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: Getty
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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?