts, then it seems to me that we have some building blocks towards reporting a good story and a story that is true. I think if the building blocks are interfered with by cement that is in some way contaminated with a view into which these building blocks have to fit then I think you start to get a wildly distorted account of what is actually going on. I think that happens a great deal.
Q. Could it not be said that an informed reader would be able to differentiate between the news and comment aspects of a particular story or article?
A. Yes, one should never underestimate the capacity of the viewer and the reader to see through what the media is up to. That I fully accept. But sometimes some of this is extremely cleverly done and if it is done in extremely emotive terms, as with issues like welfare or immigration or any of the great political issues of our time, if it becomes contaminated with a view that a certain course of action should be pursued and the news story is made to fit these parameters, then I think you get into some difficulty.
Q. All right. Well, you raise it as a concern. This blurring between the two is already prohibited by the PCC editors' code. I don't know if you are aware of that. Is there anything more that could be done to address this concern, in your view?
A. Well, I think the biggest thing that can be done is very clear signposting. I don't one should in any way treat the reader as an idiot, but I think it should be very clear and I believe my own experience of living in the United States for a period of time is that there it is much clearer. The New York Times and Washington Post are very clear as to what is opinion and what is news, and although you can argue that they may have mild ideological affiliations, generally speaking, I think you get a clearer account of what is going on.
Q. Do you mean signposting in the sense that each page would have, at the top of it, whether or not news or comment appears on that page or do you mean in a headline it should be made clear, or does it not matter?
A. No, I think you can only compartmentalise it, as you suggest, with a heading at the top of the page, which suggests opinion is on there. Some of the broadsheets do that perfectly happily and it is very clear that opinion pages are either sort of in the middle of the paper or in the front or the back, but it is where the front page is, in the end, part opinion and then I think that is difficult, because the headline is big and the opinion is strong and the news is weak.
Q. All right. Could this signposting solution concept be applied right across the press, do you think, right through from broadsheets to tabloid press?
A. I don't really see why not. I mean and I am not sure there is a hunger for opinionated news, to be honest. I am not sure people are any better off by having their own prejudices fulfilled by the paper. Maybe that is what sells papers. I am not I have written lots of articles for papers, but I don't think I have ever written an opinionated article. I have written an opinion for papers and I have written a new story for papers, but I don't think I've ever written an opinionated news story for papers. There is a big distinction.
Q. What about the argument that newspapers are essentially having to compete in an increasingly competitive field? They have to compete with broadcasters, increasingly the Internet, social networking sites, and by providing opinion in this way, they are actually trying to create a niche for themselves, which is the only way they can be survive. Is there any merit in that argument?
A. We're all looking for an identity of one sort of another, and opinion may well help shape that identity but, you know, at the end of the day, it seems to me that you are looking at press standards and it seems to me one of the standards that has slipped is the distinction between fact and opinion, and I think that that is an important and clear distinction, and one that it would be possible to address in a regulatory form.
Q. Right. Can I ask you now, please, about paragraph 2(c) of your statement. You explain that over the years this is about interaction between politicians and members of the media and here you are discussing your own contact. You explain that over the years, you have regularly intersected with politicians and public officials over the years but you would guess that you have known fewer than half a dozen Cabinet ministers socially and then on entirely appropriate terms. That begs the question: what are "entirely appropriate terms"?
A. Well, I mean, you intersect with people socially because, as social animal, as you have something socially in common. But simply because you are a hack and they are a politician, that I don't think is necessarily going to produce what I would call an appropriate social engagement. I mean, we are talking about a period of over three decades and I would think it would not be more than three or four politicians I have ever come to know particularly well. In one case, for example, I could by chance, I met a senior politician on holiday, and his wife painted and I paint and so we painted together, and that is where the friendship came from. So I call that entirely appropriate. That wasn't because I work on Channel 4 News and she is married to a Cabinet minister.
Q. All right. Insofar as you have not become socially friendly with other politicians, is that a moral or ethical decision or simply something that has arisen?
A. I think it is natural accretion. That is how it works. I can't honestly say that I lie awake at night longing for another social engagement with a politician.
Q. Can I ask you to turn now to (g) of your statement. It is at the top of the third page. This is discussing the rise of 24-hour television news, together with the development of internet and social networking. You explain: "This has undoubted impacted on what we once understood as news." I note that you yourself are a Twitter user and blogger as well. How do you consider yourself to be regulated in those spheres, if at all?
A. Well, I mean, technically, legally, we are not regulated in those spheres, but we have an understanding certainly in my place of employment, that in a moral sense and in a sort of quasi-legal sense, we are governed by the same regulation as Ofcom metes out to us in a television context, that all the platforms upon which we work we work essentially to an Ofcom guideline. But that is something we have established together in the workplace with our editors. I would say that the Twitter and the social network aspect is more elastic, and they are more generous to us in those circumstances. We are a little more permissive. But I would say that we still you know, we have to remember that that is who we are. We are essentially impartial operatives and we can't get out into a huge amount of opinion on that platform.
Q. Is that because you blog and tweet as "Jon Snow, presenter of Channel 4 News"; would it be any different if you were tweeting or blogging as Jon Snow, also a private individual?
A. Well, I do in fact blog and tweet as "Jon Snow, Channel 4 News" and I don't have any other outlet, nor would I, I think, seek to have one. Once you are in a position like this, it is difficult to say one has nothing to do with the other. The one can pollute the other.
Q. Is there anything you would like to say, Mr Snow, about regulation of these particular spheres, the blogosphere, social networking and so on; is there anything you would like to add on this thorny question?
A. I think one could say a lot, but the horse has bolted, it seems to me. I don't see actually that there is much that can be done and this, in a way, is a huge challenge to the Inquiry, I suspect, in that it is one thing to talk about regulation and the newspapers; well, in 10 years, there probably won't be any newspapers. They will exist on other platforms. Then you would be getting into a very confused area. I think it is going to be very, very difficult to regulate the web, and I am not sure how it can be done. We have done it this way. We have done it by an understanding. But it wouldn't hold water in a court, I suppose.
Q. I think the answer to my question is "no"?
A. "No" is the answer. Sorry, I was a bit verbose.
Q. Not at all. I don't think anyone has come up with a magic solution, in any event.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
A. I am sorry.
Turning to paragraph 2(h) of your witness statement, please. You explain that in your experience I will pass over how long that experience is the relationship between Number 10, the government, public bodies and the media has become rather more stage-managed. You explain that access to ministers and public officials has become more tightly controlled. You also explain that in your own experience when you were able to interview politicians in the studio or for a report or even on a doorstep, their willingness to communicate tends to be either because they want to promote a line or the politician or the party is making a rapid effort to shut down or reorientate a troublesome story. You then go on to discuss Ofcom in this regard. You say you have had concerns about Ofcom being a little Draconian on compliance in news and current affairs. Can you expand a little on that? It is just below that, paragraph 2(h), just below where I have been reading them.
A. Sorry, what exactly
Q. You say this. You say: "I have had concerns that Ofcom could be a little Draconian on compliance in news and current affairs." Although obviously you say
A. I work in both news and current affairs.
A. And make documentaries sort of from time to time.
A. And the compliance, particularly in documentaries, is very, very burdensome indeed. It doesn't stop you doing what you want to do but you have to dot an awful lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts. I could possibly argue that whilst I admire Ofcom system, I think the compliance stuff has gone too far and that we have to carry out a lot of activities which are beyond the real need. But on the other hand, it is probably better that way than the other way, but Yes. For example, last year I made a documentary about dodgy doctors and some element of the compliance to do with phraseology and various other things had not apparently been quite right. As a result, we had to reshoot several days of material and that is tough when you have a heavy work schedule and the rest of it. You build in the blocks to do your stuff and then so it is there, it is very much there, and it would be wrong to suggest that you could come up with a regulatory system which was as detailed as Ofcom and not think it would affect the working practices of every journalist.
Q. Is that complaint about the fact that you had to go ahead and shoot various bits of it again or did the regime stop you from putting out the documentary that you wanted?
A. No, if you want to put the documentary badly enough, you will eventually put it out, though it may be a bit of a shadow of what you originally wanted to put out. I think in this case it seemed to me to be such a small issue that it wasn't really worth burbling about. It never stops you doing the story but it might stop you doing it in a certain way. That may indeed be the design of some regulation. Who knows?
Q. Can I ask you to go to section 5 of paragraph 5, the fourth page of your statement. This is about elections. Just to draw the contrast, please. We have heard a lot about the role of newspapers in elections. You give us the other side of the coin from the broadcaster's point of view. Can you just tell us, please, why you consider this to be one of the most carefully managed and regulated aspects of your job?
A. Well, until the event of the Internet, clearly General Elections were very ferociously fought in my working lifetime on television. Television was the main platform. Although minds are often made up by the written press, the information and the colour of an election campaign and very often many of the messages were transmitted on television. Television was seen as an increasingly powerful element. Therefore the obligation on television to get it right, certainly on public television, was very, very strong indeed. I would say that it is the area of our work that probably has the most careful scrutiny when it comes to compliance and to balance, and you are under very considerable balance circumstance. You have to give opposing parties equal access to time, so if you do, one night, a big investigation into some party policy with one party, you must visit the other party either within 24 hours or even within the same programme.
Q. Again, does this aspect of the regulatory regime, in your view, hinder you in accurately or fairly reporting the issues that you have to report on?
A. There is a present debate going on about whether general elections can be made more exciting and it could be argued they are made less exciting by the degree of regulation that we have to go in for. On the other hand, if the choice is between BBC 10 o'clock and Fox News, I think most people in Britain would rather go for the BBC 10 o'clock news, simply because Fox News has become a major player in the very contest in which they are supposed to be reporting. And that is where we can go, if we want. If we want to get rid of regulation, that is where we will end up.
Q. Turning to paragraph 6 of your statement, please. This is discussing the history of relations between politicians and the media. You say that like many others, you have been astonished by what we have been learning about the relationships of some parts of the media with politicians and public officials. Having listened to this Inquiry, what is it in particular that you have been astonished to hear?
A. Well, I have actually I think I should have added the word "guilty" as well, because I think we suspected that this was going on, that the access was as has been described. There were a few moments when one would be staking out Downing Street and you would be aware of the comings and goings of some of the individuals who have figured in this inquiry. I don't think we ever really asked many questions about what they were doing there and I don't really know why we didn't. I think in some cases we didn't because we thought it might actually be slightly visited upon us. Sometimes if you go nosing around what newspapers are doing, it ends up in some degree of trouble. But I think I have been shocked at payments. I mean, I find payments to public officials beyond anything I can imagine. I mean, I have been taking officials or anybody else that I have needed to get to know for a cop of coffee or whatever, but we have never gone to the Ritz or Claridges or it just wouldn't cross your mind, and the idea that you would pay somebody for information in that way is not something which has ever crossed my again, I can't think of a story I have ever been on when you might have a victim of some crime or something who will only speak if they are paid and then there is an issue as to whether anybody is going to do that, and I will admit that my channel paid Monica Lewinsky to give me the first interview she gave after the shenanigans with Bill Clinton. But I see that really as almost that is different. I think the idea that you are paying somebody who is actually paid to get on with a job of work to give you information about that work is or to give you access to material that they are able to access through their work is totally unacceptable.
Q. So that is payments?
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
I think we have to add, of course, that that is an allegation and we will have to wait and see
A. Of course, I mention no names.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
We will have to see what happens at the conclusion of the investigation.
Absolutely. You alluded to the comings and goings of individuals at 10 Downing Street
A. I mean, we can be very clear that we were very well aware of Rupert Murdoch's movements, either at the back of the premises or the front. They tended to veer from one to the other. Not always, but sometimes. And that should have raised a little bit of an alarm bell.
Q. What is it about what you have heard that has astonished you about the access or level of access?
A. Well, I mean some of it is allegation, isn't it? So one has to be careful.
A. I am shocked that there is the strong allegation that there was an attempt to change legislation affecting the commercial interests of a broadcaster that would seem to me to be amazing in reward for in return for support for a particular election campaign. Those sort of things. You know, we used to laugh up our sleeves and say that is what the Italians did. Now we've discovered we do it. It is amazing. I am astonished. One can be cynical as a journalist and say they are at it all the time, but actually I never did think they were at it. I didn't think we were a particularly corrupt society. I have always worked on the basis that there was something a bit better.
Q. Is there anything you would like to say about the future of the relationship between senior either editors or proprietors and journalists, given what you have heard, the evidence you have heard at this inquiry?
A. I think as the competition gets fiercer and the terrain changes, it is going to get worse. I think money is now on such a scale I mean, some of the commercial interests are so big and the need is so great for bandwidth, for licence, for access I think it will get worse. I don't see you know, this wasn't when I started, we had four channels of television, and they were all publicly owned. So now we are in an arena, only two decades later, where there are thousands of channels, massive corporate interests, and the poor old politician, civil servant, whatever, is still having the vineyard and they want to come in and splash a bit of stuff about. I think it will get worse.
Q. Is there anything that can be done to ensure a level of ethical behaviour? Is there anything that you would point to as being something that could help achieve a solution?
A. Access and transparency.
A. Access is increasingly controlled and reluctant, I would say.
A. I am very conscious that the indepth news programmes have a greater difficulty attracting a major ministerial interview than the soundbite on the 24-hour television outlet. If you can get away with coming out of your ministry and saying, "It was all right when I last saw it", rather than having to sit down and have a long discussion about what happened and the rest of it, then you are going to go for the former. I don't see that is not really a matter of regulation. It is a matter of reality.
Q. All right. Okay. Can I ask you now to move on to paragraph 7 of your statement. You explain and I think you have in oral evidence as well that there is a difference between the press and other media, and regulation has contributed, of course, to that difference. You simply say that you don't believe that the newspapers can be subjected to an Ofcom-style regulation, and with the growth of the Internet, in any event the horse has bolted. Is there anything else you want to say about why you think the Ofcom model could not be used?
A. Well, the Ofcom model rests on the reality that the government owns the bandwidth and the other broadcasting paraphernalia that enable us to get to air.
A. And therefore you can be licensed
A. to have access to these bands. A newspaper needs no such licence to do anything
A. and nor should they have it. If we are going to have a free press, freedom of speech, then it is healthy that anyone can spring up and run some kind of a news sheet. That must be the fundamental difference. There is no stranglehold of that nature.
Q. All right. You then go on at paragraph 8 to discuss what a new regulatory system for the press would need to look like. You explain certain elements of it. It needs to be impartial. You said right at the start of your evidence that one of the things it needed to be was that editors should not be allowed to sit in judgment on other editors, and so on. Is there anything you would like to can you set out for us the elements that you would consider needed to be changed?
A. I don't think I have anything that hasn't already been said here before, but I do think it needs to be independent, independent of government and independent of the press. But I think inevitably it would need to draw on some experience of the press somewhere within it but that that experience should be outnumbered by people whose main mission in life has not been the press. They should not be sitting in judgment on themselves.
A. But above and beyond anything else, it seems to me that it is what this regulator has to do, and I think the regulator needs to be pro-active, it needs to be prepared to say, "Oi" when they see some indiscretion going on or some foul play.
Q. Can I ask you to pause there. Do you mean by that that it should have the power to go in and enquire after a story even if no complaint has been made?
A. Yes. I think it should be about maintaining standards, as much as anything else, and integrity. And if, for example, there has been some glaring failure, it would be interesting to know why. Even if it is a relatively I think that it would do editors no harm to know that they were going to be questioned about what they had done.
Q. Right. You then say at the bottom of that paragraph that there have been some improvements in recent years. Readers' editors you are a fan of and daily corrections columns: "But [you say] material that has been proven plain wrong has not been matched by a similar size of apology and rectification." Can you tell us a little more about that?
A. Well, readers' editors have been around in the United States for some time. They have been here now for several years. Several broadsheets have readers' editors. I would like to see tabloids have readers' editors where the views of the readers are represented and where it is not the letters column. This is somebody saying, you know, would you please correct something or whatever. But also the corrections column has been absolutely standard practice in the Washington Post, for example, for at least two decades. And I don't see what does a newspaper have to lose if it simply has a column saying, "By the way, we called Mrs X Mrs Y; she is in fact Mrs Q" or whatever? There are ways in which you can perfectly easily one paragraph, you correct the things that are wrong. The date, whatever it is. Some of these things are relatively small, some are quite big. When it comes to apology, I mean, obviously on the basis of gravity of offence, apologies should be commensurate with the scale of what was got wrong in the first place, and I think that that would be a fantastic pressure on editors to get things right. If you knew you were in fact possibly going to have to run a front page in which the typeface was going to be as bold as the original assertion, you would think twice about whether you were going to risk it, because you are just going to look an idiot.
Q. So by prominence, you mean located in the place and given the same
A. If the offence is bad enough, yes. I mean, I think there is no problem with that at all. I am not saying that would happen every time but there would be varying degrees of it. But as somebody who has been apologised to by a tabloid, the original offence spread over five pages. The confession was that it was completely untrue and they accepted it was untrue and they retracted it and apologised. The apology was 1.5 inches by a column, and then the wrestling was over whether there should be a photograph of me above it. They didn't want the photograph because that would draw attention to the apology. Actually, in the end, we got the photograph, but I mean, this is pathetic. Wrestling over 1.5 inches when you have had five pages of something which the paper itself deems untrue? That is not the way forward. The way forward has to be that people that a newspaper suffers when it gets things wrong. We suffer when we get things wrong. We have to correct them. We have no choice but to correct it if it is wrong. We will often, if we can, apologise in the programme. I am afraid I have had to make far more apologies than I care to admit, but they tend to come at the end of the programme: "I'm very sorry to have to say that when we reported X at 7.10 tonight, actually we had a mistake there, and it was X, Y, Z", whatever. You know, it is standard practice and right. What is so shameful about being wrong? We are all human beings. Let's admit it. There is no exceptional about an editor. Editors are human beings. They can apologise.
Q. How important is this idea of a photograph I understand that your main view would be if there has to be an apology, it should be given the same prominence as the article which led to the apology. In the alternative, what is in this idea of a photograph to draw attention to a particular
A. The whole idea of apology is to hide it, is to keep it as low key as possible. In my case, it was on page 2. I didn't know, but page 2 of a tabloid is the least read page. There will be people here who will confirm that that's not true, but I think it is true. Page 3 is the one you look at, not because Murdoch has made it a sort of nude job but because that is where your eye falls, and so if you can get the apology out on page 2 and little and preferably without anything which defines it as anything more than just a couple of columns of boring print, you are in business. So in case, right up to publication moment, the issue is: would we allow a less than passport photograph of me to go at the top of the column or not? And they said no and we said yes, and in the end, they caved in and this vast concession was made to put a photograph at the top of the apology, which, as I say, extended for 1.5 inches. That is the process we have at the moment. That is justice; that is the way any reader who or any person offended by a paper who has something wrong gets redress.
Q. So we have discussed independence from government, from the press, pro-active powers, prominence of apologies. Is there anything else about the future of press regulation that you would like to draw attention to or to discuss?
A. No. I mean, I have fully recognised that you have a terrible challenge. It is very difficult to protect free speech, not engage the statutory legal system and all the rest of it, and yet have a fully credible independent regulatory system. But I am absolutely convinced that newspapers will be better for regulation than they are now and nobody can pretend that what they have had is any real sort of regulation.
Q. Can I ask you to look, towards the end of your statement, at the final paragraph under section 10. It is at the bottom of page 5 of this statement. You say that you believe in general electronic media have had less access to politicians precisely because you are seen by many of them as less malleable. You say this: "I do criticise the popular written press for the low regard with which people in public life are held and for the obsession of prying into the private lives of both ordinary and extraordinary citizens. Indeed, I go further: I believe the constant undermining of people in public life may deter many from entering it." Let me ask you two questions about that. The first is the last sentiment in that paragraph, about deterring people from entering it. Do you mean across public life or are you talking about politicians there?
A. No, I think that in all sorts of areas of public life and it's not just politicians; it could be in terms of other public roles people are very often reluctant to get involved because they don't want to be part of this public fray. I do believe that some newspapers have an agenda for undermining or destroying people who don't fit with their particular interests, be they commercial or ideological, and that the I mean, you can see it in as simple a thing as the appointment of the manager of the England football team. It is very clear that one or two elements of the press didn't like the appointment and lampooned him and sent him up, you know, ruthlessly, played with the fact that he couldn't roll his Rs. This is pointless, absolutely pointless. Whole vast headlines on the front page of the paper. How does that encourage people to want to make the extra effort in public life? He is not a politician; he is an England football manager.
Q. You have probably covered my second question. You say you criticise the popular written press for obsessional prying into the private lives of both ordinary and extraordinary citizens. Can you give us a bit more detail about why you take that view? Again, do you limit this to any particular newspapers? Is there any particular modus operandi that you would criticise?
A. I think two things here. One, if you are a journalist, you are exposed to other people's journalism across the world and I don't think that there is on this scale, I don't think we have this manifest in any other system. People point to Bild in Germany, with is a tabloid, but frankly it is mild by comparison with what goes on here. France, of course, there are none, but that is partly because there is a Privacy Act. United States, the National Inquirer is sold in a different part of the shop. I mean, it is not seen as true. I mean, it is good fun, but you know, it is crazy. Here, it is part of the newspaper. This is news. It is on the same scale as the liberation of Tahrir Square and the arrival of a Muslim brotherhood president and all the rest of it. That gets the same treatment as Mr and Mrs or Ms X and their private life, and so it becomes a very big and destructive thing. I believe one of the problems about the environment in which this inquiry is set is that there has been enormous emphasis on the Murdoch papers, on News International, and possibly not enough on other areas of the press. I would say that Associated Newspapers are at least, if not more pernicious than anything you see in the News International stable. They are vying with each other, perhaps, but there is something more insidious about Associated Newspapers and very possibly they will go after me for saying so. But I believe they have an agenda for trying to undermine or wreck the careers of individual people in public life, and I think that is unhealthy. I think people should stand or fall by what they achieve or fail to achieve in the job they are employed to do. It is of no interest that they have unless it is in some way in conflict with their actual responsibility. But if it was found that the a Archbishop of Canterbury was and God rest our souls that he would never be found here, but just supposing he was frequenting Soho or something. That would obviously have some clear public interest. But I'm afraid to say this goes way beyond anything like that, where people who have a quite modest, perhaps, role in public life are undermined. It is part of the fare, it is part of the staple diet, and I don't think it is a diet actually that people really need even. It is not a question of suppressing press freedom; it's just: why don't we deal with the important things in life? And, you know, it is not it is, as I say, pernicious and I think at times mendacious. I don't I try to analyse it a lot. I try to see what it is that makes this worthwhile. Where does it come from? What role does the editor at Associated Newspapers have in this? You have heard the atmosphere there can be quite difficult and I know and it is something I really want to say to you, is that Fleet Street, as we still call it, even though it is nowhere near Fleet Street, is populated by really decent, good, wonderful journalists. No question. Every single paper I have ever had any contact with on Fleet Street has superb people working for it. But somehow this culture sweeps through and is allowed to prevail, irrespective of the quality of the people who try to work there. And it doesn't happen in broadcasting, and it is not just because we are regulated. It is because we don't see it as any part of our news function. For example, in the chitty chatty days before Diana's demise, we took it as sort of almost self-denying ordnance. We said, "Look, who she is dating, what she is doing is not really our business. If some news development occurs, there is some m?l?e or something and she is in danger, then we will report it, but fundamentally her private life is not an issue for this programme." Then, of course, she died, and she became a massive interest and we had to talk about people we had never talked about before, somebody called Dodi Al Fayed, et cetera. These people had to be resurrected. But in my view, this is the great need, is for this area either to be divorced from our understanding of news and placed somewhere else, maybe in a brown paper bag under the shelf, but for it to appear as being mainstream news is incredibly destructive. I think people get a distorted a view of the world in which we all function. After all, Britain is made up mainly by people who live by the law, do their best politicians, workers, people in the health service. These are the people who make this country work and simply demonising them, exposing them for some human frailty, is, I think, very destructive.
Q. Mr Snow, thank you very much. Those are all my questions. The judge obviously may have some questions.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
No, Mr Snow, thank you very much. That is very powerful. Thank you.
A. Thank you, sir. (The witness withdrew from the witness box)
I don't know whether you wanted to take an early break before the next witness or whether
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
We will take a break now and then come back. Thank you. (3.00 pm) (A short break) (3.05 pm)
Sir, the second witness this afternoon is Mr Simon Walters.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Thank you. MR SIMON DAVID CHARLES WALTERS (sworn) Questions by MS PATRY HOSKINS
Please take a seat, Mr Walters. Make yourself comfortable. Can you give the Inquiry your full name, please.
A. Simon David Charles Walters.
Q. You have provided us with a written statement dated 20 April 2012. Can you confirm, please, that that is your formal evidence to this inquiry?
A. Yes, it is.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Mr Walters, contrary to everybody's expectation over the last week, I have no intention of asking you any questions about the article in the Mail on Sunday of 17 June, but there is some nonsense I would like to deal with, if you don't mind. It is a suggestion that I specifically called you to ask about the article. That has been said by many people. Would you agree that must be absolute rubbish?
A. That is not the case, sir.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Because, just so we have elaborated it, you received a section 21 notice, I think on 5 April. On 23 April, you provided a response in a statement which, as you have just confirmed, is dated 20 April.
A. (Witness nods)
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Then on 29 May, your solicitors were informed by email that the Inquiry wanted you to give oral evidence today.
A. That's correct.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
And on 31 May, you agreed to do that.
A. That's correct, sir.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
And that is all before 13 June.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
And anybody wanting to research the article that they wish to write about how I was going to call you specifically to deal with this article could easily have found those facts out by asking you, couldn't they?
A. They could have done.
Thank you very much. Now, can we just touch upon, please, your career history, first of all. This is set out at paragraph 1 of your statement. I will summarise it. You have been a journalist, you tell us, since 1974. You have also worked at the Sunday newspaper. You explain you joined the lobby in 1983 with the Sun; what role did you hold there?
A. I was lobby correspondent on the Sun.
Q. You tell us you have also been political editor and deputy editor of the Sunday Express but that you have now been the political editor of the Mail on Sunday since 1999?
A. That's correct.
Q. Have I accurately summarised the position?
A. Yes, you have.
Q. Thank you. Again, given your extensive experience, can we start with the way the relationship between politicians and journalists has changed over the years you have been in political journalism, please. You deal with this topic at paragraph 7 onwards of your statement. You deal with a number of changes: first, greater transparency over the years; secondly, changes to Downing Street lobby briefings. You also look at the changes to the role of press officers and the new use of spin doctors and so on. I am going to take you through those in a little detail, if I can, the first of which is transparency, greater transparency. At paragraph 8, you explain that in essence, in the past, politicians were more likely to be viewed as members of the ruling class and the media was expected to know its place, but now the public expect more openness and newspapers have developed a similar approach in response, yes?
Q. Others have said, Mr Walters, that in fact this new approach has now gone too far to the other extreme. The politicians are now regarded with what some would say deep cynicism and hostility and it has also been said by witnesses today, in fact, that this approach of newspapers can in some situations actually put people off going into politics; is there any validity in those assertions, in your view?
A. I don't think there is any shortage of people putting themselves forward to be Members of Parliament and it is true that there is a greater degree of transparency these days but I think that's a good and healthy thing in the main.
Q. Let's just deal with them in turn. The first proposition I put to you is that politicians are now regarded in some quarters with deep cynicism and hostility; would you agree that there is any validity in that particular view?
A. I think there probably is but I think that's more to do with the expenses affair than anything else that's happened in the press. Clearly, that did have a major effect on public opinion. Aside from that, has the public's view of politicians changed greatly over the years? Probably not massively, no. I think they have probably always been fairly sceptical about politicians.
Q. The second aspect I asked you about is whether this put people off going into politics. You have told us that you don't think there is any shortage of people wanting to go into politics, but can you see the argument that if politicians and, in particular, their private lives are scrutinised carefully, that might put off some people from going into politics? Can you see that argument?
A. Well, I don't know whether it has or hasn't, but there are lots of people willing to be Members of Parliament and I am not sure I would go along with that argument. As I say, I think the expenses affair had a big effect on the way the public sees politicians but I am not sure it has changed greatly in other degrees, no.
Q. All right, then perhaps I can put the question in this way: do you think that newspapers I am not asking you to comment on your particular newspaper at this stage have gone too far in looking into and exposing the private lives of politicians, or is the balance right?
A. Well, you would have to give me examples of that. But, I mean I am sure newspapers make mistakes on occasion but I think by and large, I think the public has a right to know, broadly speaking, what politicians are doing and I think that kind of reporting can be justified in many cases. But you would need to give me specific examples.
Q. I deliberately asked you the question as a general question. As a matter of general perception, do you perceive that newspapers have gone too far or do you think in general terms the balance is about right?
A. In general terms, I think the balance is about right.
Q. Okay. So where would you draw the line in respect of the public interest when deciding whether or not a politician's personal life is something that should be the subject of a particular article or story?
A. Well, my editor would make that decision.
Q. Of course.
A. But I think broadly speaking you would have to bear in mind whether it had any bearing on their fitness for public office, generally speaking. That would be the general rule. But each case you would have to decide on its merits.
Q. All right. So the public interest would lie in whether or not the exposure of the particular personal issue had any bearing on their public role?
A. Well, if, for example, a politician had proclaimed that they were a family man or a family woman and then you found out that the opposite was the case, then I think clearly that would be a legitimate matter to report.
Q. But someone who had never made any such public proclamation would be immune from that kind of story?
A. I think you would have to judge each case on its merits.
Q. Okay, all right. I'm just trying to understand the principles you would apply. All right. Before I turn to the second change that you have identified in the years that you have been in political journalism, can we look at another change that someone else has identified. That is this argument about the blurring between news and comment. You probably heard Mr Snow give evidence a moment ago about that.
Q. Others have said that newspapers have done this, have blurred the line between news and comment, because it is in increasing competition with others, ie newspapers have to perform a different role in order to survive, essentially, and this is what they do; they provide more opinion, blurred in with the news that they are reporting.
Q. Now, let's consider it in this way. First of all, do you accept that over the years you have been a journalist, there has been an increasing blurring of the line between straight news and comment.
A. Well, I am not sure I do. I can only talk from my personal experience.
Q. Of course.
A. I mean, I became a general news reporter when I first entered journalism after leaving school and I continue to regard myself as a news reporter. My specialism is politics but it could be any other, and I am not sure that I have ever written an opinion column. In fact, in the Mail on Sunday, we more or less had a I have not written any political opinion pieces. I stick to political reporting of news stories. I approach all news stories in exactly the same way: attempt to find out the facts, go to each side or all relevant parties, and to quote all sides of the story. So I regard myself very much as a news reporter and try not to get involved in political opinion or comment.
Q. All right. I will come back to your own personal style and the articles that you write in a moment, perhaps. But as a matter of general perception, do you think I am not just asking you about your own newspaper. Do you think that the newspapers have increasingly blurred the line between news and comment, or is that simply not a fair perception?
A. It wouldn't be my view, no.
Q. It is not your view. So now talking about your own personal experience. You have told me that is probably the fairest thing to ask you about. You have told us you approach stories in the same way. You research the facts, you present them do you consider that you present them in a particularly neutral way without any opinion or comment coming into those articles?
A. I try to write all news stories in a fair and balanced way.
Q. So am I right in thinking, then, that when you write an article a news article, a news report that you would ensure or try to ensure as best you can that there is no comment or opinion within that article?
A. Well, broadly speaking, yes. But, I mean, if when you are writing a news story, there is an element of a story about it, and a narrative. At times, if you were simply to report what people had said and the absolutely bare bald facts, you would be left with a pretty dry story at the end of the day. So I think on occasion you do an element of interpretation. You might call it "factual inference" or something like that, but it still has to pass the test of being a fair and balanced news story.
Q. All right. Are you aware that the PCC editors' code actually prohibits this blurring of news and comment?
A. Yes, yes.
Q. That is something that factors into the decisions that you make when you are writing your articles, does it?
Q. Right, okay. I am going to refer to two headlines from articles that you have written which we refer to. I have given you these. I am not going to show you the article; I am just going to read the headline, just so I can understand. The first article is from 2 October 2011, from the Mail Online I should make that clear. It says this, the headline: "At last, we get a vote on Europe as MPs are forced to decide on referendum." It is obviously a news article about a vote on Europe because MPs are forced to decide on referendum. Can you see that the words "at last" in that headline impute a degree of comment or opinion?
A. First of all, I write for the Mail on Sunday newspaper. I do not write for the Mail Online. So I can't answer I haven't seen that Mail Online article and I am not sure whether the newspaper article said the same thing. So I would much rather see it before commenting on it.
Q. Of course. I can hand it to you, if you like, but it is by yourself and Brendan Carlin and that is the headline. But ignore for a moment whether or not you wrote it or whether you had any input into it at all; can you understand that by adding the words "at last", there is a degree of comment or opinion?
A. Well, having said I am not sure whether I had anything to do with that Mail Online article, I have to say that I think merely to say "At last, an EU referendum on the way" is pretty mild by way of comment.
Q. Right. I note what you say. I refer now to a second headline which I have managed to not be able to find, but it is from today, a headline about Mr Cameron's speech today about welfare benefit reform. Yes? You will be aware that he has made a speech in which he has indicated that no concrete proposals have been put. He has indicated that certain changes might be made to the benefit system. The headline from the article you've written and I apologise; I can't find it immediately uses the word "feckless". It says "Mr Cameron removes benefit from the feckless under-25s"; yes? Do you remember that headline?
A. You haven't shown me this article and I don't know whether that's online or the newspaper.
Q. I will endeavour to find it and we can discuss it. But again, there is no reference to the word "feckless "in Mr Cameron's speech. I understand you also conducted an interview with Mr Cameron set out in that article, which makes no reference to the word "feckless". Again, can you understand and I will show you the article in due course, in order to be fair that inserting the word "feckless", again, introduces a degree of comment or opinion into the article?
A. Well, I haven't written anything about his speech, because the speech was on Monday. What I have what I did do, I interviewed the Prime Minister and that article appeared in the paper.
A. And but the use of the word "feckless" in fact, in our article, we went out of our way to make it clear that not everyone on the housing benefit under-25 was going to be deprived of the benefit but there would be certain exceptions.
Q. I understand.
A. And in addition, in the article, there was a very strong comment from a Labour official, saying they were opposed to this and talking about the damaging effects they thought it would have. So I think we went to pretty great lengths to make a fair piece, even in the context of it being an interview with the Prime Minister. As to calling them "feckless" I mean, by his remarks, he repeatedly talked about irresponsible behaviour and I think for the newspaper to describe that as him talking about feckless people is not particularly unfair.
Q. I understand.
A. I think it reflects exactly what he meant.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Can I just ask
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
I have not seen this, but this is only today. So you don't know what the headline is today?
A. Well, I write for the Mail on Sunday, sir.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
A. I don't know whether you are referring to an article in the Daily Mail about his speech or something else.
It is an article by Mr Walters. I will find it.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
I have just seen it. It is the Mail Online. Quite apart from that, I have a slightly different point. Do I gather you don't write the headlines?
A. No, I don't.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
It is now on screen, I think. Headlines are written by subeditors, normally, and I think I have been told that that is absolutely standard.
A. It is standard for subeditors to write headlines, not reporters. Yes, sir, it is.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
And not to check them through with someone as senior as you?
A. Yes, they often do check them with a senior reporter. Yes, they do. They do.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
I am just trying to understand it.
A. Yes, they do, sir, yes. Subeditors normally write headlines and if they think it is something controversial, they will often check it with the senior reporter who has written it. That is true.
Can we just agree a number of facts. This article appears with your by-line, "by Simon Walters", yes?
Q. I know it's on the Mail Online website but it appears with your name on it. Forget the headline for the moment. That would suggest that you wrote the article?
A. I did, yes.
Q. The first line of it is: "Radical new welfare cuts targeting feckless couples who have children and expect to live on state handouts will be proposed by David Cameron tomorrow." Do you see that?
Q. So the word "feckless" appears in the article as well as in the headline.
A. Yes, yes.
Q. But you would say overall the article is a fair and balanced one and the use of words "feckless" doesn't undermine that general principle?
A. I don't think it does because it is absolutely clear that that is what the Prime Minister is referring to.
Q. Thank you very much. So generally speaking, then, you don't think there is a particular problem with the blurring of news and comment in general terms and you personally don't see any problem with the way in which you write your articles. You think that there is compliance with the relevant parts of the editor's code in that respect?
A. Yes, we go to great length to comply with it, yes.
Q. I guess that would mean you wouldn't propose any changes to the current system in order to ensure there is no further blurring of that line; that follows?
A. Well, I don't accept that there is an enormous blurring, not by my newspaper, no.
Q. Okay. Moving on then to the second change that you have identified, please. Witness statement paragraph 15 onwards. Downing Street lobby briefings. You have explained that in the time you have been a political journalist, lobby briefings have changed considerably. They used to be very secretive, you tell us. You tell us that there was no disclosure even that they were happening at one stage. It was a very closed world as well, you also explained. Now a full account of briefings is place on the Number 10 website, as I understand it, and there has been greater openness. Then, at paragraph 18, you say: "There are pros and cons to this. Greater openness is welcome. But journalists are always in search of new information of interest to readers or viewers. If by making briefings public Downing Street is more cautious, journalists will go elsewhere in search of new information."
Q. So actually greater transparency means, what, that actually a problem is created, in a sense, because people will want to get more exclusive information from another source; is that right?
A. That is what I mean, yes.
Q. Okay. Are there any changes that you would like to see to the lobby system or do you think it works as it is?
A. Well, I think a lot of people don't really understand how the lobby works.
A. For example, I play virtually no part I never go to lobby briefings. The lobby briefings, their main function is for daily newspaper journalists. There are lobby briefings at one in the morning, at one in the afternoon, and it is a way of daily journalists constantly getting feedback from Downing Street or whoever on their response to the news items of the day. If you are writing for a Sunday newspaper that doesn't really apply. So I don't think I have been to a lobby briefing for many, many years. And the lobby it did used to be ridiculously secretive. Now it is very open and the briefings are all published online. I think anyone can go to the morning briefings. So I think it is a very big myth. There is nothing really happening at lobby briefings, other than an on-the-record briefing and a lot of journalists like me, Sunday journalists, don't go anyway.
Q. So no changes that you would propose?
A. No, I don't think so. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I have heard vague suggestions of all sorts of other ideas which all sound rather cumbersome, because to be a member of the lobby really all it means is you are accredited to report from the Houses of Parliament. That is really all it means. In many ways it is self-policing, because if you misbehave or you betray confidences or you write stories that are regularly inaccurate you will soon be found out and you will not survive very long.
Q. Okay. The third change you identify is the change in roll of press officers and the introduction of spin doctors?
Q. You explain that the number of press spokesmen or people employed as press spokesmen or political advisers has increased. You tell us at paragraphs 21 to 22 that particularly during Mr Blair's government much energy was devoted to ensuring that all departments were "on message", you say in inverted commas: ie repeating the Downing Street line on any given issue." You say for a government that makes sense, because they can keep political control over what is being said. You say it could be argued that that is not in the public interest. The one change that you say you could do is to give back to Whitehall departments the autonomy they once had. Is that a suggestion that you would seriously put forward, or is that something you think is aspirational?
A. I think it is more aspirational, because, frankly, I think it would cause chaos in the age of 24/7 media. It is impossible to get the perfect answer to this. Governments need to have a central message, to have a coordinated response. If they are being phoned every five minutes by a newspaper or television company on a developing news story, if department A gives a different response to department B, that can cause confusion in itself. So therefore it is common sense to coordinate it. However, the downside of that, if it becomes completely coordinated and you have, for example, a very powerful government, it gives the person with the message, the senior press spokesperson at Downing Street, arguably too much power and influence to manipulate that message and to suppress things that might be embarrassing to the government.
Q. Is that a change we just have to live with, or is there something that could be done?
A. I think it is something you have to live with. But in my experience dealing as a reporter at the sharp end of all this, it is simply a reminder that in an age of mass communication that when the message is so important that if a government gets too much power over that message, it can present a danger itself.
Q. I then wish to ask you about your own relationship with politicians. You deal with this at paragraph 24 onwards of your statement. You explain that like most political journalists you entertain politicians at the company's expense on an occasional basis for lunch or tea or drinks, although by far the majority of your contacts would be just conversations or on the phone, and you explain that this is to get them to know them better and to build a relationship and vice versa. Now, how important is it to you, as a political journalist, to be able to have that interaction with politicians without interference, and by "interference" I mean the imposition of rules or the requirement to keep a careful note of everything that is said in such a conversation?
A. Well, it is the most important part of my job, because my job is obtaining information, reporting what is going on in government and Parliament, and for the most part that information comes from individuals: politicians or officials or others. If you want to get that kind of information you have to build a relationship of trust with people. This is simply the way of doing it, by talking to people.
Q. What about socialising with politicians, do you do that, or is contact limited to occasional lunch?
A. I don't I prefer not to socialise out of work with politicians. The only minister who I have been personal friends with was Mo Mowlem. Since she is no longer here, I don't mind talking about it. But that was only because she showed a particular interest in my I had a handicapped daughter and she showed a great interest in her. So yes, she came to mine and I went to hers and she came to my daughter's funeral. But outside that I don't socialise with politicians for the most part.
Q. Is that because you see inherent risks in that?
A. Yes, it is, because there are risks in it. If you become well, I think it is the same in any profession, really. If you there is that kind of blurring is a danger and if you become personally friendly with a politician then, of course, it is going to make it more difficult for you to report what they are up to, if they have done something that they shouldn't be doing, if you've become close personal friends. I think it is best to avoid it if you can.
Q. All right. You also explain in fact, the way you put it is that you say that you: do not socialise with politicians or officials outside of work hours. That way risks are minimised and managed." When you do meet with politicians in your day-to-day interactions, what is it you think they are seeking from you? I know you have told us what you are seeking from them, information and so on
A. Probably to promote their reputation. But I am well aware of that. If you they might want to tell you about some policy they have got or some other piece of information, and obviously you have to take into account what their motives might be. But there is only one yardstick that I would apply to it, and that is whether it is factual or not, whether it is publishable, and whether it should be published. Yes, I do I am aware of what their motives might or might not be, and would make an allowance for that in assessing whether or not it is worth pursuing.
Q. Can I ask you about one step up, ie the relationship between proprietors and politicians, or even editors and politicians. You deal with this at paragraph 31 onwards of your statement. You explain that you say this, I will read it out: "Tony Blair's decision to court News International led to a very close relationship in which Downing Street gave privileged information to News International, and in return News International supported the Government on certain issues, for example the Iraq war." That is a bold statement to make; what information do you have that supports that assertion?
A. Well, I know people who were involved in that flow of information. I am not going to say who they were. But it was an open secret that Downing Street could more or less pick up the phone and dictate an article in certain News International journals. It was well known in the lobby.
Q. In return for support on certain issues?
A. Well, the amount of support that they gave them in that period was pretty obvious, because it was obvious in their editorials. What other support they may or may not have given them, I am not privy to that. But I think we can work it out for yourselves.
Q. I understand you don't want to name any individuals, but can you give us detail on what issues well, you say "News International supported the Government on certain issues, for example the Iraq war"; are there any other issues where support was offered?
A. On a broad range of policies not all of them, but broadly, they gave them strong support.
Q. Apart from the fact this was an open secret is there any evidence or anything else that you can say to us about that?
Q. All right. Paragraph 34, please, of your statement. One of the most beneficial effects of recent events, you tell us, is that politicians and media are more likely to remain at arm's length, and you say that essentially it is in the public interests for politicians and media not to be too close?
Q. Do you offer any views on how that distance can be maintained, any practical arrangements that could be put in place, to ensure that people don't become too close again?
A. I think the existence of this Inquiry has probably been one of main weapons against that. But clearly the relationship between News International and the government got much too close it is not the case now, but it did get much too close. As to how you stop it; prevent any one media group becoming overpowerful, I suppose, and prevent any one government becoming overpowerful.
Q. All right. Finally, I think there is two things I wanted to ask you about. The first is future regulation. You say a little about this at paragraph 39 onwards of this statement. Now, I make absolutely clear this is an optional question. You give us a number of views. You say: "The current system of regulating the press may be flawed." Now, what aspects of the current system are, in your view, flawed?
A. Well, I think I probably phrased that rather badly. I think what I meant was it is not perfect.
A. And I don't have a great overview on media regulation. I don't. My only view is that having worked at the sharp end of political journalism I am well aware of the enormous lengths that governments will go to to get their story across, sometimes manipulate, and anything that were done that gave the state any more power over that kind of press freedom I think is something that should be avoided if possible.
Q. So does that mean that you take the view that although the current system isn't perfect I will use your new phrase, as opposed to "flawed" the best way of doing things is to essentially uphold the laws as they exist now?
A. Well, I am sure there are ways it could be improved. But I can't say I have my own recipe or formula to do so. All I would say is that I think going down the state road has great dangers.
Q. I did say the question was optional. Finally, paragraph 42 onwards, please. You say: "The power of the Downing Street media machine was formidable in the early years of the Blair government." You give us an example in 2002 where you filed a report describing how Downing Street had sought a bigger role for Mr Blair in the Queen Mother's Lying in State in Westminster Hall. You tell us that Downing Street said that was untrue and the Prime Minister complained to the PCC. Actually then what happened was a senior official who actually had knowledge of what had happened threatened to speak publicly that the Mail on Sunday report was accurate. Downing Street relented and then the PM withdrew his complaint. You say if that hadn't happened there would have been serious consequences for your newspaper and for you professionally, even though the incident itself was of little consequence. I think there was something you wanted to add in respect of that story?
A. Well, it is only since it came out, when Alastair Campbell gave evidence.
A. As I say, it is essentially a relatively trivial matter. I think the reason I wanted to just address it briefly is because Mr Campbell spoke about it and because it is also a very direct experience from my point of view of this kind of interaction. It was at a time when the Downing Street press machine in 2002 it was at its most powerful, really, and the journals involved were the Spectator, the Standard and Mail on Sunday, owned by the Telegraph and Associated Newspapers, arguably two of the media groups who weren't necessarily taking the Downing Street line, and the Spectator and the Standard published partial reports of the incident to start with. Downing Street put in a complaint to the PCC and Black Rod was effectively lent on to give a semi denial of those stories which Mr Campbell referred to. Black Rod himself said in his statement to the PCC it was a very narrow denial and he said to them "Don't push this any further because I am not prepared to lie and we both know that it is fundamentally true". Then what happened was the Mail on Sunday investigated this story, established the true version, published it. We then had the Downing Street complain to the PCC about us and it was only because of the courage of Black Rod, who was prepared to defy them, and was prepared to go public and make a statement on the matter, saying that I think you have probably seen the statement. He talks about constant phone calls, sustained pressure, even on the day that the coffin arrived at Westminster Number 10 asked for a greater role for the Prime Minister. It was only because he was prepared to make a public statement that Downing Street backed down. Now, had he not done that it would have been catastrophic for all three publications, the editors and me as well, and I just think it is an example of actually the PCC was actually quite effective in actually acting as a mediator between the various sides.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
I think I have heard a fair amount of evidence on this story, haven't I, and seen various numbers of the document.
Yes. I just wanted to give Mr Walters the opportunity to say what he had to say about this. Does that conclude what you wanted to say?
Q. I didn't want to interrupt. Mr Walters, those are all my questions. I am very aware that I didn't manage to find the hard copy of the article relating to Mr Cameron's welfare benefit reform. I will ensure you are provided with a copy, and if it is acceptable to Lord Justice Leveson, if there is any
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
We can deal with headlines in this way: I have been aware throughout the Inquiry that reporters don't write the headlines. I entirely understand the system. But one of the concerns that have been repeatedly expressed to me has been the discordance between careful analysis of the facts and the headlines. I am sure you are aware of the point, because it has been made by a large number of the witnesses who have given evidence before me. That is why I wondered and asked you specifically about a headline, that you were after all the political editor, not, as it were, a cub reporter who can leave it to their elders and betters. I am just wondering whether you have anything to say about this potential discordance between headlines and articles.
A. Yes, I think headlines have to be treated with extreme care, and on a big story I would normally expect to be consulted on a headline that was going on one of my stories. I think it is probably important that a senior reporter is consulted and yes, they do have to be handled very sensitively because they can give the wrong impression if not handled carefully.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
That is the point, isn't it? Where people do make complaints it is rather odd, because you would expect that care should be taken, because the headline is what is going to grab people's attention, isn't it?
A. Headlines have to be written very carefully, yes.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Does that always happen?
A. Well, I am sure sometimes headlines are headlines could be improved upon. But by and large my newspaper takes great care in composing its headlines.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Thank you very much. Those are all the questions I had.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Thank you, Mr Walters. That concludes the evidence for today.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON
Thank you very much indeed. 10 o'clock tomorrow. (3.40 pm)