The truth about the Sunday Telegraph's Hacked Off conspiracy theory
Last week’s Sunday Telegraph published a piece by Andrew Gilligan purporting to uncover “intriguing connections between Leveson and Left-wing ideology”. The thrust of the argument? That Hacked Off is at the centre of a “network of broadly Left-liberal groups” who have been campaigning for many years to impose state control over the press. The conspiracy theory rested on a series of made-up ‘facts’, decontextualised quotes and wilful distortions, so Hacked Off wrote to the paper asking for the opportunity to put our side of the story.
The Sunday Telegraph refused to publish the letter or offer any other form of correction. Here’s the letter in full.
I write to correct errors and distortions in Andrew Gilligan’s ‘The truth about Hacked Off’s media coup’ (Sunday Telegraph, 30th March 2013). Mr Gilligan appears to have first made his mind up about Hacked Off, and then found “facts” to suit his prejudices. In the context of a debate about responsible journalism, such poor judgment and loose use of language is, to put it mildly, regrettable. Below are just a sample of the mistakes.
1) Mr Gilligan’s description of Hacked Off as a “campaign for a controlled press” is a distortion. We seek a free and accountable press and campaign for the implementation of the Leveson recommendations and nothing more. The judge firmly rejected any form of political control of the press and so do we.
2) The piece refers tendentiously to a “state-backed regulator”, which misrepresents the Leveson report’s proposals. What the Leveson report called for, what we seek, what the three main political parties and 75 per cent of the electorate support (along with the National Union of Journalists, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard and Sir Harold Evans) is an independent and effective system of voluntary self-regulation subject to periodic inspection by a recognition body set up by statute (or Royal Charter). This is the least that is required to protect the public from the kinds of abuses that made the inquiry necessary.
3) Professor Chris Frost has no formal link with Hacked Off yet Mr Gilligan incorporates an account of his comments as if he were part of our campaign. We cannot speak for Prof Frost, but the way that his quote is used is partial, out-of-context and misleading.
4) “Lord Justice Leveson all but cut and pasted their suggestions into his report”. Hacked Off made no proposals for the regulation of the press in its evidence to the Leveson inquiry.
5) “The even more controversial ‘statutory underpinning’ with its coercive damages and fines, was, they boast, ‘a measure suggested by Hacked Off’s chairman’.” This is wrong. The Hacked Off website states correctly that the “the minimal statutory underpin needed to protect the chartered body from political interference” was suggested by Hacked Off’s chairman. The legislative clauses relating to exemplary damages (not “fines”) and costs incentives were drafted on the instructions of Conservative ministers.
6) “Hacked Off is a campaign not just to tame the press, but to claim the country for the authoritarian Left…. [It] wants to force the press to serve defined social and political objectives – at the expense, if necessary, of the right to free expression.” This inaccurate statement is based on linking Hacked Off to carefully-selected comments by speakers at an event we attended alongside other (non-affiliated) groups and individuals. Hacked Off has no political affiliation and its Board Members and employees include members of all three main parties as well as individuals with no political affiliation.
7) “As its key intellectual inspiration, Professor James Curran…” Although he is a highly respected academic, Prof Curran has had no input whatever into the Hacked Off campaign. Our inspirations are the McCanns, the Dowlers, the Watsons and many others who have taken a public stand against abuses carried out by powerful national newspaper groups.
8) The Media Standards Trust “declared the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) unfit for purpose – claiming, without much evidence, that its ‘ineffectiveness’ had reduced trust in the media.” In fact, it published a detailed analysis of the inadequacy of the PCC which was dismissed by the press at the time but proved remarkably timely and prescient. Even the Telegraph Group now agrees that the PCC was unfit for purpose.
9) “For all the routine disclaimers that no one wants political interference with the press, it is clear that is precisely what Hacked Off does want.” Untrue. Hacked Off has made the case for press freedoms where the press itself could not be bothered. We lobbied for protection in statute to ensure that the Royal Charter would not be at the mercy of ministers and for a belt and braces approach to bars on the appointment of politicians to the recognition panel body, the self-regulator and the appointment bodies for both of these. The aim was a system which would guarantee freedom of interference from editors and politicians.
10) Francine Hoenderkamp, Hacked Off’s part-time administrative assistant, is not “the news editor of the ‘UK feminista’ website”. She organises a monthly live music night as part of a paid job with a music company.
11) “The Media Standards Trust’s director, Martin Moore, is also a director of Hacked Off.” This is incorrect.
12) “The Media Standards Trust also launched Full Fact”. Also incorrect.
Director of Communications