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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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain