Hugh Grant's 10 myths of tabloid journalism

How the actor rebutted the tabloids at the Leveson inquiry.

Hugh Grant was denied the opportunity to read out his full witness statement at the Leveson inquiry this afternoon. But towards the end of the session, he was given the chance to set out what he believes are "the 10 myths of the popular press". Here they are, together with a summary of Grant's accompanying evidence.

Myth 1: That it is only celebrities and politicians who suffer at the hands of popular papers.

Grant pointed to Christopher Jefferies, Robert Murat and Madeleine McCann's parents as examples of "innocent citizens" who had been "shamelessly monstered" by the British press.

Myth 2: That egregious abuses of privacy happened only at the News of the World.

He compared the claim that hacking only took place at the News of the World to the NoW's now-discredited "rogue reporter" defence. He reminded the inquiry that former NoW journalist Paul McMullan, secretely recorded by Grant for the New Statesman, said that the the biggest payers for hacking in the past were the Daily Mail.

Myth 3: That in attempting to deal with the abuses of some sections of the press you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

He argued that it was easy to distinguish between principled public interest journalism ("the baby") and invasive tabloid journalism ("the bathwater").
"There may be grey areas between these two, but I argue that they are nothing like as grey or as extensive as they are cracked up to be," he said.

Myth 4: That any attempt to regulate the press means we are heading for Zimbabwe.

Grant said that there were "several gradations" between state regulation and self regulation, including "co-regulation" which would see a panel comprised of journalists, non-journalists and experts in the field draw up a code with proper sanctions, fines as well as apologies.

But he insisted that "there has to be a bit of statute right at the back" to prevent papers such as the Daily Express excluding themselves.

Myth 5: That current privacy law under the Human Rights Act muzzles the press.

No one has ever sued the Guardian for breach of privacy, noted Grant, denying that current privacy law gags the press.

He described the tabloid outrage over superinjunctions as "bogus" and "convenient".

Myth 6: That judges always find against the press.

Grant denied that the judiciary was biased in favour of plaintiffs. He highlighted the case of Rio Ferdinand as evidence that judges will rule for the paper if they feel that there is a public interest defence.

Myth 7: Privacy can only ever be a rich man's toy.

Were it only the rich who took legal action against the press, said Grant, the tabloids would not be campaigning so loudly for the abolition of Conditional Fee Arrangements ("no win no fee" arrangements). The abolition of CFA's would deny access to ordinary people, he warned.

If you look at the Dowlers, they would not have been able to prosecute that case without a CFA.

Christopher Jefferies had to use a CFA, Sara Payne the same.

This whole campaign to restrict CFA's has been very heavily pushed by the tabloid press.

Myth 8: That most sex exposes carry a public interest defence.

Grant rejected claims that celebrities such as himself and Ryan Giggs trade on their reputations as "family men". In one of the most memorable passages of the session, he quipped:

I wasn't aware I was trading on my good name, I've never had a good name at all. I'm a man who was arrested with a prostitite and the film still made loads of money. It doesn't matter.

Myth 9: That people like me want to be in the papers, and need them, and therefore our objections to privacy intrusions are hypocritical.

The success of a film is rarely dependent on how much press coverage it receives, Grant told the inquiry. There are thousands of examples of films that received enormous media attention and still failed at the box office.

With reference to his own career, he commented:

What made me attractive to other film makers was the gazillions Four Weddings and a Funeral made.

A couple of months later I was arrested with a prostitute , not very positive press and I was still very hirable.

"Hundreds" of celebrities would happily never be mentioned by a tabloid again, he claimed.

Myth 10: That the tabloid press hacks are just loveable rogues.

Journalists who tap innocent people's phones are cowards and bullies, not loveable rogues, said Grant. Pointing to his support for libel reform, he described himself as "the reverse of a muzzler" but insisted that the licence the tabloid press has had to steal British citizens' privacy "is a scandal that weak governments for too long have allowed to pass."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition