Inquiry hears 'fear is real' at British papers

29th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A former News of the World journalist Tuesday told Britain's phone-hacking inquiry the practice was "perfectly acceptable", while a reporter who helped reveal the scandal accused some media of bullying.

Nick Davies, a reporter with The Guardian newspaper, told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that his sources on newspapers' use of voicemail interception were genuinely fearful of recriminations and preferred to be kept anonymous.

On a day when the inquiry switched its focus from alleged victims of hacking to journalists, the probe also heard from tabloid reporter Paul McMullan, who defended hacking as a legitimate means to obtain stories.

McMullan, who was the News of the World's deputy features editor between 1994 and 2001, said the British public were the "judge and jury" of what was acceptable -- and had bought the paper in their millions.

"All I have ever tried to do is to write truthful articles and to use any means necessary to try to get to the truth," he said.

"Sometimes you have to enter a grey area that I think we should sometimes be applauded for entering, because it's a very dangerous area.

"My life has been at risk many times, at home more than in war zones. I used to get a death threat at least once a month for 15 years of my career.

He also branded former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson -- later Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief -- the "scum of journalism".

"They should have had the strength of their conviction to say, 'Yes, sometimes you have to enter into a grey area, or indeed a black, illegal area for the good of our readers, for the public good.

"Instead... they said 'oh, we didn't know they were doing that'.

"They're the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and all my colleagues in it."

He added: "Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool -- given the sacrifices we made -- if all we are trying to do is to get to the truth.

"I didn't think anyone realised that anyone was committing a crime at the start," he said of the practice.

McMullan went on: "In 21 years of invading people's privacy I've never actually come across anyone who's been doing any good.

"Privacy is for paedos," he said, citing a well-known News of the World campaign outing paedophiles.

"Privacy is evil. It brings out the worst qualities in people. Brings out hypocrisy. It allows them to do bad things."

The Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid, Britain's biggest-selling weekly paper, was closed down in July amid an outcry about the hacking of a teenage murder victim's voicemails.

The Guardian's Davies said between 15 and 20 former News of the World journalists had spoken to him or his researcher on condition of anonymity.

"You've got to make these people safe, and the first step almost all the time is a guarantee of anonymity," Davies told the hearing in central London.

"There is a culture of bullying in some Fleet Street news organisations," he said.

The "fear is real" among employees of tabloids when they speak to him about practices used at their newspapers, which is why they have spoken on condition of anonymity, he said.

Davies said that as a result of the scandal, he now thought the British newspaper industry was not capable of regulating itself.

He said newspapers should be required by law to correct stories which are demonstrably false, giving the corrections equal prominence as the original stories.

© 2011 AFP

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