Mail Online editor says Amanda Knox mistake due to ‘human error and overzealousness’

The Mail Online mistakenly reported Amanda Knox had been found guilty of murder because of “human error and overzealousness” , the website’s editor has told the Leveson Inquiry.

The Mail was one of several news outlets criticised for publishing a story immediately after a verdict was announced during the trial last year, stating Knox had been found guilty of killing student Meredith Kercher in Italy. Martin Clarke said the site had prepared two stories in advance and accidentally published the wrong one because of confusion over the verdict.

He told the inquiry: “The thing than made me angriest was that there was no need for it… We had a thorough inquiry, as you can tell, advice was issued, firm advice, to people, and I’ll be very displeased if any of those things happen again.”

Clarke, who said the Mail Online publishes 400-500 stories a day, was asked about his editorial and commercial control. He said the site has become popular worldwide because of it responds to the demands of the audience.

He added: “Millions and millions of people enjoy popular culture and thank goodness for showbiz stars that they do, otherwise they’d all be out of business. There’s nothing wrong with watching X Factor or reading about it. I have to produce a website which makes a profit because profit is the only real way of having any freedom in journalism.

“Most [celebrities], they’re biggest concern in life is not appearing on it. This is a very good example of a nexus between PR, freelance pictures agencies and newspapers and websites. And quite often I think the inquiry has to guard against pictures that might to the man in the street seem to be intrusive were in fact taken with the celebrity’s full consent.”

The editor said a picture set of an actress from the popular television show ‘The Only Way is Essex” on holiday was not intrusive.

He said: “It was self-evident to me that those pictures were taken with consent. You can see the photographer, its on a very short lens, right in front of her… I would stake my year’s salary on it being taken with consent.”

He echoed evidence given by Paul Silva, the Daily Mail’s picture editor, earlier this year, saying the site abided by an unofficial embargo of pictures showing Pippa Middleton going about her day-to-day business. He insisted the Mail Online had a good track record with complaints and called its sister paper “an ethical and decent newspaper run by decent people”.

He added: “Quite often [celebrities] will ring up and say ‘you didn’t get that quite right’, or ‘I’d rather you didn’t say that’ or ‘actually the truth is this’, so quite often we’ll just correct content as we go along.”

David Barr, junior inquiry counsel, pointed out the Mail Online has had 205 legal complaints – 35 for privacy issues – in the last three years, compared to six privacy complaints through the Press Complaints Commission.

On regulation, Clarke expressed concern that tightening restrictions would leave news websites with a disadvantage compared to US competitors.

He said: “My question is: do you need to regulate the internet anymore than you need to have a policeman standing in the corner of very pub watching what everyone says?”

“Now we’re obsessing over an industry that is, as I say, becoming less important, and in the course of fighting the last war, we’re going to stop newspaper websites from winning the next one, quite frankly, if we place the British press and British websites under a regulatory environment that is too strict.”

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