Leveson Report: the verdict on individual newspapers
PUBLISHED November 29, 2012
The Times was accused of displaying a "lack of objectivity" in order to protect another News International paper when it published a story raising questions about Gordon Brown's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, the report said.
The former Prime Minister's treatment as a whole by News International over the reporting of his son's medical condition left "much to be desired", Lord Justice Leveson said. Mr Brown told the inquiry in June that the Fife health board had informed him it was "highly likely" that a member of NHS staff had leaked information about his baby son Fraser's cystic fibrosis to The Sun, which revealed it in a front-page story in November 2006.
An article in The Times just over a fortnight after Mr Brown gave evidence reported a suggestion that a Scottish newspaper had known about Fraser's condition weeks before it was disclosed in The Sun. It said Mr Brown had claimed The Sun "illegally obtained information from his son's medical records".
The Times went on to print an apology saying that the Scottish newspaper had since clarified that it did not realise Mr Brown's son had cystic fibrosis, and that it had misreported his testimony.
Lord Justice Leveson said it was clear the author of the article had misread Mr Brown's evidence. He added: "Others have suggested that on this occasion The Times demonstrated a lack of objectivity borne out of its desire to protect another News International title: this is certainly a possible inference, but would require more specific evidence to substantiate."
News International declined to comment on specific details in his report.
Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express and Sunday Express, faced severe criticism over the way his newspapers reported "outrageous" allegations after Madeleine McCann's disappearance
The titles were guilty of "gross libels" and "highly inaccurate" reports about Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter vanished on a family holiday in Portugal in 2007, Lord Justice Leveson said.
Mr Desmond held "very disturbing" views on the purpose of a free press and regarded the concept of ethical behaviour as almost "irrelevant", the judge found.
The decision by Northern & Shell, owners of the Express titles and the Daily Star, to withdraw from the Press Complaints Commission further undermined the watchdog's effectiveness, he added.
Paul Ashford, group editorial director of Northern & Shell, said Lord Leveson had made "tough recommendations" which were "a positive step" towards effective newspaper self-regulation.
It was "surprising" that The Daily Telegraph held back from reporting Vince Cable's claim to its undercover journalists that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch, the Leveson Report found.
Lord Justice Leveson noted suspicions that the newspaper did not want to "cause trouble" for the Business Secretary, who had decided to intervene in Mr Murdoch's attempt to buy BSkyB in a move that supported the interests of the Telegraph Media Group. Mr Cable's comments that he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we're going to win" were leaked to the BBC before being printed in The Daily Telegraph the next day.
The Telegraph denied it was trying to hide the information and said it had kept back part of the transcript of the covertly-recorded conversation so it could publish another instalment, the report said.
Lord Justice Leveson made no finding about the newspaper's motive for withholding what would have been the "most explosive" part of the story.
He also noted evidence that Aidan Barclay, chairman of Telegraph Media Group, had a dinner with David Cameron shortly before the 2010 General Election at which he arranged for a daily phone call between the Prime Minister and The Daily Telegraph's editor during the campaign.
Lord Justice Leveson said the episode "vividly illustrated" the power of face-to-face meetings to maximise the support of a sympathetic title for a political leader.
The report also described the Telegraph's exposure of the MPs' expenses scandal as "an example of journalism at its best".
Paul Dacre, the editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, was criticised in the Leveson Report for refusing to consider the effects of publishing sensitive or inaccurate information on individuals.
Lord Justice Leveson raised questions about the publishers of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday in his lengthy report into the newspaper industry, saying that executives appeared to be "unwilling to entertain the idea" that the disclosure of sensitive information would cause significant upset.
Lord Justice Leveson highlighted the case of Abigail Witchalls, who was stabbed in an attack in Surrey in 2005.
The Daily Mail disclosed that Mrs Witchalls was five weeks pregnant when she was left paralysed by the attack, although she was unaware of that at the time. Mrs Witchalls's pregnancy was revealed while she was unconscious and before she or anyone other than her medical team and immediate family knew about it.
Lord Justice Leveson also used the example of an erroneous article about alleged drunken behaviour of the actor Neil Morrissey to highlight his concerns about the media's standards.
Although Mr Dacre accepted that the story about Mr Morrissey was inaccurate and defamatory, he was unwilling to accept that the article might be hurtful to the actor.
Lord Justice Leveson said that Mr Dacre and his team appeared to be unable to acknowledge the consequences of articles in Associated papers. Mrs Witchalls's family was upset by an article relating to her brother, which covered a "spurious link" between her attack and an attack on her brother.
Included as part of the article were the name and a photograph of Mrs Witchalls's brother, along with an indication that he suffered from learning difficulties and the names of his attackers. Lord Justice Leveson said: "Mr Dacre appeared not to understand why the family would have been upset by the article at all."
He said he was concerned by Mr Dacre's "unwillingness to entertain the idea that each of these stories might have been hurtful, upsetting and/or damaging to the individuals involved".
Mr Dacre is the chairman of the Editors' Code of Practice Committee, part of the Press Complaints Commission, and he has been one of the most vociferous campaigners against statutory regulation of the press. Earlier this month, the Daily Mail published an extensive examination of the
Leveson Inquiry and its advisers.
Lord Justice Leveson also said that the newspaper group had used "aggressive defence" in its tactics against the actor Hugh Grant. Lord Leveson said that Mr Dacre "acted precipitately", in particular in failing to confirm exactly what Mr Grant had said when he testified on phone hacking.
Lord Leveson praised the Daily Mail's coverage of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, where the paper fought a long battle to bring his attackers to justice. "It must be emphasised that [Mr Dacre's] judgment has been entirely vindicated by subsequent events," noted the judge.
Associated Newspapers declined to comment on the Leveson Report.
The Guardian newspaper was praised by Lord Justice Leveson for its role in exposing phone hacking at The News of The World.
In July 2011 the newspaper published a report which claimed that News of The World journalists intercepted and deleted the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
It marked the culmination of two years of investigations by the newspaper into illegal practises at the News of the World in the face of intense criticism.
The Press Complaint Committee, the regulator, accepted the assurances of The News of the World and criticised The Guardian at the time for publishing its investigation.
Lord Justice Leveson said: "Until the Guardian article, there is no evidence that the wider issue (or the police investigation) was considered in any detail by the press.
When the Guardian (and, subsequently, the New York Times) did publish articles, both the Police and the Press Complaints Commission reacted."
Lord Justice Leveson yesterday confirmed that while The News of the World's hacked Milly Dowler's voicemail, it did not give the parents "false hope" by deleting messages. The Guardian has expressed regret at the error.
He, added however, that despite the error "the essential gravamen of the Guardian's original story, namely that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked by or on the instructions of journalists employed by the NoW, was correct, and is now the subject of criminal charges".
Lord Justice Leveson singled out Nick Davies, one of the newspapers investigative journalists for helping "uncover the truth" and the newspaper had held "those with power to account".
David Leigh, another investigative reporter at The Guardian, admitted he had impersonated an arms dealer in a telephone call to Sir Mark Thatcher for a story.
He also engaged the services of Benjamin Pell, known as Benjy the binman, to search for documents about a Saudi arms deal in the bins of a City law firm.
The Guardian was also cited as an example of good journalism for its investigation into the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson and articles on offshore tax devices used by British companies.