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.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
Show Hide image

Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496