The respected former Fleet Street editor, Sir Harry Evans has told the BBC he is disturbed by “the degree of misrepresentation” of the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson in the British Press. Speaking ahead of a ceremony tonight at which he is to receive the Media Society’s lifetime achievement award, Sir Harry told the Today programme that “the exaggeration of some of the papers comparing Britain to Zimbabwe is so ridiculous, so self interested”, and added that those who say Leveson is state intervention are “destroying confidence in the very freedom of speech they claim to protect”.
Excerpt from interview with Sir Harry Evans on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (23/10/2013)
James Naughtie: Sir Harold Evans, maybe the most celebrated of modern British newspaper editors, the former editor of the Sunday Times and then the Times receives a lifetime achievement award from the Media Society in London tonight. And maybe we can expect him to have something to say about the press, because Fleet Street as we used to know it is having a terrible time as we all know over hacking and regulation and plunging circulations. Papers fighting each other over the question of whether it was right or not to publish so much of the material taken by Edward Snowden from the American National Security Agency. And the practices of the press will of course be the subject of more scrutiny next week when two former editors in Fleet Street, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who went on to work in Downing Street of course, go on trial charged with offences arising from the hacking affair. Charges they both deny. Well Harry Evans is with us, good morning.
HE: Good morning to you.
JN: What do you make of it all, looking from your roosting place in New York these days?
HE: Well, it’s a very worthwhile debate that’s going on between the two different Royal Charters, one of which is in the dust and the other one which looks like surviving. From the United States it looks extraordinary that it takes so long to get this reasonable measure of a decent press ethics encouraged or imposed. Of course with the first amendment in the United States which makes a huge difference, Britain should have a first amendment, everybody should have a first amendment. One of the problems is that Leveson recommended a very similar first amendment and it kind of got dropped in the pantomimes that followed.
JN: Well do you take the view that some editors in Fleet Street take, that what is proposed by the three major parties is in effect government regulation by the back door?
HE: No I do not. One of the things which has been disturbing to me ever since the Leveson report was started and came out was the degree of misreporting of it and I think that was the press, those people taking that position did a real disservice to themselves, because if they can’t be trusted to report on something fairly straightforward, but actually make an issue of it when it isn’t an issue, like state intervention and all this, it’s a bogey man. They should concentrate on getting, there’s not much really between the two sides but the exaggerations of some of the papers comparing Britain to Zimbabwe is so ridiculous, so self-interested as to destroy confidence in the very freedom of speech they claim to protect.