Many of the abuses of press power heard at the Leveson Inquiry would not have happened without the industry dominance of News Corporation, the editor of the Guardian has said.
Alan Rusbridger - who stood up in court today to deliver the closing submission of publisher Guardian News & Media Limited – said the Murdoch-owned News Corp “famously” used its influence to outbid and destroy competitors and told the inquiry there had been many documented allegations of law-breaking by the company.
He said he and Nick Davies – the Guardian reporter responsible for breaking the Milly Dowler phone hacking story – had come across many people who lived in fear of “one particular newspaper company”.
He added: “Many people in different walks of life believed it was a good thing to keep in with this company and a bad thing to fall out with it. It is now beyond doubt [that] was a reasonable belief.”
Rusbridger urged Lord Justice Leveson to include something on plurality and the effect on dominant media power in his final report. He later praised the inquiry for “shining a light in the dark places” and mirroring investigative journalism “at its best”.
He said the publisher would support the proposal of Lord Black – chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance – for a new regulator but opposed serving editors sitting on the board, as they do in the current Press Complaints Commission.
News International: tabloid press must be allowed to “entertain and amuse”
The tabloid press must be allowed to entertain and amuse readers, a lawyer acting for News International has said.
Rhodri Davies QC said today in his closing submission the future of a vibrant press relies on the tabloids, and the profit brought in by popular newspapers.
He said: “That popular press must be allowed the scope to entertain and amuse as well as to educate and inform. It is as well to remember that the right to freedom of expression articulated by Article 10 is a right not only to impart information and ideas but also to receive them.
“When the public buy newspapers they are exercising their article 10 rights to receive information and ideas, and most of them choose to exercise those rights by buying the popular papers rather than the broadsheets.”
Davies said News International – parent company of the Sun and now defunct News of the World – recognised phone hacking at the News of the World was “profoundly wrong” but argued the paper had been largely successful during its run.
He said: “It is extremely difficult to balance the emotional impact of live evidence in this room against the dry intellectual knowledge that the majority of those 7,000 editions [of the News of the World] over 20 years never gave rise to any serious complaint but did inform and entertain millions of readers everyday.”
Davies responded to evidence suggesting senior officers at the Metropolitan Police had acted improperly over the decision to close the 2006 phone hacking investigation, saying it was due to an increased terrorist threat rather than collusion with News International staff. He said evidence given by Rupert Murdoch and others proved the proprietor had not entered into any deals with politicians for “personal or commercial benefits”.
News International have also denied any deal making with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt over the BSkyB bid. Davies said News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel rejected claims made to the inquiry by Norman Lamb MP, who said Michel had threatened the Liberal Democrats with bad press coverage if business secretary Vince Cable – in charge of the bid until late 2010 – referred the bid to regulator Ofcom.
Davies said: “[Michel] make its quite clear that did not set out to make any threats to Mr Lamb, and if Mr Lamb thought he was being threatened, then that can only be a misunderstanding which has unfortunately festered until very recently.”
“We would also point out that although Dr Cable did indeed refer to the bid to Ofcom, not too long after Mr Michel’s meeting with Mr Lamb, there is no suggestion that coverage by any News Interntional titles of the Lib Dems then upon turned nasty.”
He added: “Whatever the regulatory solution may be, lessons have been learned here. Such statements are often met with a lift of the eyebrows, but you heard yesterday from deputy assistant commissioner Akers of the cooperation given by the MSC to the Metropolitan Police of the instance where the MSC has carried out investigations which have not been asked for by the police and that the senior management and corporate approach now is to assist and come clean.
“Despite what [the victims’ barrister] Mr Sherborne said this morning, it is a culture of clean-up which is now in place.
“One may add to those consideration the sober reflection that the News of the World, a 168-year-old paper, has been felled. The electronic cupboards have been stripped bare. There have been a lot of arrests and a host of civil claims. These are lessons that are too severe to be forgotten and News International is determined not to have to learn them twice.”