RE: Submission to the Inquiry involving media abuse and the buying of police info Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 13:26
From: “Leveson Inquiry General Enquiries”View contact detailsTo: “robert henderson”Dear Mr Henderson,
Thank you for your submission which has been received by the Inquiry Team. You will appreciate that we have received a large amount of evidence since the Inquiry was announced and yours will be considered alongside that. As we only have a limited time for oral hearings, and a large range of issues to cover, it is unlikely that we will require you to provide any additional evidence to the Inquiry at this stage. However, if, once we have considered your submission in more detail, we think it would be helpful to have some more information then we will come back to you.
The Leveson Inquiry Team
Royal Courts of Justice
30 11 2011
I am more than a little concerned that you so lightly dismiss my chances of appearing in person. Let me remind you of the exceptional circumstances of my case:
1. I was falsely accused of being a crude, dangerous racist, the accusation in modern Britain which, if false, is the greatest of libels.
2. I was unable to gain any redress from the publishers of the libels through a retraction or a right of reply; from the PCC who refused to adjudicate on my complaints or my MP Frank Dobson (a member of Blair’s cabinet at the time of the Mirror story) who refused to take up my case. In addition, I did not have the financial means to sue .
3. After the publication of the Mirror and Daily Record stories, I was subject to a long campaign of harassment which included abusive phone calls and a vicious campaign on social media sites attempting to incite physical violence against me by publishing my name, address and phone number together with further vicious libels. It is reasonable to assume this campaign was in some way connected with the Blairs’ failed attempt to have me prosecuted as I had never experienced any such treatment in my life before the publication of the Mirror story.
4. Unlike most of the witnesses who have appeared before the Inquiry, I have based my complaints on either documents which categorically prove what I am saying or on my own eyewitness testimony.
5.I have provided categorical evidence of misbehaviour which covers the entire remit of the Inquiry, viz.:
a) that the erstwhile Mirror editor Piers Morgan that the Mirror obtained evidence illegally from the police, the evidence being Morgan’s letter to the PCC.
b) that the Metropolitan Police failed to investigate the Mirror editor’s admission that the paper received information illegally from a police officer .
c) that the PCC is worthless as a means of redress for harm done to someone abused by the press.
c) That the Mirror behaved with a complete disregard for the truth , failed to meet the PCC Code of Conduct requirement to correct inaccuracies and behaved with utter arrogance throughout the affair from the printing of the story to the end of my complaints to the PCC .
If that does not make someone a prime candidate for an oral hearing it is difficult to see what would.
I could have sent much more by way of documentation on press, PCC and police misbehaviour involving me to the Inquiry, for example, there is the story of the media treatment of me after the publication of my Wisden Cricket Monthly article “Is it in the blood?” in July 1995. That resulted in dozens of media articles, many of them crudely abusive, even more containing serious libels, to which I was denied any correction or opportunity to reply. In that case as well the PCC refused to adjudicate on my complaints. However, I did not wish to flood the Inquiry with a mass of documents so I kept my submission as simple as I could whilst conveying how the press, the PCC and the police had behaved badly towards me. If the Inquiry wishes for further details and supporting documentation of the misbehaviour which I have not included in my submission, I shall of course be willing to supply it.
I also have clear ideas how the press could be brought to behave more ethically without introducing a state regulator or a privacy law. These are contained in an article published by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom which is below this email.
Please acknowledge receipt of this email and confirm that it has been passed to Lord Leveson.
Platform – A right to reply
A statutory right of reply (RoR) is a thing of journalistic nightmares. That tells you it is the best remedy for those who cannot afford to sue for libel. But the media is looking a gift horse in the mouth for a RoR would provide the strongest guard against any government desire to formally regulate newspapers and to further interfere with broadcasters, because an effective cheap means of rapid redress available to everyone, including politicians incidentally, capsizes the prime argument for state regulation. A RoR is the perfect non-political remedy for media abuse because it is a self-sustaining and self-regulating mechanism.
Costs could easily be kept low. First, by making libel the only reason for refusing a RoR and then only for that part of a proposed reply which was libellous. Second, by empowering Small Claims Courts to decide whether a claimed libel exists and, if the court does not agree that it does, to order the newspaper or broadcaster to publish the disputed reply. There should be no higher court appeal against the Small Claims Court’s decision unless the appellant pays both sides’ costs. This would allow justice while preventing those seeking a RoR from being intimidated out of their right by the threat of heavy costs.
How would it work?
The qualification for a RoR would be simple and objective: a media outlet has printed or broadcast material about an individual.
In the case of newspapers I would give a respondent 300 words as an automatic right and another 500 words for every 1000 words published about him or her over 1500 words. The respondent’s reply should be printed on the same page as the story to which they are responding. If the newspaper responds to a reply then the person responded to would get another RoR.
Broadcasting is more problematic but a written reply by the person criticised could be read out on air. Where the person has the confidence to speak for themselves, they should be allowed to broadcast their reply.
The media will say that this is completely impractical, that their papers and broadcasts would be full of nothing but replies. In fact, the general experience of the introduction of new opportunities offered to the public is that there is an initial burst of activity which soon settles down to a hard core of those willing to make the effort. If the introduction of a right to reply proved the sociological odd man out and the media was overwhelmed, the system could be reviewed.
A narrow RoR would be worthless. A RoR should not be limited to inaccuracy. There is often no easy way of proving the truth or otherwise of ostensible “facts”. If a RoR was restricted to inaccuracy, the media would assuredly undermine it by arguing interminably.
Then there is opinion. This is often more damaging than inaccuracy. Moreover, there is no clear distinction between fact and opinion. Suppose I write of an actress that “she is a whore”that is a statement of fact which, in principle, can be tested objectively. But what if I write “she has the morals of a whore”? Is that fact or opinion?
The present non-legal remedies
These are both cumbersome and unfair. For example, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is comprised entirely of people drawn from the media or from those associated in some way with the media, and the organisation is funded by the press. Unsurprisingly, a non-celebrity complainant to the PCC rarely succeeds.
But this misses a larger point. No matter how formally honest any media regulating body was, it could no more serve the public generally than the legal profession can serve the general public in actions for libel where there is no legal aid.
The numbers of complaints actually considered formally by the PCC and the broadcasting authorities is minute, running into a few hundred a year — most complaints never get a full hearing or investigation. If the public began to use these bodies enthusiastically they would be overwhelmed.
The effect on the media
Faced with an immediate published response to any inaccuracy or abusive opinion and the possibility of having to submit themselves to public examination in a small claims court, journalists and broadcasters would cease to be cavalier about what they write.