The Leveson Inquiry into
the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press
Sir Christopher Meyer (ancien ambassadeur du Royaume-Uni aux USA) a présidé la Press Complaints Commission entre 2003 et 2009. Il est questionné à ce titre sur la couverture médiatique de la disparition de Madeleine MC. Le groupe Express Newspapers a payé £550,000 de dommages aux MC à la suite d'un accord hors tribunal, pour avoir publié une centaine d'articles sérieusement diffamatoires les concernant.
CM a en particulier refusé d'admettre, malgré les insinuations répétées de RJ, que la PCC avait manqué à son devoir de protéger les MC de l'intrusion/diffamation de la presse. Il a clairement déclaré à Gerald MC qu'il avait le choix entre la voie juridique et la PCC. En juillet 2007, CM a indiqué à GMC et à son attaché de presse quelles étaient les options en cas de mobilisation contre un organe de presse. CM a rencontré GMC à nouveau en février 2008 alors que le couple s'était fermement décidé pour la voie juridique, ayant engagé le cabinet d'avocats Carter-Ruck, spécialisé en diffamation, à cet effet.
Interrogé sur l'intervalle entre juillet 2007 et janvier 2008, CM déclare : Nous avons fait plein de choses. Nous avons été en contact rapproché avec l'attaché de presse (Clarence Mitchell) des MC. Nous nous sommes tenus prêts à intervenir s'ils le voulaient. On ne peut pas être plus royaliste que le roi. On ne peut pas désirer arrêter quelque chose plus ardemment que les gens concernés. Mais à cette époque je pense qu'ils avaient choisi la voie juridique.
CM dit avoir compris que la couverture des MC n'était pas agréable. Les reportages étaient passablement violents... et ce n'était pas agréable à lire. Je dois vous dire, c'est très important, que nous avons fait des efforts particuliers de disponibilité vis-à-vis des MC dans les 48 heures qui ont suivi la disparition de Madeleine.
Ces déclarations contrastent avec celles que les MC ont faite devant la Commission en novembre 2011, quand ils se sont plaints de la présence constante de la presse à l'extérieur de leur maison et du harcèlement des photographes qui sautaient par-dessus leur haie pour faire une photo de KMC déstabilisée. Toutefois les MC ont admis plus tard que la PCC avait fait pixeliser les visages des jumeaux.
CM trouve très injuste de dire qu'il a agi trop lentement pour condamner la couverture des MC faite par le groupe Express. La première fois qu'il a entendu parler de la résolution financière c'était à la radio qui annonçait l'accord devant le tribunal. Il était inconcevable que PH reste membre de la PCC et la commission a décidé de le remplacer au plus vite. Ça a pris plus longtemps que ça aurait dû... et Robert Jay de suggérer que la PCC a confirmé sa position du non-agir en fait de protection des MC. CM conteste, il dit que la PCC s'est mise à leur disposition.
CM dit que ce qui avait mal tourné quant à la saga MC était d'une évidence criante. Les MC avaient besoin de la presse à des fins de publicité, mais c'était un pacte faustien. La police portugaise fuitait comme une passoire et les journalistes étaient sous pression pour produire des histoires fraîches. Point n'est nécessaire de faire une re-lecture pour voir cela. Cela arrive de temps en temps. Le résultat a été que les MC ont été accusés de quelque chose d'absolument abominable. La PCC a tenu dès le début à dire qu'elle était là pour aider. Ils ont saisi l'aide, mais seulement accessoirement. Si les MC ne voulaient pas d'intervention, la PCC devait respecter le désir des plaignants.
CM dit avoir partagé en février 2008 l'idée des MC qu'assigner les journaux en justice pour diffamation, plutôt que recourir à la PCC, était le mieux. Robert Jay suggère que si la PCC avait eu une position plus active vis-à-vis des MC, les excès de l'affaire Jefferies de 2010 n'auraient pas eu lieu. CM n'est pas d'accord, ne m'entrainez pas dans cette voie-là. Il ajoute qu'il n'était plus président de la PCC à l'époque et rejette la tentative de Jay de tracer des parallèles entre les deux affaires. CM dit que la PCC a remporté des victoires à propos des mêlées médiatiques et les histoires liées aux sources policières. Il suggère que l'industrie de la presse se mettrait rapidement à ignorer la PCC si son président exhortait les journaux à agir de manière responsable chaque fois qu'une histoire contentieuse surgit. Robert Jay suggère que la PCC devrait empêcher la presse d'inventer des histoires pour coller aux faits supposés. CM réplique Non. C'est comme si vous disiez à la police qu'elle est inutile parce qu'elle n'empêche pas les crimes". Ou comme si vous reprochiez aux évêques l'existence du pêché. Ce sont des arguments ridicules.
RJ : Your full name, please --
CM : Christopher John Rome Meyer.
RJ : Thank you very much. You have provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 14 September 2001. If you look in the file directly in front of you under tab 1, you will find it.
CM : Yes.
RJ : Subject to the caveat which you give at the top, which I will read out, this is your truthful evidence to the Inquiry; is that right?
CM : It is.
RJ : You make it clear that in the short time available, you have drafted much of what follows from memory but you haven't been able to check anything against the archives. It's accurate to the best of your ability but you cannot exclude the possibility of mistakes, and the statement has not been seen by a lawyer. Although you don't want to refer to it specifically, there is a typographical error in the second line of paragraph 2 of the introduction. The date there is 2009 and not 2007. That will be corrected on the version which is put online. First of all, Sir Christopher, may I deal with your background. You had a long and extremely distinguished career in the diplomatic service, culminating as ambassador to the United States of America. Can you tell us, please, a little bit about your career before you went to the PCC in March 2003, the particular highlights. Obviously you were in the US at the end of your career, but tell us a bit about your earlier career and your service between 1994 and 1996?
CM : I started out in the diplomatic service as a Soviet expert. I was sent away to learn Russian, I did that, and I was posted to Moscow in the late 60s. That was my first posting abroad. I returned to Moscow in the early 80s and I fully expected to end up possibly as ambassador in Moscow and that would be my career. Fate, however, dealt me some unexpected cards, one of which was in the shape of Sir Geoffrey Howe, who arrived in Moscow in 1984 said to me: "Would you like to be my press secretary?" I asked him what this would entail. He said, "You'll find out soon enough", and on that basis, I was hired. I became the Foreign Office spokesman between 1984 and 1988 and press secretary to Howe, and that was when I had my first, as it were, intimate contacts with the press.
RJ : We'll cover those a little bit later, but between 1994 and 1996, you were also press secretary to the then Prime Minister Mr John Major; is that correct?
CM : That is absolutely correct. After I had finished with Geoffrey Howe, I went to the United States, my first incarnation there, spent five years at the British embassy in Washington and from there was approached by Downing Street to see whether I'd put my hat in the ring to succeed Gus O'Donnell as the Prime Minister's press secretary. I did, I started that job in 1994, and I left, as you say, two years later in 1996.
RJ : At the end of your career at the FCO, you moved across with the agreement of the Cabinet Office -- but I'm going to ask you about the process of interview and selection -- to become chairman of the PCC, which was in March 2003. Page 2 of your statement at 00086, towards the bottom of that page.
CM : Yeah.
RJ : You say that you were interviewed by members of the Press Standard Boards of Finance. Can you remember who was on the interview committee?
CM : Well, Sir Harry Roche was then chairman of the committee and the only other person that I can remember on the committee at the time was Jeremy Deeds. The rest of it is a blur.
RJ : Were you asked specifically whether you were a believer in and defender of press freedoms?
CM : Yes, I was, and I think I must have stated very categorically, as I always have been, that I was a strong believer in freedom of expression and freedom of the press, even though I had been wrestling with journalists for a number of years in those two jobs to which you've made reference, and I also was very firmly against statutory regulation of the press, and I made that clear as well.
RJ : Were you asked specifically whether you were a believer in self-regulation of the press?
CM : Yes, I was, and I said yes.
RJ : What do you understand, Sir Christopher, by the term "self-regulation of the press"?
CM : Well, I have said in my witness statement that the actuality in the United Kingdom is that the press is regulated by a hybrid system, which is partly by law and partly through the implementation of the code of practice of the PCC. So what I understood at that time, and still do, by "self-regulation" was the system which worked through the PCC. Now, I gather there has been some discussion over the last few days about whether or not the Press Complaints Commission is a regulator. I believe very firmly that it is a regulator, that there is such a thing as a self-regulation, but it is regulation unlike anything else, for the very reason that it deals with freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and there is no industry, therefore, in the United Kingdom, which is like the press. So it is a form of regulation, and the way it works -- and I'm going to say this in just a couple of sentences -- is that as you develop a kind of jurisprudence through the application of the code of practice, the judgments and rulings, you are actually telling journalists what they can do and what they can't do, and in my book, that is a form of regulation.
RJ : Fair enough. In relation to that, though, does it follow that the body of jurisprudence and therefore the corpus of standards derives only from the PCC's response to complaints it receives?
CM : That is the heart of it. The heart of it is the way in which the PCC responds to complaints. There is a tendency to dismiss this as a cottage industry which the PCC trundles along with while people are thinking great thoughts about new structures for enforcement and punishment. It is, in fact, a moral heart of the Press Complaints Commission, because this body is a public service. It's a public service that exists for the 99 per cent of those who come to the PCC for help who do not lay claim to celebrity of any kind. By definition, we respond to their complaints, but one of the things that I hope we managed to do when I was chairman is being far more proactive, anti-harassment, pre-publication advice.
RJ : Would you agree that unlike any other regulator, the sole sanction is the publication of the adverse adjudication, or exceptionally, a letter of admonishment to the editor, but nothing more than that?
CM : It is essentially that, yes. The ultimate sanction, I suppose, would have been -- and I never did this -- to have written a letter to an editor to say that his journalist, X, had behaved so lamentably -- or write to a proprietor and say his editor had behaved so lamentably that they did not deserve still to be in office. I could have written that letter. I never did because the occasion never arose, but the strongest shot on a day-to-day basis was the negative adjudication published prominently in the newspaper. Now, do you want me to carry on or shall I just stop the press' status as an exponent of that? The short answer is: yes.
RJ : Yes. Thank you. Elsewhere in your witness statement, page 00087, and the internal numbering is the third page --
CM : Where is this? How does the paragraph begin?
RJ : 00087.
CM : Oh, I'm sorry, I'm looking at the wrong numbers. I'm there.
RJ : You refer to the PCC mission statement, which we've seen: "The PCC, in my experience ..." Do you see that? You brought five beliefs to the job.
CM : Yes.
RJ : "A free press is fundamental to a health democracy." We'd all agree with that. "Despite the cringing of politicians to the press, the government has significant in-built advantages over the press through its control over the flow of official information to the public." Very many people would agree with that. "... that any state regulation of the press was, in principle, offensive." I think you've explained, Sir Christopher,why you believe that.
CM : Yes.
CM : No, except that -- I suppose this is in the witness statement, really -- I draw very heavily on my experience as a press secretary to make that statement emphatically.
RJ : We need to come back to your experience as a press secretary, but can I just test that proposition that any state regulation of the press is, in principle, offensive. Can we agree that if a state were to lay down the principles and standards which the press should apply, that would be or may be regarded by many as impermissible transgression by the state into an area which should be solely the province of the press in a free democracy? Are we agreed with that proposition?
CM : Yes, I think we're together there.
RJ : But if state regulation means something less than that, namely the creation of an independent structure, where an independent body, for example, chooses the members of the Commission, Code Committee, whatever, and the independent body is itself solely responsible for the standards which the press must apply, why do you continue to say, if you do, that state regulation of the press is, in principle, offensive?
CM : I think mainly because that (début vidéo 1) once you allow the state into this area, you are, whether you like it or not -- whatever the best intentions may have been of those who construct the system, this piece of legislation, enabling legislation, you are, by definition, standing on the top of a slippery slope, and once you allow the state into this area, say, I don't know, 20 years later, 25 years later -- things change, politics change -- it is quite conceivable that a less -- how can I put it? -- permissive state, a less liberal state, a state less conscious of the essential freedoms that underpin our democracy might try to take advantage of that very piece of legislation to do things which would be offensive to freedom of expression. (fin vidéo 1)
CM : Yes. I would say two things. First of all, one felt a kind of tremor in the land when, understandably, the last government sought to enact some fairly draconian legislation to deal with the threat of terrorism. So the temptation to go down this path is always there. The other thing I would say is as a defence against the possibility that a state, a government would come into power that had a less liberal view of such things, it is much better if there is already in place a system of regulation and a press that does not in part depend for its operations on statute. In other words, as a barrier to a more authoritarian government, it is better to have the freest possible kind of press, online and in print.
Lord Justice Leveson : You might say the same about the judiciary, Sir Christopher, and as I pointed out to Mr Harding the other day, section 3(1) of the Constitution Reform Act identifies the independence of the judiciary and requires everybody to maintain it. Are we at risk in our not-so-liberal country of the 20 years time to suffer at the hands of a state because of that legislation?
CM : You could, my Lord. You could. In principle, that is a possibility. The other thing I would say is comparing the judiciary with the press is a little bit, if I may dare say so -- a little bit of apples and oranges there.
LJL : Well, in one sense it is but I'm not sure that in another that is correct. The fact is that the press is called the fourth estate for a very good reason. It brings everybody to account, including the executive, including the legislature and including the judiciary, and I have no problem with that at all. The question is, however: who brings the press to account? To say the press does it on its own and only on its own carries with it some risk itself.
CM : I don't think -- if I have been understood to have said that, I did not mean that. I mean, I'm no expert on the judiciary, and I simply cannot sit here and make a comment on how the judiciary is set up and protected in statute. That is not my area of expertise. On the matter of the press, of course it has to be regulated, and this is one of the key issues which is before this Inquiry. I'm not saying this should be a wholly unregulated press, free to roar around at will. That is not my point. Actually, today, the press is quite closely hemmed in by both statute and by the code of practice. It is a situation which basically, I think, is as good as you're going to get. What I would regret to see emerging from this Inquiry is a system of regulation which is more oppressive than need be because of the phone-hacking scandal, which, as I say in my witness statement, I think has got very little to do with press regulation.
RJ : We'll come to that.
CM : Okay.
RJ : I'm just exploring your five beliefs. The fourth and fifth beliefs are consequential on the third belief.
CM : Yeah, yeah.
RJ : Can I deal with the next page and permanent evolution, which was a speech you gave in May 2003, when you announced a series of reforms.
CM : Yeah.
RJ : You identified the key reforms in your witness statement. I just ask you about the fifth of them, the publication of a code of practice handbook. Do you see that?
CM : Yes.
RJ : We've heard that that is written by the secretary to the Editors' Code of Practice committee. Does the PCC or did the PCC have any input into the guidance contains in the handbook?
CM : Oh, frequently, yes. I can't say it was me personally, but Ian Beales, who was then the secretary of the Code Committee, was the main author of the commentary, and we had quite frequent exchanges with him at the PCC. I can't give you chapter and verse, but he wasn't sitting like a monk in a cell writing this stuff and suddenly it popped out at the other end. I think he consulted very widely. In fact -- maybe I'm going beyond what you want, but can I say something about the background to why this ever happened, why I ever thought up this reform, or am I going too far?
RJ : We can probably work that out from the speech itself. If you go to bundle B1.
CM : My speech?
RJ : Yes, you'll find your speech.
CM : Did I mention Mark Dickinson and the Liverpool newspapers being the inspirer of this in that speech? Sorry, what's it called? 1B?
RJ : I think it's going to -- yes, I think it's that one there, under tab 16.
CM : Ah, here's one. File 1. Tab 16? Okay. I apologise for my lack of familiarity with some of these -- the way they're organised, but they did come to me quite late. Yes, I've found it.
RJ : Are we in the right place?
CM : No, I have found building on -- "Permanent evolution", yes, this is it.
RJ : A speech you gave on 6 May 2003.
RJ : Am I right in saying that at that point you'd been in office, as it were, for five or six weeks?
CM : Correct.
RJ : So you were already in a position to announce some important reforms?
CM : Yeah.
RJ : Might it be said, though, that this was a little bit precipitant, that you'd only just warmed your seat and here were you coming up with some important ideas?
CM : Mr Jay, I do not believe in hanging around.
RJ : Okay. Now, we're not going to run through all the speech; we have read it. You explain at page 37951, which is the second page of the speech --
CM : Yeah.
RJ : -- your experiences elsewhere, reading Pravda and the Frankfurter Allgemeine, if I pronounce it rightly, which I probably don't, which --
CM : Yes.
RJ : Not quite the same free-spirited approach always applied there in comparison with the British press. You say at the bottom of the page: "Liberty and self-regulation are inextricably linked. Any infringement on self-regulation would not just erode the freedoms of press; far more importantly, it would curtail the freedoms of a citizen, who, in a democratic society, will always depend on an uninhibited media [I paraphrase]." So you're setting your credo there very high, aren't you?
CM : Yes.
RJ : On the next page, you make it clear that in your view the term "self-regulation" doesn't quite capture what's involved and you use the term "self-regulation plus", because the PCC does some more, in your opinion; is that right?
CM : Yes. All through my six years at the PCC I agonised over what the type of regulation ought to be called, because "self-regulation" didn't capture it because it wasn't journalists sitting in judgment on journalists; it was some journalists sitting in judgment on journalists but always in the minority. It was the lay majority who were, if you like, the beating heart of the judgments made every week about complaints and so forth. I thought for a while of calling it "independent regulation", but that didn't quite capture it either, and I think the fact that there's been a debate in this the Inquiry about whether it is regulation or not is actually a kind of tributary of this problem with definition.
RJ : If you look level with the upper hole punch on this page, you'll see this: "The last five weeks have been something of a personal odyssey of discovery. I would never in the first place have wished to join the PCC had I not believed in its value and the central importance of self-regulation. What I had not appreciated in full was how good it is. It has a tremendous story of success to tell. It is often unfairly criticised, sometimes by those who should know better." Now, that, I respectfully suggest, was a somewhat flamboyant remark. You'd only been there for five weeks and you were telling everybody how good it was. Was that entirely wise, do you think, Sir Christopher?
CM : I hate to call myself wise, but I think it was very wise. I think it was very wise to place the standard visibly in the field for an organisation which, from its very birth, had been at the centre of controversy and was attacked from all sides. So I wouldn't call it flamboyant, but it was a statement of belief and it was a statement of intent, and that was where I was going to move out from.
RJ : I could quite see, Sir Christopher, why you would have certain ideas, perhaps embryonic ideas, when you started out, and you'd certainly have certain credos, as I've said and you have identified, but to go so far as to say after five weeks that this is an extremely good body, perhaps in all respects, is somewhat putting yourself out on a limb, isn't it?
CM : I don't think so at all, and in fact if it were on a limb, it was a limb I was happy to be out on.
RJ : Okay.
CM : I was not a virgin to these matters of the press, having been a press secretary twice, having -- the more senior I became in the diplomatic service, the more I had to appear in front of cameras and microphones and talking to journalists. I did know something about this, and had prepared for the job.
RJ : If you were starting from the position that this was a body which was functioning well, both in terms of its system and its operation, it might be said that your approach would necessarily be conservative throughout your time at the PCC, because by definition there would be little which would require change. Would you accept that?
CM : You could make that deduction, that I would be conservative in my approach, but there was a little bit of politics also, as well as belief in what I had to say. I had some quite significant changes to make to the way in which the organisation operated. I wanted to be sure that they would meet as least resistance -- as little resistance as possible from the newspaper industry. So it was important, the one hand, to make a powerful statement on behalf of self-regulation, and then to say -- and to say it was good -- and it was good. That it is the point, Mr Jay. It was good. It wasn't perfect, and it needed improving. So, on the one hand, it is good, and then say over here that it will be even better here if we do the eight things that I set out.
RJ : You also said in the speech, page 37954, at the bottom of that page: "I do want to make one thing clear. I retain a pretty open mind on how we can grow in the future. Only on those things that would fundamentally change for the worse the nature of the system is my mind closed. In that I include four heresies." So you set your stall out very clearly here. The first is: "Any suggestion that the PCC should have the power to levy fines or award compensation." Then you explain why. I paraphrase: it would cause delay and it would result in the colonisation of the system by lawyers. So you were sticking your neck out very far, weren't you?
CM : Yeah, and I still believe that.
RJ : This was in the face, for example, of the DCMS Select Committee saying that's precisely the power which the PCC should have in order to improve public confidence in it. That's true, isn't it?
CM : It is true. I can't remember all the DCMS recommendations in 2003. A very large number of them we had either anticipated or we followed up, but there were some where we disagreed, and I think it has been a feature of several DCMS committee reports that raise the -- who recommend some system of fines. I just don't believe it's practical or will work.
RJ : But you're making it absolutely clear that this is a heresy.
CM : Yeah.
RJ : Namely, the power to impose a fine. It doesn't matter what anybody says; it's going to be over your dead body. That's the truth, isn't it?
CM : Yes, that's about it. I do think it is very important when you have a job which has a public profile like this one to be very clear as soon as possible about where you stand. The worst thing is to take on a job like this and to just have mush around the place. So I was chancing my arm, going out on a limb, but I believe very firmly that this is the kind of thing that needs to be said.
RJ : Yes.
CM : Also, it's impossible to sack you if you say it very early on, you know.
RJ : Fair enough, but you slap those down who express a contrary view because you say:
"Those who believe that fines mean sharper teeth fail to understand that no editor wants the blemish of a negative adjudication on his or her record." That's pretty peremptory, isn't it?
CM : It's very peremptory, and that belief strengthened as the years went by.
RJ : But in terms of public perception, would you agree that the public out there, the customer, the consumer, at the wrong end of press misbehaviour, if one can put it in those terms, wanted precisely that: the PCC to possess sharper teeth. Would you accept that?
CM : No, I would not accept that, Mr Jay, because while I was chairman, we surveyed public opinion fairly regularly. Sometimes we did it ourselves, so that might be considered a bit tainted. Sometimes we used -- what do they call it? -- Ipsos MORI, to look at the public and gauge their opinion, and there was no -- as I remember the returns, the data, there was no overwhelming demand for fines. And when you said to people -- and I think we have 1 to define who the public is here. When we went out in the country beyond the London bubble and said to people: "What do you want: fast, free and fair? Or do you want everything bogged down with quibbling over fines ..."
LJL : That's a very square way of putting it, isn't it?
CM : Square?
LJL : Yes. I'm going slightly rhetorical.
CM : Well, I think that when these questions were put, they were put with more sophistication and subtly than I have just expressed.
LJL : But you say it here. You could throw "free" and "fast" out of the window. I'm not so sure that's necessarily right after all.
CM : It's what I believe, my Lord.
LJL : Well, that may be so. I understand that.
RJ : It always depends on how the question is put to the public.
CM : Of course.
RJ : But I think you've made your point on that. Can I just ask you, though: you say no editor wants the blemish of a negative adjudication. That's, of course, the party line. Who told that you?
RJ : Because a cynic would say that it is the party line, that the editors put that out, that they don't want the blemish of a negative adjudication, because it saves them from proper regulation, namely a regulatory body with sharp teeth which might really hit them. Do you see that point?
CM : Of course I see that point, but I think there's a -- almost -- and I've noticed this in previous discussions during the Inquiry. There is almost a cultural gulf between us on this kind of thing. I may have the chronology wrong, but I think it was put towards the end of 2003 that we ruled against the Guardian on the matter of payments to a prisoner who was publishing his diary in the newspaper, and the newspaper was so shocked by this that they threatened to leave the PCC system altogether, and I think even wrote it in a leader. Now, that, I think, is one example only. I agree. That does give substance to my point.
RJ : Okay. Returning to your lecture -- I'm not going to deal with the second point because it's one you've already really developed for us. The third point, you say: "The third is any measure that would turn the PCC into a directive body -- initiating complaints at random, intervening in issues which are nothing to do with the code, or establishing any superior service for the rich and famous." By "directive body", do you mean general regulator?
CM : It's a very good question. I am now looking at this paragraph again. I think it was -- it was this: at the time, there was a very strong party line, if I may say so, in the Commission that you did not initiate complaints, if you like. That changed during my chairmanship, and we did. So I have to admit to you that that, stated rather categorically, was amended through experience and the learning process, and we did actually -- not very often -- we would initiate investigations. Intervening in issues not to do with the code I think is, among other things, not getting embroiled in the enforcement of the law where there was already a body which existed to do that, and establishing any superior service for the rich and famous -- I think I threw that in. I think it was like that, I threw that in, if I remember rightly, because I had at the back of my mind -- at the front of my mind that my mission was to get this service better known and better understood in the general population at large. Because the ethos around the PCC back in 2003 was: "Oh yes, this is a privacy service for celebs." Well, it wasn't, and it isn't, and it shouldn't be.
RJ : The fourth point you make -- I'll come back to one of the points you've made in a moment: "The fourth is the notion that in some way the PCC should act as a general control on the press." I think the point you're making there is that the press is free to comment and be partisan and it's not the role of the PCC in a democracy to seek to curb that democratic activity?
CM : Yeah, that's fair enough.
CM : You're going back to the witness statement?
RJ : Please. Page 00088, you deal with the issue of raising profile.
CM : Yes.
RJ : Which has been noted. Can I deal with 00089, however, the paragraph beginning: "This gulf applied in spades to perceptions of the PCC." Are you with me, Sir Christopher?
CM : I am getting there. Yeah, okay.
RJ : You say: "... high levels of satisfaction in polling. The Commission has always faced unrelenting hostility inside the Beltway."
CM : Yeah.
RJ : What's your evidence for that?
CM : My evidence is the reactions of politicians to the PCC, the reactions of some firms of lawyers to the PCC, the reactions of some -- how can I put it? -- think-tanks that are located inside the Beltway, and even some editors. And university media departments which I refer to here, which aren't necessarily inside the Beltway I mean, I used to go out a lot and preach the word in universities, and whereas I always found the students very receptive, I would get a lot of stick, very often, from the teaching staff. And again, this Question Time/Any Questions? point -- I would go on Question Time or go on Any Questions? and I would be billed as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and every time I did this I was waiting for a furious audience member to have a crack at me, and in all six years and, I think, six appearances or whatever it was altogether -- it might have been more -- I never ever got a question about the press.
LJL : That might mean that the audience at Question Time didn't have a clue what it was.
CM : My Lord, it could be that, but when I put six appearances together, if I may venture to suggest, it is stretching credulity a bit that all of them didn't know what it was.
RJ : That indeed was going to be my observation, that it might be said: well, those who know more about what the PCC does or did were critical, and those perhaps who didn't know were less critical. What conclusions might we draw from that?
CM : If I may throw something back at you, Mr Jay, what is the evidence for that? We did poll people. I mean, I find it really -- it's quite difficult to get this point over. There was repeated polling, either by us or by independent organisations, of attitudes to the PCC and of knowledge of the PCC. I think only -- and here I know I'm on oath and I may have this wrong. Only the Advertising Standards Authority was better known that the PCC, I think, in successive polls. So it's not as if people didn't know who we were, but I did recognise that it was necessary to get out there. That's why we went round the country, went all over the United Kingdom, if I can put it like this, preaching the word.
RJ : Okay. May I deal now, please, with the report on subterfuge and news gathering. 00090.
CM : Yes.
RJ : You recognise that clause 10 of the code covers all forms of subterfuge, including phone hacking, which is an offence under RIPA 2000, and blagging offences under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act?
RJ :So by definition, therefore, there's an overlap between the general law, the criminal law, which is contained in statute, and the domestic law of the PCC, which, for these purposes, is contained in clause 10 of the code; is that correct?
CM : Yes. I make the point explicitly in the third paragraph on this page.
RJ : Yes. That's the point, really, I wanted to explore, because you say in possibly the fourth paragraph -- it depends on how you number these: "A further complication is that the code of practice overlaps with the law: that is to say that offences under the code can also be offences under the law." Well, we can agree with that. Then you say: "Where this happens, and a matter becomes sub judice, the PCC must always yield to the law." Are you saying that if the criminal law is carrying out an investigation, the PCC must wait until the end of the investigation, on the one hand, or are you saying that as a matter of principle, if a matter falls within the domain of the criminal law or the domain of the ICO, then philosophically, the PCC shouldn't intervene at all?
CM : No, I'm not making the latter point. I'm making the former point. That is to say that when it became clear, I think in August of 2006, that the police were looking into the hacking of voicemails on the two royal princes' phones, it was not possible for us then to conduct some kind of parallel inquiry, and I'm pretty sure that had we tried to do this -- which I don't think we should have done, and I was firmly of the belief we shouldn't do this, but I think if we had try I'd to do it, we would have had a complaint immediately from the police not to get in the way of their investigation. For that reason, I say it was not -- we could make statements, and I made several statements from August until the verdicts were delivered in the end of January or February, whenever it was, in 2007, against phone hacking, but beyond exhortation, I did not believe there was more that could be done during a police investigation, a court -- a trial, until after the verdicts were rendered.
RJ : It follows from that, Sir Christopher, that once the criminal process had ended and the investigation had concluded, there was nothing to stop the PCC, is this right, from carrying out whatever inquiry or investigation that it wished?
CM : None whatsoever, and this is exactly what we did.
RJ : Is this right: that the articles of association of the PCC expressly, in your opinion, permit that very exercise, namely the undertaking of an inquiry or investigation?
CM : Well, I was certainly confident that the inquiry that we carried out in 2007, immediately after Goodman and Mulcaire were sent to jail and Coulson resigned as editor -- that the inquiry we carried out was fully within the articles of association. I have to say to you, I didn't look at the articles of association.
RJ : Is it also right that the inquiry or investigation exercise which was conducted into phone hacking could also have been wide enough to have covered what happened at the News of the World at the material time, rather than trying to learn lessons for the future?
CM : I was strongly of the view that it would not be a useful or possible objective for the PCC to try to duplicate the police inquiry. Two men had gone to jail, an editor had lost his job, and at the time -- and let's not cover this with too much hindsight -- that seemed pretty draconian. So I wasn't going to say let's use the PCC's resources to try to duplicate still further what the police had done --
RJ : But --
CM : No, I'm sorry, if I can just finish this point.
RJ : Yes, of course.
CM : What I did think was very important was that the new editor should tell us what, in his view, had gone wrong at the News of the World, and that we, in a lessons-learned exercise, which also involved asking every single editor and management of every newspaper in the United Kingdom about their protocols for hiring inquiry agents and subterfuge -- that as a result of that, we could produce a report which would offer guidance to the industry and show -- shed a little more light on what had gone wrong at the News of the World. That's what we did and it was welcomed.
RJ : But as a matter of principle, you would accept that there was nothing to stop the PCC in terms of its powers from carrying out an investigation into what happened, particularly the dimensions of what happened and whether it extended beyond Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire? I think you'd agreed with that?
CM : No, I wouldn't agree with that. I think what we would have run up against there is the inability of the PCC, for example, to take statements on oath.
RJ : Well, that may be right but there wasn't a lack of power in the PCC to interview people, to call for documents. Whether or not a request for individual documents would have been met by a "yes" or "no" is another matter, but the PCC had power to go down that road, didn't it?
CM : No, I think now we part company here, if we're talking about the articles of association. The idea that we should work on the assumption -- because this is what you're saying -- that the police inquiry was inadequate and we needed to add to the efforts that they had made
by sending some kind of quasi-police investigative force into the News of the World, I have to say, Mr Jay, is entirely fanciful.
RJ : You say in terms that presentationally -- this is later in your statement, at 00093 -- it would have been better to have interviewed Andy Coulson, which implies that in your view there was a power to do so, presentationally it might have been better to do so, but as a matter of practice, it would not have been desirable to do so. That's what you're saying, isn't it?
CM : I think we're splitting hairs a bit here. Maybe what I should have written here was that -- instead of using the word "interviewed", "asked him to come in for interview".
RJ : Mm.
CM : I believed at the time -- I do now -- that the decision not to interview Coulson, who by that time was no longer editor of the News of the World, and actually we had no powers over him at all -- was exactly the right one to take, although presentationally it has -- it's made things difficult for me. You asking me the question right now, for example.
LJL : But why do you think it was the right decision to make?
CM : Well, I'm going to explain that, my Lord, if I may. The main reason is I don't think he would have had anything of value to add to the reports that we published.
CM : Well, it's --
rather oddly if it had come out into the public domain that he had refused to cooperate with the PCC, pursuant to the PCC's reasonable request for an interview. Don't you agree with that?
CM : I do agree with that, and you can certainly argue the opposite case. I accept that. But I believe -- if I may also use the advantage of hindsight. Now that he has been arrested, it seems to me wholly improbable that at that time he would have told us more than Colin Myler was able to dig out of the system. And we produced a report -- let me remind you -- which was widely welcomed for what it had to say about how newspapers from now on should conduct themselves, both with regard to subterfuge and the Data Protection Act. Let us not forget that. It was widely welcomed. Of course it wasn't adequate, because the police and newspapers, God bless them, dug out far more from the News of the World than at that time was available, but --
RJ : You describe the investigation as a monumental task, don't you, in 00092?
CM : Yes.
RJ : It's your language. But a monumental task which, if I may say so, was limited to getting an explanation from Mr Myler, not seeking any documents from him and writing to other editors to find out what they were doing. The epithet "monumental" is possibly an overstatement, isn't it?
CM : No, no, Mr Jay. No, you should have been there when we were doing it. It was monumental and it was done swiftly and people recognised it as being of real value at the time. So I think you're being a little mean-spirited about this.
RJ : Okay. What, out of interest, is the sanction under the code for failing on co-operate with or, still worse, misleading the PCC?
CM : Well, in the core business of the PCC, when we were dealing with complaints, when there would be a complaint from somebody, and the editor would reply in what we were able to ascertain was a misleading way, of course there would weigh the scales of justice against that
editor, and the ruling would so reflect it.
RJ : That would be, on my understanding, therefore, evidence which you take into account in ruling or adjudicating on a particular complaint. I think my question was more directed to whether there's a separate article of the code which says that if you fail to co-operate with the PCC or you mislead the PCC, that in itself is a breach of the code. That's not the position, is it?
CM : Well, there's no such article in there, but the system is flexible enough, in most circumstances, to be able to absorb and draw the appropriate conclusion from an editor who is not effectively telling the truth.
RJ : But if you're carrying out an investigation, as you were here in relation to phone hacking, which wasn't directly targeted to a particular complaint but was more wide-ranging under your powers, which we see in article 53(a)(1) of the articles of association, and an editor misleads you -- I'm speaking hypothetically now -- there's no sanction, is there, no comeback against the editor?
CM : Well, I hate hypothetical questions because I don't think they're fair. They're not fair in this circumstance. If what you're actually saying to me, Mr Jay, is that we should have known at the time that either wittingly or unwittingly Mr Myler was not telling the truth --
RJ : No, that wasn't my question.
CM : -- how could we possibly know?
RJ : That wasn't my question at all. I was not directing the question to the PCC. I was directing the question to the hypothetical editor, but you're right that I was seeking to wrap it up hypothetically and not target the question directly in the context Mr Myler for obvious
reasons, not least that the Inquiry hasn't formed a conclusion as to whether or not he misled the PCC. I put it to him that he had, but it's for Lord Justice Leveson to decide.
LJL : In any event, he'd just arrived in the job and therefore he was entirely dependent on what others might say to him.
CM : I mean, he also was no virgin, my Lord. He'd been an editor before. He knew his way around. And the virtue for us in Colin Myler was that he was a fresh pair of eyes who knew his industry extremely well. And again -- there's so much hindsight in this -- at the time people said, "We are quite surprised by the amount of detail that the PCC has been able to dig out of the News of the World on what went wrong", and it informed the set of -- I think it was, yes, six recommendations that we made to ensure, we thought at the time, this would not happen again. The fact that there may have been -- we'll have to await the police enquiries -- a giant criminal conspiracy in the belly of the beast is another matter.
RJ : May I go back, please, to 00090, Sir Christopher, and a point you make after your sub judice point, five lines into that self-same paragraph.
CM : Oh yeah.
CM : In a word, yes.
RJ : Even if, does this follow, there is an overlapping offence or breach under the code, maybe an extremely serious and egregious breach under the code, which the PCC should have an interest in seeking to address, and, if necessary, comment on? Would you accept?
CM : Put like that, hypothetically, possibly so. But our rule of thumb was that people who decided to go to law could not also go to the PCC. They had to make a decision. Now, it may be -- I cannot think of an instance but there may be, lurking in the archives of the PCC or in Mr Abell's witness statement, a case where something was heard in court and there were ramifications, some kind of fallout from the court hearing, which it would be right and proper for the PCC to address, but I can give you no hard example.
RJ : But this puts the PCC in a different position from any other regulator, because all other regulators, to my knowledge, would say, "Well, if there is an aspect of the criminal law which is engaged or an aspect of the civil law, we'll usually wait and see what happens, but that doesn't mean we don't have jurisdiction; we will weigh in once the courts have ruled and carry out our own investigation pursuant to our regulatory function." The position of the PCC is, therefore, fundamentally different, isn't it?
CM : Yes, it is fundamentally different, first of all from a philosophical point of view. I made the point at the very beginning that it is a regulator unlike any other, of necessity, and also, Mr Jay, you forget the wishes of the first party. Now, Max Mosley had a choice of either coming to the PCC or going to law. He went to the law. He never showed the slightest inclination in coming to the PCC.
RJ : But if --
CM : So we can hardly start launching an investigation into the sort of -- I won't go into lurid detail. We can hardly do that if he doesn't want it, for Pete's sake.
RJ : As was his right, he chose to go to the courts for the obvious reason that he needed to try and get an injunction. We know that he failed, and then there was a full-blown High Court action. But had he come to the PCC after Mr Justice Eady had ruled and it was known there was going to be no appeal, would the PCC have said to him: "It's too late"?
CM : Quite possibly so, but again you've got me on a hypothetical here. I would judge -- I mean, this is
RJ : Just one point, which arises from what you told the Select Committee on 24 March 2009. You see in the left-hand column, you give quite a lengthy answer in relation to the McCann case.
CM : Yes.
RJ : You say, amongst other things -- and it's repeated in your witness statement: "There's a time for the courts and there's a time for the PCC." Then you say: "The PCC is never going to eliminate the courts, and I sure as hell hope that the judges do not eliminate the PCC." Of course, the judges would never have had power to do that. "We act in a complementary way. What I said to Gerry McCann when I first saw him was that this is what the PCC can do for you, this is how we can help. 'If you want damages, if it comes to that, we do not do money. The courts do money, so you're going to have to make a choice.'" To be clear about that, when did you say that to Dr McCann?
CM : In July of 2007.
RJ : And the circumstances were what? Was it a meeting?
CM : At my house.
RJ : Did you make it clear to him that it was, as it were, dichotomous: courts on the one hand, PCC on the other hand, but you can't do both?
CM : I made it perfectly plain. Indeed, I handed over some PCC literature, and we had a fair discussion, I would say, and I left him, in my view, absolutely clear about the different ways that he could proceed. And indeed, I think shortly after that, briefly, when Ms Justine McGuinness was his press secretary, a complaint was lodged with the PCC against a newspaper but the complaint was not proceeded with.
LJL : The tense of this answer is accurate, is it? If you want money, damages, you go to the court, but there is a whole range of other things that "we could have done". In other words, if they didn't go to the court, we could do things, but if they do go to the court, we can't do things. Is that the correct sense --
CM : Yes, this was done in -- when is this?
RJ : March 2009.
CM : Yeah, March 2009, so we had already had, in March 2008, the upshot of the libel action against Northern & Shell, and so we knew what had happened.
RJ : But I think the question is directed to what you were saying to Dr McCann in July 2007.
CM : In July 2007, I was explaining to him and his press handler what the options were should they believe that they needed to take action against a newspaper, which was quite early days then, because it was before the McCanns were declared arguidos by the Portuguese authorities, which changed the tempo and the rhythm of everything. This was July.
RJ : Yes.
CM : And she wasn't there. This was Dr McCann, and he left with Justine McGuinness in a noncommittal way. He didn't say to me: "Bingo, I'm going to go to the PCC", or: "I'm going to go to law." He just kept his counsel.
RJ : But to be clear, you were making it clear to him it was his choice, that there were two positions he could take which were inconsistent with each other.
CM : Yes.
RJ : Either go to law or go to the PCC; is that right?
CM : That's absolutely right. And then, if I may say this, I saw him again --
RJ : Yes.
CM : -- more briefly -- I don't know whether you have a note of this -- in February of 2008, by which time they had taken -- I think I'm right, it must have been then -- by which time I think they'd taken a firm decision to go to law, they were with Carter Ruck, and given the nature of what they said was libel, I said to him at the time: "In the circumstances, I think you're doing the right thing." And then I said it in public, that, on 19 March, when I was interviewed by the PM programme.
RJ : Can we just come to that. Between September 2007 and January 2008, there were 38 defamatory articles in the Express newspaper group's publications, weren't there, and there were other articles which were referred to in the witness statement provided to the Inquiry which caused concern to the McCanns. Did the PCC do anything at all during that period?
CM : We did a lot. We were in pretty close contact with the press handlers of the McCanns. By that time, it was as gentleman called Clarence Mitchell, who I think may have appeared before you, and we stood ready to intervene if they wanted it. We come again to the question of the first party. You see, you can't be more royalist than the king on these matters. You cannot wish to stop something more ardently than the first party. But by that time, I think they had chosen to go to law. I can't say exactly, because it's not for me to say, when they first hired Carter Ruck. So it's not as if we were sitting there --
RJ : What are you suggesting by that, "when they first hired Carter Ruck"?
CM : I don't know, you see, because I don't know when they took the decision to go to law. I think -- I'm morally certain it had to be in February when I saw Dr McCann, because it was so near to the judgement, but that's only a supposition on my part and I stand to be corrected on that.
RJ : Presumably, though, when you were reading these pieces as they came out -- and it wasn't just in one newspaper group -- you were, at the very least, concerned by the tone and substance of what you were reading, weren't you?
CM : Well, it was -- yes, of course I was. It was pretty violent. It was being briefed out of the Portuguese police, as far as I could tell, and it was not pleasant to read. But I have to say to you -- this is so important -- we'd made particular efforts with the McCanns to make ourselves available. Within 48 hours of Madeleine McCann disappearing, we informed them through the British embassy in Lisbon that we stood ready. You know all this. I'm just repeating stuff that you know.
RJ : Yes. We don't need to hear it again.
CM : I thought that we made exceptional efforts to say that we can help you, and indeed, when they came back to England, we did. That was publicly recognised by Clarence Mitchell, in protecting the children from media scrums and so on and so forth. I go back to this again: you can't wish for something more than the first party themselves, and I think Dr McCann has expressed rather well the complexity of the situation in which he found himself. He needed the press, but he didn't need those articles. He had professional handlers and I can't say more than that.
LJL : He actually went further, because, as Mr Davies says in the Select Committee: "Gerry McCann said his beef with the PCC was that the editor of the paper which had so flagrantly libelled us with the most devastating stories would hold a position on the board of the PCC. That was his beef." And you responded: "Where the McCanns are concerned, the editor of the Daily Express, after settlement was announced on 19 March, played no further part in the proceedings of the PCC and it was in May that he was replaced by Peter Wright." Was that because he was required to resign or did resign or just lost his place on the board or what was that?
CM : Well, I thought that after he'd paid £550,000 damages and had four front page apologies on the Daily and Sunday titles that his position on the Commission was untenable, and I said what I said to the BBC PM programme on 19 March. It was the day the settlement was announced -- I don't know if you want me to quote myself on the PM programme, I have a text here and I'm sure you have the text there -- and the following day I rang Mr Hill and I said, in effect: "You need to resign." He said something to this effect: "I suppose I have to, but I want to consult friends and colleagues", and I said, "The sooner this is done, the better, the better for you and the better for the PCC", and he said to me: "I'll call you back", and that was the last conversation I've ever had with him. And it took a while for him to leave the Commission. He was due to go anyway, because he'd been there quite a long time. Desmond -- Mr Desmond, his proprietor, was not making his contribution to the National Publishers Association, so they were making no contribution to the PCC levy, and then there was the matter of the McCanns. So there were a good three reasons, my Lord, for his leaving the Commission. But it took longer for him to be replaced than it should have done.
RJ : Here was a fellow commissioner, obviously wearing his different hat as newspaper editor -- and I'm asking you to think back to September 2007, to January 2008, a whole series of pieces, which you described as "violent", I think, but others would describe in a different way. At the least, why not get on the phone to him and say, "Are you sure about this? Because on the face of it, these articles are outrageously defamatory"?
CM : I spoke to him, but not on a phone, at a Commission meeting. I'm very much aware that I'm on oath here, because I can't remember which Commission meeting it was. It was an informal conversation before we sat down around the table to do business, and I basically said to him what you have just said to me: "Are you sure you've got this right?" And my recollection is he said something about Portuguese police sources. I'm saying this rather tentatively because I can't give you a date, I can't give you a Commission meeting and nobody else was present in the conversation.
RJ : It might be said that you tear him off a strip on the radio after the libel settlement, £550,000, but it's all a bit late to do that, given that the PCC, through you, did nothing apart from this private word for four months, while all of this was raging. Is that fair or not?
CM : No, that's extremely unfair. It's extremely unfair. After all, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and he had been found guilty of libelling the McCanns, and the judgment was published on 19 March. Am I to sit in my office saying nothing? Am I to go out there and say, "Poor old Peter, he's taken a knock, but onwards and upwards, chaps"? Of course not. I actually was in bed with flu, and let me say this: the first thing I knew about the judgment was waking up in a kind of stupor at 8 o'clock in the morning and hearing it as the lead item on the Today programme. The PCC, so far as I know and certainly for me personally -- I speak for myself -- had received no warning whatsoever from a fellow commissioner that this was coming. So I was angry.
RJ : The other point that Northern & Shell made -- I want to ask you to comment on it -- is that it's an example both of hypocrisy and of inconsistent treatment, since after all they weren't the only ones who were defaming the McCanns. So in order to be consistent, you should have torn everybody off a strip. Would you accept that?
CM : No, I wouldn't accept that. The thing that was different here was that Peter Hill was a longstanding member of the Commission. I think he'd been on since late 2003, maybe early 2004. He knew his responsibilities very well and he was the first to pay damages to the McCanns and to publish -- it wasn't him personally; you had different editors, but the group's newspapers, national titles, were publishing front-page apologies. This was without precedent. I know of no such case where such a powerful -- what's the word? -- punishment has been exacted from editors for publishing stories that are wrong. In those circumstances, it is inconceivable, in my view -- it was inconceivable, in my view, that he could stay on the Commission. May I say that when we then had a Commission meeting -- and may I remind, you with seven editors on the Commission -- we came to a conclusion very rapidly that he had to be replaced as fast as possible, and the Commission sent that message that very afternoon to the Press Standards Board of Finance to get the National Publishers Association to propose a replacement. I think what worried a number of editors was that this would set a precedent, meaning that if you ever lost a libel action, you couldn't stay on the Commission, to which the answer is: it's a matter of scale, it's a matter of degree, and it wasn't necessarily a precedent for all time for all editors who fall foul of the libel law.
(Début vidéo 2)
CM : What do you mean by "inaction"?
RJ : You adopted the same position, which was one of doing nothing.
CM : It was absolutely not one of doing nothing. I don't know how many times I have to repeat this. We put ourselves at the disposal of the McCanns. We offered them our services. We say this is what we can do. We start this within 48 hours of Madeleine being kidnapped. We carry on doing this all the way through. We protect their children and the family from being harassed by media scrums when they come back to the United Kingdom. I speak twice to Dr McCann, something I never did with anybody else, but that's --
RJ : I think you're just repeating, Sir Christopher, what you've told us already.
CM : I am repeating, because it doesn't seem to be sinking in, Mr Jay. That's why.
RJ : Did the PCC carry out an inquiry after all of this to see whether there were clear and systematic failings by the press in their handling of the whole McCann story, by which I'm including not just the McCanns but Mr Robert Murat and the eight friends of the McCanns who also secured substantial libel damages?
CM : No, that wasn't necessary, because it had become wholly clear from the court proceedings exactly what had happened, that they had in fact, under pressure, maybe commercial pressure, taken as read information that was being provided in Praia de Luz, which hadn't been properly checked. It was clear as a bell.
RJ : Because paragraph 539 of the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) committee's report says precisely that, that in cases where there have been clear and systematic failings by the press, the PCC should not use court proceedings as a reason not to launch its own inquiry. If ever there were a case which cried out for such an inquiry, it was this case, wasn't it?
CM : No, I think it was not a case which called for an inquiry. If ever there was a case which was obvious in the way in which newspapers had got it wrong, it was the McCanns' case. I have to say -- and you may think this is feeble excuse -- I never read the recommendations of that report because I had already left the PCC a year previously.
RJ : That's true.
CM : So you're actually telling me something of which I was unaware. But it was screamingly obvious what had gone wrong. I could go through it again, but you don't like me repeating these things.
RJ : I'm not sure. What had gone wrong? Not from the point of view of what the PCC did or did not do, but from the point of view of the culture, practice and ethics of the press, what had gone wrong in relation to the McCann saga if I can so describe it?
CM : I think there were a number of component parts that created a kind of toxic brew. The poor McCanns -- I cannot think of a worse position to find yourself in. If it had happened to me, I don't know what I would have done. They needed the press for publicity's sake, and by God, I would have done exactly the same thing. I really would. But in those circumstances, it was a Faustian bargain and you could see why. Where the press have become obsessed -- not only the press in Britain, it was almost a global thing -- how do you keep the story going? And then the Portuguese police were leaking like sieves. There were all kinds of rumours. You could see journalists under pressure out there in Praia de Luz, being pressed by their news desks to provide fresh copy, and so they start taking risks which they shouldn't have taken. It doesn't need a big inquiry or a systematic review to see this. It is something that happens from time to time, and in this case, it led to the McCanns being accused of something which is utterly abominable. (fin vidéo 2)
RJ : It was golden opportunity, though, even if you think that the answers were so obvious, for the PCC to have reviewed the situation, to have considered the lessons learnt and to have passed a clear message to the industry as a whole as to what the problems were to avoid the chance of future replication, which possibility you didn't consider, did you?
CM : No, we did not. We do not take that opportunity for the reasons that I've just stated. Maybe we should have done, but I have to rest on the record.
RJ : One other point that the committee made, the DCMS committee, paragraph 552 --
CM : Which one was this?
RJ : The February 2010 report.
CM : Which I haven't really looked at, yes.
RJ : "If there are grounds to believe that serial breaches of the code are occurring or are likely to cower [this is in the context of the McCann case], the PCC must not wait for a complaint before taking action. That action may involve making contact with those involved and issuing a public warning or initiating an inquiry." So I suppose you disagree with that?
CM : It sounds good, and in principle it's absolutely right, but if Dr and Mrs McCann don't want it, you can't do it. It's as simple as that, Mr Jay.
RJ : Logically, there's nothing to prevent you from doing it. You're just saying the PCC, as a matter of policy, won't do it. That's what it boils down to.
CM : No, it's a matter -- you must respect the complainant's, the first party's wishes. You may disagree with me. That was the position we took. But nonetheless, we made it our business -- I am going to repeat this now for the third time -- from the very beginning to say, "We're here to help", and that offer was taken up but only in a subsidiary way.
RJ : Well, the committee made other recommendations, including more strongly, this time, a recommendation for the ability to impose a financial sanction, and I suppose your answer to that would be the same as the answer you've given previously?
CM : Absolutely. I don't believe in money, if you see what I mean. I don't think it is the answer.
RJ : I just raise one final point in relation to the McCanns. Can I ask you to look at file B7 under tab 2.
CM : B7?
RJ : Yes. It's page 35734. It's a very small point, so maybe I can just read out.
CM : 4 -- 2 -- 1 -- yeah, do.
RJ : It's a meeting of the PCC which took place on 11 March 2009. At page 35734, you said: "The chairman wished to put on record his denial of a claim made by Gerry McCann that Sir Christopher had advised him to sue Express newspaper titles rather than use the PCC."
CM : Yeah.
RJ : Do you stand by that?
CM : Yes, I -- I did not advise him to do that when I saw him in July. When I saw him in February of the next year, he had already told me that they were going to law. Is that --
RJ : It's splitting hairs a bit, Sir Christopher, because it might be said that what Dr McCann was saying was that it was a choice, really: either you sue for defamation, which they did follow, or you use the PCC. Here you're putting on record your denial of that claim that you advised Dr McCann to sue Express rather than to use the PCC.
CM : Well, it's not splitting hairs, is it? They are two completely different statements. When I saw him in July, I said, "These are the choices." When I saw him in February of the next year, he'd taken the decision. So what I'm denying -- it fits perfectly squarely.
RJ : In February, therefore, is this the position -- because you told us earlier: you effectively agreed with him that it was the right thing to do?
CM : Yes, and I repeated that in public in my interview on the PM programme on 19 March. So it's not splitting hairs.
RJ : It may be the answer is it's a misunderstanding between the two of you as to precisely what was said and precisely what was --
CM : Yeah, I think that is right, actually. Yes, I would agree with that.
RJ : In terms of failing to set in train an investigation into the lessons learnt from the McCann episode --
CM : Failing?
RJ : Failing, I would suggest, is what happened but it's for others to --
LJL : Or deciding not to set in train.
RJ : Deciding not to set in train.
CM : My Lord, I prefer your version.
LJL : Yes, well, I'm trying to move on.
RJ : Of course, we see after your time, arguably at least, another manifestation of what happens in a frenzied situation with the Jefferies case. You would agree with that, would you?
CM : It looked like it, yeah.
RJ : But had the PCC adopted a more proactive position in relation to the McCanns, it is possible -- one can't put it higher than that -- that the press might have acted with more restraint in the Jefferies case. Would you agree?
CM : No. I wouldn't agree.
RJ : Is that because the press will just do what they like anyway, or --
CM : No, Mr Jay, you're not going to lead me down that path.
RJ : Okay.
CM : Let me explain that one of the successes, if you will entertain the notion of success in relation to the PCC –
RJ : Yes.
CM : -- which seems difficult at the moment.
RJ : Okay?
CM : One of the successes of the PCC was in containing media scrums. Now, if you don't believe me, you can go and ask Lady Newlove, who is sitting in the Lords now, widow of Garry Newlove, who was beaten to death by yobs. She precisely wished to avoid media scrums and we succeeded in doing that and I think her appreciation is a matter of record. I don't know what happened in the Jefferies case. I was long gone from the PCC, but what I would refute absolutely is your -- I'm looking for the right adjective -- I'll just say "connection" between the McCanns and Jefferies because of a --
RJ : I think what you really mean is my tendentious and unfair attempts to link the two in any way? That's what you really want to say, isn't it?
CM : You have stolen the words from my mouth, Mr Jay.
RJ : It does cut both ways, though, doesn't it, because the PCC adopting a more prominent position, cajoling the press better to behave might have had a causal impact on what happened in December 2010/January 2011, mightn't it?
CM : I respectfully decline to answer questions on a situation where I have no control and no knowledge over and of the circumstances. All I'm saying to you is that if you look at the record over the years, you will see that one area where the PCC has shown remarkable success, including with the McCanns when they returned to England, is in dealing with scrums and stories based, according to Mr Jefferies, on police sources. That's all I can say about the case. I just don't know any more.
RJ : But a different analysis of the position -- I'm just putting this forward as a possibility -- is perhaps a common theme between the McCann case and the Jefferies case is that the press fails to analyse evidence objectively and clearly and tends to come up with a line which it either believes is probably true or believes chimes in some way with the beliefs and prejudices of its readers, and it's that tendency which needs to be resisted -- it's a tendency which we all need to resist -- and requires firm leadership and direction from a regulator to eschew. Do you see that as a possible analysis?
CM : I -- I'm just trying to work out in practice the meaning of what you have just said. We have -- maybe it's actually too difficult to answer. In -- you cannot generalise for the whole of the British press in that way. Some do their job of reporting well, some do it poorly.
RJ : I wasn't intending to.
CM : No, well, you sounded like that. That's my only point. If what you're saying is that every time there's a big story like that, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission must go out on the media or issue a press release invoking -- exhorting the press to report this responsible, I can tell you straight off, after three months of this, it would have no traction whatsoever. This is not the thing to do. This is not the thing to do. The fact of the matter -- this is what -- this is what people so fail to understand. It's as if you would say to the police: "You're a useless organisation because you can't stop crime", or you would say to the bishops: "We still have sin after all these years. You'd better give up and go." It's ridiculous. It's a ridiculous set of arguments. As long as there are human beings involved, there will be fallibility, and the Press Complaints Commission doesn't always get it right and it needs strengthening, but it is a service to the public, and a vast increase in the number of people who use it over the last few years pays testament to a confidence which you seem, frankly, to ignore.
RJ : At no stage am I expressing a personal view. I am testing propositions. Because the nature of the exercise involves an attempt to be precise, sometimes it might appear that I am going too far, but I make it absolutely clear, I'm not expressing a view, Sir Christopher.
CM : You will forgive me, my Lord -- I hope you'll forgive me if I do push back from time to time rather than sitting here like a coconut.
Q. I don't think anybody would fear that that is what's happening. Can we turn on to a different topic, which is the ICO interaction --
CM : Yes.