Grâce à la liberté dans les communications, des groupes d’hommes de même nature pourront se réunir et fonder des communautés. Les nations seront dépassées.
Friedrich Nietzsche (Fragments posthumes XIII-883)

09 - MAR 24 - CPCM (2) -JE,SoN,CM

Enquête sur les critères de la presse, l'intrusion dans la vie privée et la diffamation (2)

Aux entités et autorités appelées à déposer sur l'affaire MC, le Comité parlementaire posa deux questions auxquelles répondre par écrit. 
1) Pourquoi le régime d'auto-régulation n'a-t-il pas été utilisé, pourquoi la PCC n'a-t-elle pas eu recours à sa propre enquête et quels changements cette affaire a-t-elle donné lieu dans l'industrie journalistique. 
2) L'action pour diffamation gagnée par les MC contre l'Express Group et d'autres journaux  indiquait-elle que le régime d'auto-régulation accusait une sérieuse faiblesse.

Auditions  de Jeff Edwards, Sean O'Neil et Christopher Meyer  - 24.03.2009

Q307  Adam Price (MP Plaid Cymru) : Clarence Mitchell, who is the media adviser to Gerry McCann, painted a pretty appalling picture of almost frenzied pressure on the journalists working on that particular story to produce. One of the discussions is whether that was a one-off because of the particular circumstances, but in the last few days we have had another crime story in an overseas jurisdiction, the Fritzl case. The Sun was the first newspaper in the world, I think, to publish a photograph of the daughter. The Daily Mail then followed up by publishing the name of the village where she was living now with her family, and she has had had to move back into a psychiatric institute because the cover has been blown. It hardly makes you proud to be British. Does it make you proud to be a journalist?
Jeff Edwards (président de la Crime Reporters Association) : No. It is a vast topic this. When you look at the amount of trade and traffic that a newspaper like the Times or the Daily Mirror generates every day—millions of words, thousands of different topics over a period of a year, and things happen. There have always been things that have happened that I certainly did not approve of and no doubt a number of my colleagues would not have approved of. With the McCann case, which I was not directly involved in, I did not travel to Portugal—I did a little bit of work at this end, but I was only peripherally involved—I know from talking to colleagues, not just colleagues at the Daily Mirror but colleagues across the business who were out there, that there was intolerable pressure brought to bear on some of them to produce results at any cost. One of the interesting developments or one of the interesting aspects of how technology can take over is that all newspapers have websites now, and editors were coming in each morning and looking at the number of "hits" per story on the websites, and certainly the ones which were getting the greatest amount of attention were the ones they then wanted to repeat the process with again the next day. With the McCann case I know that most newspapers were in this situation. Editors were coming in the morning, having a look and saying, "There've been 10,000 hits." I have no doubt the same thing would have applied to the demise of Jade Goody over the last few days. They would come in, have a look and say, "This story is getting twice as many hits. People are twice as interested in this as anything else, thus we must have more on this story. So the editor tells one of his line managers, "We must develop more on this story," the line manager leans heavily on the reporter in Portugal and says, "We must have more on this story," and the reporter says, "There is no more. We have squeezed this dry." The line manager—and I am not talking about any particular newspaper: I am sure this is happening across the business—will be saying, "I don't care what we do, just get something"—you know: "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions." I have heard that expression many, many times in these sorts of circumstances. Essentially reporters, I know, will have been congregating in Portugal over breakfast, and saying, "What the hell are we going to do today to resolve the situation?" Thus a huge amount of recycling of information, and I have no doubt that some of what went on strayed beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable and some newspapers paid the price for that.

Q308  AP : Sometimes, of course, the problem lies not with the body of the text of a story but with the headline. To what extent, if your buyer pays for the story, do you, as journalists, get consulted in relation to the headline?
JE : No.
Sean O'Neill (The Times) : In a way we are the responsible end of the business. What they call "citizen journalism," out there on the blogosphere and forums and rumour sites, nobody is controlling any of that. The stories are still out there about the McCann family and that case. It is circulating madly. The internet feeding frenzy that goes on is completely beyond regulation. Nobody has any control over any of that. I think that is really quite worrying. I am not saying you people, but if you look at the courts, judges make contempt of court orders: "You must not report this" and "Nobody must know anything about this" and when jurors get home they Google the name of the defendant and find out everything they need to know. Not necessarily from responsible media but from all kinds of sites. It is getting to a world where you can regulate the press and you can talk about privacy laws and libel and all the rest of it. Who is going to sue while he peddles loads of nonsense that cannot be checked or verified and all the rest of it?
 Q343  Janet Anderson (MP Labour) : We have taken quite a lot of evidence about the case of the McCanns, including from Madeleine's father Gerry McCann. In its submission to this inquiry the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) actually said: "It is likely that the PCC would not have upheld complaints from the McCanns since it is arguable whether there is direct evidence that the articles concerned breached the PCC Code of Practice, which does not prevent speculation." We understand that the McCanns were actually advised by their legal advisers that to go down the PCC route was not the most effective, although they did eventually successfully sue the Express.
Sir Christopher Meyer : The lawyers would say that, would they not? Having read Mr Tudor's evidence to you—I think he was there with Gerry McCann—it was a classic kind of Carter Ruck operation, a sort of tendentious onslaught on the PCC, because one has to say there are a number of law firms in London who specialise in media matters who regard us as their sworn enemies, probably because we do the job as well as they do but we do it for free and we can provide a degree of discretion which protects the complainant in a way that open exposure in court does not. Here I would mention the case of Max Mosley which maybe you will want to discuss. In the matter of the McCanns—I am not aware of this NUJ submission and I do not really understand what it is driving at there—one has to say this in brief, and I come back to my first point: there is a time for the courts and there is a time for the PCC; the notion that the courts and the PCC are in a competition as some kind of zero sum game is absolutely ludicrous. The PCC is never going to eliminate the courts and I sure as hell hope that the judges do not ever eliminate the PCC; we act in a complementary way. What I said to Gerry McCann when I first him was 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 are going to have to make a choice. It seems to me perfectly normal that if you feel that you are defamed or libelled and you want damages for that, punitive damages for that, you obviously go to court, but there is a whole range of other things that we could have done and could do for the McCanns which are of a quite different nature. The McCanns are an interesting case of people who chose both ways; they went to the courts on the matter of defamation and they came to us for the protection of their children and their family from the media scrums when they returned to the United Kingdom. It seems to me a perfectly normal way of proceeding.

Q344  Philip Davies (MP Conservative) : Just on the issue of credibility, I understand the point you make is a good one, that if people want damages then they are going to have to go through the court system, but in terms of the credibility it seems that Gerry McCann said that his beef with the PCC was that the "editor of a paper which had so flagrantly libelled us with the most devastating stories could hold a position on the board of the PCC." That was his beef. Max Mosley's beef was that "they have no power" and that it was "very much a creature of the press". In terms of credibility would you accept that those kinds of feelings about the PCC are quite widespread, although nothing to do with whether somebody wants damages or not, they are actually just questioning how effective the PCC is in any event?
Sir CM : I must say it would be a desperate man who measured the quality of the PCC's service by something that Max Mosley may have said. Where the McCanns are concerned the editor of the Daily Express, after the settlement was announced on 19 March last year, played no further part in the proceedings of the PCC and it was in May that he was replaced by Peter Wright. Max Mosley—I read what he had to say. It was absolutely predictable stuff, probably ventriloquised by Carter Ruck, all the usual tired, pitiful stuff about limp wrists and—what was his stupid thing, arranging a piss-up in a brewery, some worn-out metaphor that he used. I really have no regard to what he had to say about the PCC.

Q363 PF : Sir Christopher, could you tell the Committee why the editor of the Daily Express Peter Hill left the PCC board?
Sir CM : I said in an interview with journalists at the time of the publication of our 2007 report that there was a combination of reasons. There was the fact that Mr Desmond, because he was not paying his fee to the NPA was not paying his fee to the self-regulatory system, then there was the affair of the McCanns and then there was the fact that Peter Hill had been on the Commission since 2003 and was due to go. There was a mixture of things there.

Q364  PF : My understanding from within the industry is that during the McCann coverage many editors felt the position of Mr Hill on the board was untenable and in effect revolted. Peter Hill offered his resignation but Richard Desmond refused in the circumstances to allow him to carry it out, is that correct?
Sir CM : I would not know; you need to ask Mr Desmond that. I do not know if you are inviting him to appear before you or even Peter Hill, if you are inviting him to appear before you. Mr Farrelly, you will have to ask them.

Q365  PF : Is it correct that he offered to resign but then rescinded that offer?
Sir CM : I was under the impression that he did realise that he needed to resign after the announcement on 19 March of the judgment, and I certainly had the impression that he was going to do that, but that was an impression that was not confirmed by life.

Q366  PF : Events. The answer is yes.
Sir CM : Probably, yes. I think he was going to resign.

Q367  PF : Yes definitely or yes probably.
Sir CM : It has to be yes probably because I am not inside his brain. I was certainly under the impression immediately after 19 March that he was going to resign from the Commission, but he did not.

Q368  PF : I just want to explore the position of the Express further but first of all, in retrospect, you are about to leave the PCC after long and distinguished service. On reflection do you think that the PCC could or should have acted in the McCann case better to restrain the press?
Sir CM : I do not see how we could and the people out there who say that the McCann case is a failure of self-regulation, I believe this to be absolutely false and without substance, and I will tell you why. As soon as we heard about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann—and I am sure you have got all this in your papers but I will repeat it for the record—we got on to the British Embassy in Lisbon and said "Will you please tell the McCanns and their representatives that we stand ready to help in any way we can, this is what we can do." We maintained contact with their press representatives—

Q369  PF : You will be aware that Mr McCann told us that that message was not received.
Sir CM : He told me it was not received as well, because I then saw him on 13 July 2007—he happened to come round to my house to see my wife who runs a charity that specialises in missing and abducted children—and I took the opportunity to say to Gerry McCann, "Look, this is what we can do, here is the brochure that explains in detail how you can complain and the different ways in which you can make a complaint." At that time he told me he had never got the message from the embassy. Whether that means the message was never conveyed to the McCann party, if you like, or whether he, Gerry, did not know that their press person at the time had got the message, I do not know and I have never been able to establish. We continued to keep in touch. At the time his press representative was a woman called Justine McGuiness and we kept in touch with her, then his press arrangements changed and I saw him again on 29 February last year. By that time he had taken the decision to sue Express Newspapers and I said to him, "If it is damages you are after, that is what you should do, but we remain ready to help", and we have been able as you know to help on the separate issue of protecting his children and family, as I said. With the benefit of hindsight what we would have needed to have acted earlier is for the McCanns to have come to us and said this or that or whatever is wrong, but we cannot be more royalist than the king, we cannot take action unless in those particular circumstances the first parties come to us and say something is going wrong. The most we can do in those circumstances is to say "We are here; this is what we can do" and we can explain it several times over. But if the first parties themselves do not want to take action with us then there is not a lot we can do because in the end what it boiled down to—and I take my cue here from the court case—was, was what the British press was reporting accurate or inaccurate, was it right or was it wrong? Sitting in London I had no way of judging whether what was coming out from the Portuguese authorities, going into the Portuguese press, being regurgitated by the British press was right or wrong. Unless the first party comes to you and says we have grounds for complaint there is no way in which we can intervene.

Q370  PF : In your evidence you said to us it would have been impertinence by the PCC to have got involved sooner and contacted the McCanns directly. We put that to Gerry McCann and he told us he would not have felt that an impertinence, yet you contacted the embassy but you did not contact them directly.
Sir CM : You start off by contacting the embassy because you do not know how to get through to them. In the very beginning, in the first two days, yes, that was what we did. For example, if you had a similar case in the UK, say a horrible crime where the victim's family find themselves the attention of a media scrum, one of the first things we would do is get on to the family liaison officers at the local police force who already ought to know the drill and say "The family does not want to talk to the press, they want to keep them away." The family liaison officer will then act on our behalf, that is one way in which we do it. We did not have any phone numbers in Praia da Luz but we knew that the British Embassy had sent somebody down there from the consular section of the embassy to keep an eye on the McCanns, so you ring the embassy and say "While you are down there make sure that they know that this service is available." In due course we made direct contact with Justine McGuiness and I personally had a meeting with Gerry McCann as I said on 13 July. In all honesty, Mr Farrelly, I do not see what else in those circumstances we could do. The truth or otherwise of what was written by the press at the time, or at least by the Express at the time, in the end had to be tested in the courts because the advice that Gerry McCann got was that this is defamation, this is libel. By definition the Press Complaints Commission does not do defamation, does not do libel.

Q371  PF : A lot of people reading the evidence that you have given might find that rather weak, Sir Christopher.
Sir CM : I am sorry, I must come back at you. Why weak? We do not apply the law Mr Farrelly.

Q372  PF : Let me just move on.
Sir CM : No, you just said something very significant.

Q373  PF : What is your view then on the suggestions that actually the PCC's operations might be improved if it were more proactive and also acted on references from third parties?
Sir CM : We are extraordinarily proactive, it is one of the great growth areas over the last few years. We have just of our own volition, to give you the latest example—you may remember the case of Alfie Patten, a 13-year-old boy living down in Sussex who may or may not have fathered a child with a 15 or 16-year-old girl. We have not received any complaint about those stories but we are now investigating the matter and at the next meeting of the Commission the Commission will take a view on whether there has been a breach of the Code or not. We do this all the time but we must have grounds for so doing. Where a lot of our critics go wrong is that they expect us to apply the law, they expect us to be either instruments of the state or to have legal powers in areas which are reserved for the courts and for the judges. Proactive—what does it actually mean in the case of the McCanns, what does it mean in real terms beyond making sure they know what their rights are under the Code of Practice.

Q374  PF : Can you just clarify how the PCC acted in the instance of the story about Prince Philip in the Standard; did the PCC act after receiving a formal complaint from the palace?
Tim Toulmin : Yes, through his lawyer Gerard Tyrrell.

Q375  PF : The PCC did not proactively offer its services before that.
TL : No. It is well-known that the Royal Family knows how to use the PCC; Prince Philip instructed Harbottle and Lewis and they complained on his behalf. 

Q376  PF : In the McCann case has the PCC censured the Express?
TL : We did not have a complaint about the Express.
Sir CM : There are two different jurisdictions here. We cannot censure them unless there is a case before us; there was not a case before us. The McCanns took a deliberate decision not to come to us except on the question of protecting their children, because they had been persuaded by lawyers—I am not going to quarrel with their decision—that they had been defamed and they had a case at law. They chose to go down that path.

Q377 PF : On what complaint was any censure made in the McCann case? Has the PCC issued any censure at all?
TL : The extent to which the PCC was used by the McCanns related to pre-publication work, harassment and so on where the remedy if you like was the minimising or indeed the cessation of the physical activity. That was the bit that they came to us over. No investigation was necessary because it was about the whole pre-publication area. They did not complain to us about the subject-matter of the articles and they went to court instead, as do some people every year. We do not ambulance-chase libel cases and then go after them.

Q378  PF : In conclusion, as an industry self-regulator after months of false coverage the PCC has issued no comment on the standards employed by the press in the McCann case.
Sir CM : Wrong Mr Farrelly.

Q379  PF : It is a question, has it?
Sir CM : First of all you are looking at this with 20:20 hindsight, forgive me for saying it, but what is obvious now was not obvious at the time. On 19 March when the judgment became public I rose from my sickbed, stuffed myself with paracetamol, staggered out to a radio car and on the PM programme castigated Peter Hill and Richard Desmond for a bad day for British journalism. Contrast and compare—I say this myself—with some of the reactions of the BBC Trust in recent cases. There was no question of us remaining silent; I said it was a bad day for British journalism, that Peter Hill should consider his position and that Mr Desmond should make a greater effort to ensure higher journalistic standards across all his publications.

Q396  PF : Sir Christopher, after your long tenure at the PCC I have no feeling at all from this session that you think in any way that the PCC either could or should be more proactive in monitoring compliance with the Code of Practice as other regulators—from the Takeover Panel to Ofsted for example—do. We have discussed the McCann case where the McCanns were complaining of irresponsible journalism and people like Sir Max Hastings were, at an early stage, professing to hang their head in shame at the way the press were behaving, and yet you did not step in.
Sir CM : Sorry, how would we have stepped in?

Q397 PF : Can I give you another example of where the public might well feel that the PCC should be more proactive in monitoring the Code of Compliance. In this day and age it is the practice now—and Mr Bowdler you would know very well from your group—for newspapers to invite comments on stories. On New Year's Eve a close friend of mine lost his 16-year old son tragically in an accident and that was covered in the local newspaper in Sussex, and some of the comments that were written by people on that news were just sick really. I would suggest that one way we might proactively look at compliance with the Code is to take a snapshot of websites at any point in time and just monitor whether newspapers are complying with the Code. I do not know whether that is the sort of action you would ever consider at the PCC.
Sir CM : Of course we do. We do our very best to monitor the press and, okay, the one charge that cannot be levelled against us in 2009 is that we are not proactive, but there are limits to what you can do. There are thousands of publications in the United Kingdom with an equal number of websites; there is a limit to what you can monitor. We have already had our discussion about the McCanns and the Express and I suspect that you and I are never going to agree on this, but that is another matter. As for the newspaper and magazine industry of the United Kingdom as a whole of course we do our best to monitor what is going on, but short of employing another 25,000 people to add to the 14 or 15 we have already I do not see how we can do this universally.

(3) auditions de Roy Greenslade et Nick Davies