Blackhurst: Why Leveson Inquiry is 'deepy flawed'

  • Blackhurst claims that if Guardian knew how to work a phone there would be no inquiry
  • Inquiry is too vague
  • Fears over future of investigative journalism

The Leveson Inquiry into press standards is ‘deeply flawed”, according to the editor of The Independent.

Chris Blackhurst has also claimed that ‘if the Guardian had actually realised how to work a mobile phone’the inquiry would never have been set up.

‘They thought it was journalists who were deleting messages on Milly Dowler’s phone – it wasn’t, they just happened to be deleted as time went on,’he said at a City University debate held in association with Press Gazette last night.

‘I know it was bad her phone was hacked – but it was the feeling that her parents thought that their daughter might still be alive because her messages were being deleted that was the bit that really pulled at the heartstrings,” he said.

Blackhurst said that while on the one hand he welcomed the inquiry, on the other it was ‘by no means a perfect inquiry”. He went on to describe the inquiry as being “deeply flawed”.

‘I think it was set up in a flawed way, it was a political response to a growing embarrassment, which we tend to forget now,’he said.

‘At the time last year we had Milly Dowler, we also had Andy Coulson, who was clearly being drawn further and further into the hacking scandal, and we had the bid by Ruper Murdoch for BSkyB.

‘Those three things happened together. It was a very, very fevered atmosphere last July when that was going on.’Blackhurst also criticised the inquiry for being too vague.

Fears for future of investigative journalism

‘I can’t defend and won’t defend some of the things that journalists have done, but if we set up an inquiry right now into the ethics of the food industry, or the ethics of the transport industry, or the ethics of medicine, we’d be sitting forever and all sorts of horrors would be revealed,’he said.

‘It’s flawed because it’s not really looking at the ethics at all. He says he’s looking beyond hacking – to my knowledge so far he’s not called any PRs or lobbyists.”

Blackhurst, who became editor of The Independent last year and is a former deputy editor of the Daily Express, said it was unprecedented for a public inquiry to run in parallel with a criminal investigation, a situation he described as ‘quite bizarre”

Like other Fleet Street editors, he said he was worried about Leveson’s recommendations later this year – arguing the press had already acknowledged the current state of regulation was not fit for purpose.

While the press and the PCC were drawing up their own submissions and recommendations he said that ‘in the end it won’t matter”, adding: ‘If you were asked to chair a public inquiry you’d make damn sure you’d do it properly and came up with some recommendations.”

Blackhurst told the audience that he could ‘safely say we [The Independent] didn’t hack phones, partly because it’s got no money at all”.

‘If we could have hacked in the public interest we probably would have done – I did say in the public interest,’he said

He later described concerns that any recommendations contained within Leveson’s report could curtail investigative journalism in the public interest, highlighting the Telegraph’s expose on MPs exposes, The Sunday Times’ revelations over Tory party donors last weekend, and his own paper’s investigation into lobbying.

‘If that stops society will be poorer,’he said, adding that if the new system of regulation goes anywhere near Parliament the press ‘could be in for a very torrid time”.

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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