The Leveson Inquiry…Witnesses Week 2 (Tuesday)

It was a day when the Leveson Inquiry got to hear from three Journalists.

The first to appear was Richard Peppiatt, a junior journalist on The Daily Star. It is frankly hard to take it seriously even as a tabloid. Headlines which Peppiatt made up include “Bubbles To Give Evidence At Jacko Trial” (a reference to Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee). Peppiatt apologises for among other things harassing Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer who made an impression on “Britains Got Talent”. He was also involved in promoting stories about “Big Brother” on a TV channel owned by Richard Desmond who also owns The Daily Star. Stories about Muslim bomb plots were made up, including one which suggested that Muslims might disguise themselves as Sikhs and hide bombs in their turbans.

When his conscience got to him, Peppiatt resigned. But events took a sinister turn when he started getting threatening emails. He is no longer involved in journalism.

Nick Davies (The Guardian) is one of Britain’s most respected journalists. He has wriiten about the British press in a book “Flat Earth News”. His evidence was a master class in Journalistic ethics……everything that is good about journalism. An almost casual radio debate with a tabloid journalist led to Davies receiving information that The News Of The World had made a massive payout to Gordon Taylor and this was published in The Guardian (2009).

Davies speaks of the old newspaper maxim that “News is something that  someone, somewhere does not want you to know”. He speaks of sources….of information in the public domain and of human sources being encouraged to talk.

He speaks of the unique nature of  newspapers in Britain. Britain is small enough to sustain a national press, where newspapers could be delivered overnight from London to remote parts of the country. This is unlike USA which has newspapers based in cities. There is a different broadsheet and tabloid culture. Broadsheets have small circulations but are reliant on advertising. Tabloids rely on circulation.

It was Davies who broke the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal in July 2011. This led directly to The News Of The World’s closure and the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry.

In the course of information he has received and investigations carried out since 2009, Davies has now come to the conclusion that self-regulation cannot work.The Press Complaints Council does not work. There is some discussion about police corruption and a figure known as “Z” , a disgraced policeman who has acted as bag man for journalists to pay off policemen for information.

Towards the end Davies talked about “blagging” and how journalists needed to have something of The Artful Dodger about them.

Paul McMullan now runs a pub in Dover, Kent………but is a former tabloid journalist who has been the most vociferous defender of tabloid methods including the worst reported excesses. Although gently reminded that he was not obliged to incriminate himself, McMullan seemed proud of his years in tabloids and seemed anxious to name drop and be provocative. He had an air of calculated indifference to the procedings. My feeling is that Leveson was unduly lenient with him.

For McMullan, a career as a controversial radio phone in/shock radio host, will probably open up.

He certainly had some memorable quotes:

“Privacy is the space where bad people do bad things”. “Circulation defines Public Interest” “(Andy Coulson and Rebekkah Wade) are the scum of journalism for dropping me and others in it”, “Hacking Milly Dowler was NOT a bad thing”. “I feel proud that I wrote something that got a paediatrician sic) beaten up”.

This last jaw dropping quote seemed to hang a little in the air before Leveson asked McMullan to clarify and McMullan stated it was a “joke”. McMullan candidly admitted that he believed that the ends justify the means. The only judge and jury is the British public paying £1 to buy a tabloid. He had blagged and bribed. And spoke of trying to hack into David Beckham’s phone but “unfortunately” Beckham answered the phone. But he played the “wide boy”/”wise guy” persona in the witness box and referenced how he had listened to a young woman telling the story of sharing a bubble bath with another woman and Robert de Niro…….and the story was published. The amusing part to him was that the young woman had told the story without first getting payment. He had the story for free….it was published……..and McMullan picked up a £750 bonus for not having to pay the young woman. This amused him greatly.

Oddly he revealed a softer side….Tipped off by a policeman that the drug addict daughter of a deceased award winning actor (whom he named…..I wont) was begging outside Chalk Farm Underground Station, he gave her some money, discussed sex with her (but didnt) and got some topless photographs……all published. Oddly he showed a human side……..the young woman later appeared on TV, thinking he was her “boyfriend”. What the young woman did not need, he candidly admitted in a rare display of conscience……..was a policeman selling information on her to a newspaper and a journalist using her for a story. “I feel ashamed about that”. Not least I imagine because the young woman subsequently over-dosed. Nice guy.

Paul McMullan quickly cheered himself up with a final story of his “wide boy” activity. A person from TV Gladiators (he was tipped off by a friendly journalist on a rival tabloid” had a cocaine habit and would be buying drugs at a certain time and place. A sackable offence as he had a contract which stipulated his responsibility as a role-model. McMullan confronted him. Luckily the Gladiator was “stupid” (sic) and when asked to confirm he was a drug addict, obliged for the benefit of the tape recorder. He was sacked and “has not worked since”.

It was, I think a strange day. Uplifting, cerebral with Nick Davies and and depressing as Paul McMullan jumped from the gutter and waded thru the sewers with which he is so familiar.

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