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Press & publishing  |  Special report: media law  |  Special report: press and privacy


Privacy laws only protect the rich, editors insist

Ciar Byrne
Tuesday June 17, 2003

Piers Morgan
Morgan: described the inquiry as 'a vacuous exercise in self-indulgence by a bunch of busy-body MPs'
National newspaper editors have lambasted MPs' demands for a privacy law, warning such legislation would hamper investigative reporting, protect only the rich and famous and allow corruption to go unchecked.

Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, welcomed the the culture select committee's suggestions on how the current system of self-regulation could be improved.

However, he said he "disagreed profoundly" with its recommendation that the government should introduce privacy legislation.

"This would merely be yet another method for the rich, the powerful and the corrupt to hide their transgressions from their public and provide a feeding frenzy for the lawyers," said Dacre.

The out of court settlement the People awarded Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox and her husband, Jon Carter, for publishing pictures of them nude on honeymoon, and Catherine Zeta Jones' court battle against Hello! over unapproved wedding photographs have highlighted the privacy issue this year.

However, the committee, led by veteran Labour backbencher Gerald Kaufman, had a remit to concentrate on ordinary members of the public rather than celebrities.

"Ordinary people, whose privacy had been invaded, would not be able to afford the huge sums involved in bringing a case before the courts," said Dacre.

"Such cases also lead to yet more exposure in court of the matters the complainant wishes to keep private.

"The committee's further detailed recommendations to improve self-regulation deserve serious examination.

"I am confident all those who believe in self-regulation, as opposed to government censorship, will be ready and willing to seek improvement."

The Independent's editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner, said: "I welcome almost all the suggestions to strengthen the press complaints commission and achieve greater transparency - but a privacy law is a step too far.

"The main danger of a privacy law is it will act, as it does in France, and will be a curb against investigative journalism."

Kelner said MPs "wanted it both ways" by calling for a privacy law at the same time as recommending detailed improvements to the current system.

He added the committee was "slightly whistling in the wind" after the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, made it clear the government had no plans to introduce a privacy law.

"The government has already intimated they don't have any appetite for a privacy law. This government is not going to bring it in and I can't see subsequent governments wanting to bring it in," Kelner said.

He also cast doubt on the committee's recommendation that the PCC should introduce a system of fixed fines for newspapers that breach its code.

However, he agreed with fining newspapers through the back door by increasing their contributions to Presbof, the body that funds self-regulation.

The Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, was less circumspect in his criticism of the committee's findings.

"It's a vacuous exercise in self-indulgence by a bunch of busy-body MPs with nothing better to do all day," Morgan said.

"This report comes to the same conclusion that their predecessors came to a decade ago - that we need a privacy law," he added, referring to recommendations made by the national heritage committee in 1993.

"They pretend this would protect ordinary members of the public when, in fact, everyone knows it would only serve to protect the rich, famous and powerful. And, of course, MPs.

"This is what happens in France where public officials can behave with crooked impunity and the press can't write about it."

Morgan praised self-regulation which, he said, had improved press standards dramatically over the past decade.

"Buried away in the report is an admission that press standards have improved under the PCC, yet they still insist self-regulation doesn't work. The truth is it works very well," Morgan said.

"Most of the people who complain are satisfied with the outcome of the usually speedy resolution.

"Like any complaints body, a few people remain dissatisfied whatever the resolution.

"Press standards have improved dramatically in the last 10 years and self-regulation has palpably worked."

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 Calls for privacy law and PCC reform
17.06.2003: Development of new privacy law boosted by Human Rights Act
17.06.2003: MPs call for shake-up of media policing
17.06.2003: Report calls for fast-track for complaints
17.06.2003: The landmark cases, from football to film
16.06.2003: Editors back rejection of privacy law
16.06.2003: Government rejects call for privacy law
16.06.2003: MPs demand privacy law
16.06.2003: Watchdog responds to call for privacy law
16.06.2003: MPs call for privacy law to guard against press intrusion
16.06.2003: Meyer: self-regulation better than privacy law
16.06.2003: Put PCC out of its misery, says top media lawyer
15.06.2003: Press chief primed for counter-attack on MPs

 What the papers said
17.06.2003: How the press reacted to the Commons inquiry

 Sarah Cox privacy case
08.06.2003: Cox case is 'no reason for privacy laws'
07.06.2003: Radio 1 disc jockey wins privacy case
09.06.2003: Leader: Cox case is bad news for the PCC
24.01.2003: Cox wins injunction over French pictures

 Royal family
09.06.2003: Photos mark Prince Harry's exit from Eton
19.05.2003: Editor leaves after royal debacle
08.05.2003: 'Exclusive' Prince William interview scuppered
01.05.2003: Daily Record lines up royal scoop
07.05.2003: Mirror attacks rivals over royal pictures

 Privacy and celebrities
15.05.2003: McGregor blasts Heat 'intrusion'
02.05.2003: Fresh legal threat from Zeta Jones
28.04.2003: Express apologises to popstar
05.02.2003: Madonna goes to PCC over baby claims
13.02.2003: Watchdog raps People over Goodyear photos
24.02.2003: Creek star lambasts press on privacy
03.03.2003: Newspaper appeals against gag on footballer's affair

 Douglas and Zeta Jones v Hello!
11.04.2003: Zeta Jones wins high court battle
11.04.2003: Full summary of judgment
11.04.2003: Case means end of road for spoilers
12.04.2003: Zeta Jones victory raises threat of privacy law
11.04.2003: How the Hello! spoiler went wrong
11.04.2003: Madonna's PR and Max Clifford on the Zeta Jones case
11.04.2003: OK! hails 'historic' victory

 Comment on the Zeta Jones case
14.04.2003: Keith Schilling: Private lessons
11.04.2003: Paul Gilbert: Media must heed this warning shot
12.04.2003: Leader: Price of fame
11.04.2003: David Attfield: Crisis of confidence
12.02.2003: Rod Liddle: Don't let them eat cake

 Privacy and the general public
19.05.2003: Dan Tench: Defame and be damned
30.04.2003: New law could stop 'naming and shaming' by press
15.04.2003: Peppe tells of trauma in media spotlight
28.03.2003: Alison Prager: When my sister was murdered
10.02.2003: Ian Mayes: Children in the picture
22.11.2002: Privacy law 'needed to protect public'

 Mary Bell
15.04.2003: Bell and daughter 'must be protected from harassment'
15.04.2003: Mary Bell to get life anonymity
14.04.2003: Court hears Bell anonymity case

 Gerhard Schroder
22.01.2003: Schröder wins latest privacy battle
20.01.2003: German chancellor in privacy battle with British tabloid
21.01.2003: Leader: The Hamburg muzzle

 Naomi Campbell v Daily Mirror
15.10.2002: 'Weak' Campbell case offers no media safeguard, claims lawyer
14.10.2002: Campbell loses aggravated damages
14.10.2002: Campbell privacy case thrown out
14.10.2002: Campbell verdict allays fears of backdoor privacy law special reports
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