The Leveson Inquiry…Witnesses Week 5 (Tuesday)

Steve Turner, General Secretary of the British Union of Journalists gives evidence of a bullying culture at News Of The World. Turner blames two factors….falling circulations and a profit based industry leading journalists to take risks. Phoney allegations were made against journalists by Management leading journalists to cave in to pressure.  It was not uncommon for journalists to suffer breakdowns.

Sharon Marshall is a former tabloid journalist, now working in television. She has written a book “Tabloid Girl” which chronicles the excesses of tabloid journalists and is semi-autobigraphical. She herself left The News Of The World because she would not co-operate in a story she knew to be untrue. Ms Marshall spends most of her time in the witness box distancing herself from her own book. She was “writing a comedy not a legal document”. She describes her book as shaggy dog stories told by old hacks “pub talk”. She claims not to know whether the stories are true only that they were told to her.

Chris Johnson (Mercury Press) and Matthew Bell (Ferrari News Agency) give evidence together. Johnson likens the public reaction to journalists and phone hacking as the same as public reaction to Catholic priests and paedophilia.

Piers Morgan gives evidence via satellite link from United States, where he now hosts a chat show/celebrity interview show on CNN. Morgan has edited both The News Of The World and The Daily Mirror. Prior to being an editor, he was a show biz reporter. He has also authored a book “The Insider”. He believes that he is ethical. He denies his staff at The Daily Mirror was involved in phone hacking “but we know The Guardian was”.

He has already acknowledged elsewhere that he was shown how to use the code for breaking into voice mails but can’t recall who told him about the trick. Likewise he has already described Clive Goodman as a “scapegoat” as phone hacking was common-place. In the witness box he claims this statement was based on the Fleet Street rumour mill, rather than hard evidence.

Morgan is asked about listening to a message left  for Helen Mills (by then husband Paul McCartney). He can’t state that it was a voice mail…only a recording. Leveson intervenes to state that only Ms Mills (and those to whom she gives permission) had a right to listen to messages. Morgan wont talk about the source but pointedly recalls that McCartney has suggested that Mills recorded conversations to play to journalists. A frustrated Leveson suggests calling Mills to give evidence.

Morgan is dismissive of allegations by James Hipwell, jailed for “insider trading” while employed by The Daily Mirror. Hipwell is a “convicted criminal”. Morgan bought £67,000 worth of shares I a company tipped by Hipwell. The Press Complaints Commission were  told that the amount invested was £20,000. Morgan does not know why this was.

Morgan has little sympathy with celebrities who use the Press to advance their careers and complain about invasion of privacy.

Yet the parallel with the earlier evidence of Sharon Marshall is striking.

Marshall spent a lot of time distancing herself from “Tabloid Girl” (her own book). Piers Morgan was not able to recall much about the anecdotes in his own book “The Insider”.

Both books were written in the wake of Operation Motorman and it had appeared that the Press had been let off the hook by the Police Investigation, now seen to be inadequate. But the Press seemed anxious to move on. I think Marshall and Morgan tapped into that Zeitgest….where the Public wanted to know more about the “dark arts” in tabloid journalism. Tabloid journalists were treated as “wide boys” who walked a narrow ethical line.

Of course the Zeitgest is now different. Tabloid Journalism is now seen as more sinister. Marshall and Morgan were more guarded than the revelatory nature of their books.


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