The need for a free press is now “as great, if not greater, than it has ever been”, a lawyer for News International said today as the Leveson Inquiry began its second day of hearings.
For Rhodri Davies QC, a key issue is “not why does the press know so much, but why does it know so little”. He stressed that NI supported a model of independent self-regulation, that the PCC could be improved, and that the press is “not above the law.”
Davies also apologised to phone hacking victims, stressing that the practice was “shameful” and “should not have happened”. He added that NI accepts “there was no public interest justification” in hacking.
Regarding the hiring of a private investigator to carry out surveillance on hacking victims’ lawyers and members of the select committee, Davies said “it wasn’t journalism at all and it was unacceptable.”
Davies contested the figure revealed yesterday by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Inquiry, that 28 NI reporters had been involved in phone hacking. He said that believes the police are the only people who have seen the entire set of Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, which contained five corner names — Clive Goodman and other News of the World staff referred to as A, B, C and D — and asked Jay’s figure of 28 be “rechecked”.
He conceded, however, that the 2,266 requests for voicemails cited in the 11,000 pages of notes were “2,226 too many”. Referring to the five reporters, Davies said “five names is five names too many”.
He added that he was not going to give any assurances that phone hacking did not occur “by or for the News of the World after 2007″, but stressed that lessons had been learned from the jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire. He cited the setting up of an internal committee at NI as one of the steps the company was taking to ensure phone hacking did not happen again.
Also speaking this morning was Jonathan Caplan QC on behalf of Associated Newspapers. He too condemned the practice of phone hacking, adding that no journalist at Associated Newspapers has engaged in phone hacking, bribed or bribes police officers.
Caplan also stressed that the PCC could be made more effective but “did not need to be replaced.” The virtue of the current system, he said, is that complaints are generally heard and resolved quickly, free of charge and without the use of lawyers.
He made the case for all newspapers being part of a self-regulatory system, adding that it was “unacceptable” that a newspaper owner should be permitted to opt out of one.
To this, Leveson said he could not see how this would be achieved without a law forcing all newspapers to sign up.
The hearing will continue this afternoon with an opening statement by Northern and Shell, which publishes the Express and Daily Star.
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