What the papers won’t say

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

The chilling effects of Lord Leveson are already being felt in every newsroom in the country — and it is the rich, powerful and influential who are reaping the benefits. I know this because after 17 years working in national newspapers, the last seven of which I spent on the Daily Mail, I have just walked away from a job I loved. The decision — one of the hardest of my life — was driven partly by a desire to spend more time with my young family. But a major factor was the menacing post-Leveson culture in which journalists are already forced to operate.

Few journalists will talk about it, but the rules of the game have changed. If you inquire about certain establishment figures or MPs, they make use of the tools they possess to intimidate you. Our political elite are using these tools all the time and appear worringly confident that the £5.6 million Leveson inquiry will hand them even more.

There is a reason why international libel lawyers refer to London as a ‘town named sue’. It’s hard for me to detail examples without running the risk of landing The Spectator in court: I had a good instance of a powerful person suppressing unpleasant information about himself from the public, but lawyers advised me that it would be too risky too print, since the person in question is known to be so litigious.


That’s how it works. Take, though, the case of Chris Huhne’s partner, Carina Trimingham, who took the Daily Mail to court for harassment because the paper had repeatedly referred to her as a bisexual — which, by the way, she is. She lost her case.

I was lucky to work for a newspaper with the time and money to fight such cases: not all journalists are so lucky. Britain has become a place where the rich, famous and well-connected can take newspapers to court (with the help of no-win, no-fee lawyers) for writing the truth.

Before the Leveson inquiry, I had received less than a dozen PCC complaints in my career and never had one upheld. But when I left, complaints were coming in at a rate of at least one a month. All required mini-investigations. Even foreign dictatorships know how to frighten Fleet Street. The last complaint I was asked to deal with was from a dictator, the King of Bahrain, who didn’t like the way I referred to criticism of his regime following the deaths of 40 people in anti-government protests.

Like 99.99 per cent of British journalists, I never hacked a phone or bribed a public official. During my long career in the House of Commons, I tried my utmost to be fair. If a story didn’t quite stack up, I would abandon it. A small handful of journalists did hire private investigators to do some horrific things, but there are laws in this country to deal with them.

How do we know that Lord Leveson’s report will encourage the rich, the powerful, the venal and the pompous to intimidate journalists and frighten papers into not covering stories? Because the prospect of it has done so already. How do we know that an elite will attempt to decide what it is appropriate for the rest of us to read about over our cornflakes? Because Leveson is already doing exactly that. This is the judge who read a 200-word article in the Times about how The Thick of It was planning to satirise him in one episode — and promptly asked the editor of that paper whether it was ‘appropriate’ for him to run the piece. It is all too easy to guess what a judge with such an attitude to newspapers will do for press freedom.

Kirsty Walker is an associate director at iNHouse Communications.

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Show comments
  • Stuck-Record

    If you inquire about certain establishment figures or MPs, they make use of the tools they possess to intimidate you.

    Look at the money and effort the BBC (led by Helen Boaden) is spending in court at the moment to prevent the naming of the ‘experts’ who attended the 2006 BBC conference on Climate Change. The very conference that decided that the ‘debate was over’ and that the BBC should no longer treat anyone not on-message seriously.


    They’re spending a fortune to prevent the public finding out who the ‘experts’ were.

    I wonder why?

    • Kevinc

      Perhaps one of them was Jimmy Savile!

    • David Bailey

      There is a huge amount waiting to come out if the BBC ever ends its policy of reporting one side of this story. For example, we are always told by the BBC that the climategate scientists were investigated and found innocent. The truth is extraordinarily different:


    • leedsjon1

      Stuck-Record: on other hand, lets look at amount of coverage (and hence journalistic effort) which this particular publication (www.theregister.co.uk) is spending at moment on an event which took place in 2006 – ie 6 years ago. Does such a ‘story’ really count as a current news item? Methinks not…time to move on to more recent and pressing concerns which might be of interest to present (ie 2012) readers perhaps?

      • Stuck-Record

        “Does such a ‘story’ really count as a current news item? ”

        Well, considering the vast amounts of money the BBC spends producing an unashamedly one-sided view of the subject of CAGW, and the enormous free propaganda influence that has therefore bought the Warmist cause since 2006, I would say: Yes. It is. Especially since it is ongoing and seems unlikely to change.

        But people like yourself are clearly very keen that we don’t ever find out that the ‘experts’ were Warmist activists. Wonder why?

        BTW, love your very funny comparison of the “…amount of coverage” The Register is spending on this story (one hack on a tech blog) vs the gigantic BBC (almost every Environment, Nature, Science story online or broadcast).

        Wow. Gotta love that media saturation.

  • Richard Baron

    Here’s an idea. All newspapers should make it very clear that if anyone tries to bully them into not running a story, they will immediately pass all the evidence they have to a blog that is outside the jurisdiction and that will run it. The newspaper won’t get the credit for the story, but the story will get out, and no injunction or libel suit will do anything to stop it. That threat might give the bullies pause for thought.

    • sarah

      Anyone tries to bully the papers? You do know the papers ARE the bullies, don’t you?

      • http://twitter.com/mackydee1977 Macky Dee

        In Britain there is a wide variety of papers not all are bad. Some have behaved very badly. I think may be people are in a better position now to make a more considered choice when buying papers. Britain has always had some of the best investigative journalism in the World. We have to keep the press completely free. Free to expose corruption for one…

      • http://twitter.com/mediabite Miriam Cotton

        Yep, bullies both sides of the fence. But the issues KW raises are very serious.

  • Aaron D Highside

    What a very good article on a blindingly obvious danger. Gutless PC politicians will do what they do best, however…

  • Pillsbury

    It is not Lord Leveson, but Sir Brian Leveson, a Lord Justice of Appeal.

    • DB

      Even our highly educated Prime Minister made this error at PMQs a week or so ago.

  • Oliver Bennett

    Great stuff. Agreed totally and now we need to get the message out — that Leveson will have a momentous and chilling effect on an already struggling industry and that it will transform investigative journalism into advocacy.

  • ReefKnot

    Whilst not directly related to newspapers, I wonder what has happened to the Jimmy Savile police enquiries. We were told that police were ‘poised’ to make further arrests and that they had an ‘arrest strategy’, but other than picking up Gary Glitter – already imprisoned for under age sex in Asia- they seem to have ground to a halt. Are they being leaned on by powerful figures in the same way that reporters might be ? Are negotiations going on behind closed doors ? It is becoming very suspicious.

  • gelert

    This is how it is in France now, The press are not only terrified of judicial silencing,but depend on government subsidies to stay in business. Sarko is said to have vetoed the appointment of a new editor of Le Monde a few years ago.

    • barsacq

      The clues being “said to have” because there is not a shrd of evidnce this was the case, but it makes good copy for hysterical conspiracy theorists.

  • Sheumais

    Do excuse me for asking, but if you were so free to report what you believed to be in the public interest before, why are we only now learning the truth about Jimmy Savile? You, the champions of truth and the public interest, were informed by Savile’s employer they were concerned about his rumoured behaviour 40 years ago, yet it would seem you contentedly left every stone unturned. What else have you not told us? Your freedom is every bit as mythical now as it always was.

  • sarah

    “How do we know that Lord Leveson’s report will encourage the rich, the
    powerful, the venal and the pompous to intimidate journalists and
    frighten papers into not covering stories?”

    You do know that the journalists ARE the rich, the powerful, the venal, the pompous and the intimidating, don’t you?

    • Powder

      Stop posting the same naive, ignorant nonsense over and over again.

      • Sarah

        So you do favour censorship afterall.

  • sarah

    “How do we know that an elite will attempt to decide what it is appropriate for the rest of us to read about over our cornflakes?”

    Good grief. You do know that the media ARE the elite, don’t you?

    • Powder

      You’re so naive it’s not funny.

  • The Sage

    Not sure it’s entirely fair to call the HRH The King of Bahrain a dictator. He has been trying to deal with an Iran-backed Shia uprising in his country – and precious little thanks he is getting for it.

    • http://twitter.com/pedrowe56 peter rowe

      fair and open elections in Bahrain? Freedom of speech? I rest my case – he is a dictator. as is most of the Gulf, nay, all of the Gulf.

      • D B

        But, if the Iranians took over, Bahrain would only have swapped one despotism for another. Maybe they’re better off as they are. Can’t say I care either way.

    • D B

      Don’t you mean HM the King of Bahrain? He may be a squalid despot, but let’s give him his due!

      • http://www.daithaic.blogspot.com Daithaic

        No it’s HRH. HM implies rule by divine right which is an un-Islamic concept!

  • timinsingapore

    Having in mind the behaviour of the press in recent years, I don’t have much sympathy with Ms Walker, sincere though she no doubt is. Bankers show at least some indication of awareness of the consequences of their conduct; reporters not much, so far as I can see. I can see reasons why she might want to leave the Daily Mail, which always seems to me a fairly poisonous rag; but her reasons are not convincing, in the circumstances.

  • Mike Perez

    It’s worrying that you can’t even get Sir Brian Leveson’s name right. And how come all these sinister people are suppressing stories which you imply would have been printed pre-Leveson? The law hasn’t changed, so what’s the explanation? Could it be that your claim is nonsense?

    The truth is we don’t currently have a free press – it is controlled by a small group headed by Murdoch. Leveson will not be able to change this but he may be able to suggest measures which will stop blatant press bullying of people like Christopher Jefferies and the McCanns.

    • http://twitter.com/pedrowe56 peter rowe

      Murdoch doesn’t control the press. There is a wide political spectrum of media – from the Guardian and the Indy on the far left to the Mail and tele on the right, with Murdoch owning two papers. You don;t have to read them, it is your right to read something else, which is freely available. Or are you one of those lefty luvvies, champagne socialists like the odious Grant or Harman, who believe the media should only publish what fits the left agenda?

    • londondave

      Murdoch. You’ve got to be kidding me. The biggest single Media conglomerate in the world, which controls much of what “news” and what “spin” is disseminated, is the BBC.

      Billions of pounds a year from a compulsory TV Poll Tax, to fund a bunch of entitled dumbbells with their Marxian-shite worldview.

      The institutionally leftist BBC has a thousand times more malignant influence than Murdoch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.gerard.900 Anthony Gerard

    There’s no one more sinister than Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail.

    How much of Murdoch’s ” free Press ” campaigned against the War in Iraq ?

    • http://twitter.com/pedrowe56 peter rowe

      the war in Iraq – that old chestnut of the left. Saddam is gone, a positive for the world – ask the marsh arabs, the Kurds, the oppressed Shia majority – you won’t see ‘illegal war’ there.

    • londondave

      “There’s no one more sinister than Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail.”

      Yes there is: it’s called the BBC. And I’m forced to pay for the leftard deadbeats.

      Last time I check no one was forcing you to consume and pay for ANY Murdoch product. Well, are they leftard?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.rahilly.1 Sue Rahilly

    If only the press did not pander to the lowest common denominator of the population, none of this would have come about. Instead of being dragged into the gutter, papers could be more positive and uplifting. But good news stories never sell, do they?

  • Sarah

    “Like 99.99 per cent of British journalists, I never hacked a phone or bribed a public official. ”

    Did you ever doorstep a grieving relative? Call up a friend of a missing person? Read the message of condolence on a funeral wreath? Encourage an emotionally vulnerable person to spill their guts all over the page? Buy photos of somebody taken without their consent? Pay people to tell you private information? Ruin somebody’s career to further your own? Encourage the demonisation of any group? Make anyone hide behind their curtains? Drive anyone to suicide?

    Am I really being expected to lament the fact that there is one less Daily Mail journalist in this world?

    • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

      And if not, did she stand up to all the people doing that? None of that caused her to resign but the idea that the press might have to behave decently does? Please!

      Great post x

  • Poppyseedbagel

    I hope that the Leveson report draws a distinction between what the public is interested in (usually the more grisly details about someone) and what it is in the public interest for us to know.

    I am not sure why the Mail felt it had to remind its readers of Ms Trimingham’s sexuality, except perhaps it gave the male editors & readers a little frisson. Perhaps she objected to being defined solely by her sexuality which just happens to be a little out of theordinary, but perfectly normal – and what’s wrong with objecting to that?

    Given the Mail’s rather sordid interest in pubescent girls, ( apparent the last time I looked at the website, and since the Saville revelations), I would have thought the writer would have been pleased to leave.

  • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

    So the one example you have of someone bringing a case unreasonably, they lost? Right.

  • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

    People might be less inclined to sue if, say, corrections were given the same prominence as the original story. Are you in favour of that? Why not? Can’t think of a possible legit objection to be honest with you.

  • londondave

    Add to that the Totalitarian-like apparatus that operates in the Legal “industry” in which we have SECRET TRIALS in the UK where newspapers are prohibited from reporting.

    We live in a spiraling down Kakistocray created by the Marxian cultural long-march into the institutions.

  • Michael Cockerham

    I find some of the responses to this piece baffling. Why, for instance, does Anthony Gerard say, “There’s no one more sinister than Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail.” Aside from the fact that the Mail is a newspaper, and Murdoch owns some newspapers, the connection between the two is what?

    You then have Sue Rahilly saying, “If only the press did not pander to the lowest common denominator of the population, none of this would have come about,” something which has been restated implicitly by others here and elsewhere. Let’s examine that charge.

    I am not a Mail reader. I think Chris Mullin summed the paper up rather well in his memoirs when he suggested to one of his more troubled constituents that if she stopped reading the Mail she might find the world a rather more benign place. However, it is worth remembering that the Mail has the second highest circulation of any national daily in the UK, and has the highest online readership of any english language news website in the world, recently taking the top spot form the New York Times. Whatever you might think of Murdoch and other newspaper owners, they are in the game as a business – a pretty thankless one in the new digital age – and business is about making money. The reason the Sun and the Mail bewteen them sell more papers than every other national daily combined is because people like what they write and how they write it.

    We have got to get off this ridiculous moral high horse that it is the papers that are to blame. It is us, the public that are to blame for the shite that is written in these papers. If that were not the case Hello and OK would not exist; Life, and Picture Post would still exist and would compete with The Spectator and The Economist for millions of readers; and the biggest circulation papers would be the former broadsheets.

    If Murdoch thought that dropping page 3 would sell more papers, he would do it in a heartbeat. Instead we have the status quo where the “educated” thinking minority argue the toss in forums like this, and the vocal majority scream at the murdering scum press when Diana dies, and promptly go out to buy the very papers that give them more succulent morsels to devour.

    I think Kirsty has raised very valid concerns. Perhaps she could have made them better, but it does not detract from the fact that a free press is a vital part of a functioning democracy, and anything that impedes them in discharging their “duty” to hold those with their hands on the levers of power to account should be treated with the utmost concern.

    There are already laws to deal with journalists who go beyond what is legal, the question is whether they have been properly applied in the past. As for tittle-tattle about the sexual orientation or proclivities of famous people, don’t buy the papers and magazines that publish it, and they’ll soon find more worthy stories to publish.

    • londondave

      It funny how leftists were quite happy with Murdoch when the Sun endorsed Labour 3 times on the trot.

      • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

        I don’t think they were! Labour leaders obviously were but most left-wingers were decidedly pissed off about that actually

        • londondave

          That’s rubbish. I was an active member of the Labour party in 1997, and most activists I knew seemed quite chuffed at the media love-in, especially from the Murdoch “press”

          • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

            Ok I shouldn’t say “most” as I haven’t survey every single Labour or left-wing person in the whole of the UK I must admit. But I was responding to a post which was a massive massive massive generalisation about “leftists” who are a whole mix of different people and lots of LEFT-WINGERS (not “Labour”, but LEFT-WINGERS) absolutely did have a problem with this

        • Powder

          Funny how none of them mentioned it at the time. Of course, out they all came to say “never liked Murdoch, was never comfortable with his support” the day after Uncle Rupey told Gordon he was switching sides after nearly 20 years.

          • http://www.facebook.com/edward.whatley Edward Whatley

            ‘None of them’. Do you think that the millions of left leaning people across the country might have had different, nuanced reactions to it? Or do you think people all think and react as a clumsy mass depending on a vague connection to left or right wing politics? I’ve always hated Murdoch, but was happy at the time that a political party I supported was able to get into power, and if Murdoch’s windvane support assisted that, so be it. Humans are complex, and we can hold ambiguous positions depending on circumstance.

  • http://twitter.com/ContrarianRex Contrarian Rex

    I don’t know about any of you, but i gave up on establishment media as a primary source for information a long time ago. I’ve found that you’ve a much better chance from getting at the truth if you look for it yourself. Some of the biggest breaks in new information have come from people doing their own research and those in the streets with cameras conductiong their own interviews. Citizen news groups like, We Are Change, ask the politiicians, business leaders, and media the tough questions that never get asked. They provide an example for everyone to do the same. All you need is the initiative and perhaps a camera. They couldn’t bully the People if enough got involved.

  • londonpropertyguru

    In terms of public perception, the Murdoch / Hacking scandal seemed like some justice was finally being realised for the people of the UK. That shoddy & shady practices were being bought to light and indeed stopped. Wrong doers arrested and bought to justice.

    Logical to assume this would lead to a fairer, freer press.

    When the net effect is to kill press freedoms and benefit the rich, powerful and influential and to actually make the press even more controlled than before. Except, now it can be done more overtly under the guise of leverson.

  • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

    Maybe if the press stuck to spying and sneaking on people who actually are powerful instead of the children of celebrities, disabled people, immigrants, and the families of soldiers and bombing victims, there would be more sympathy Kirsty.

  • Steve Caversham

    I am as concerned about freedom of speech as anyone. But I do find the attitude of journalists and publishers to be completely hypocritical. If I really believed they were acting in my interests and in those of the public, rather than their own, I might be less cynical. Motives do matter.

  • http://twitter.com/brilliantname Gez Sagar

    Kirsty, if you can stand up your story and nail your target bang to rights, the Daily Mail will be able to publish. I can’t think of a single occasion when the Mail has exposed anyone who could be described as rich and powerful for anything.
    Anyway. Your complaints are about libel as it is now and has been for 10 – 15 years. The Mail has spent a small fortune lobbying to have the libel laws changed and has been given everything it asked for in the Defamation Bill now going through Parliament.
    All of this is not really the same as Leveson, which you say is ‘menacing.’ Leveson is happening because the national press has destroyed its own credibility and the public think regulation of the press by the press is just not acceptable any more.

  • Guest

    “the last seven of which I spent on the Daily Mail, I have just walked away from a job I loved”

    Was it very Vicky Pollardsville there ?

  • Malfleur

    What the papers won’t say: Benghazigate. Neathergate. EDL. Defend Israel…

  • Baz

    As an avid internet user I, along with millions of others, have seen our rights eroded over the last few year (forced net filtering, the disappearance of privacy, the legal but baseless shakedown lawsuits claiming illegal filesharing etc.), all this despite the fact that I have never hacked a single computer nor have I shared content illegally online. Where were you, as a journalist, when this was happening? Did you tell the world? Did you go to bat for us? No, instead you wait until the Rights Crackdown Roadshow effects you, then you rant and whine. Symptomatic of the nauseatingly lofty self image that journalists have these days, you make it sound as if we will all be living in North Korean style hell should Levison get his way. So dry your eyes mate, we are all suffering a loss of our rights on a bit by bit basis, its just that you, as a journalist, get to whine the loudest.

  • Brent Dill

    The lesson:

    If you regulate the press, the powerful will use the regulations to suppress information and intimidate the weak.

    If you don’t regulate the press, the powerful will simply gain control of the press directly, and use *that* to intimidate the weak.

    Legal status quo always favors the elite, who are better adapted to it; legal change always favors the elite, who are in a better position to exploit it.

  • Darzil

    Sounds more like an issue with the rubbish libel laws in the UK than Leveson. Sure you’ve got the right target?

  • fitzfitz

    … this piece is a damning admission of failure to stand up to bullies … shame …

  • mikewaller

    “Like 99.99 per cent of British journalists, I never hacked a phone or bribed a public official.”

    Quite so, but how many knew it was going on? Sins come in two forms: those of commission and those of omission. In past centuries, people died to protect freedom of speech; was it too much to have asked those who are now bleating about it to have risked their careers by whistle- blowing? Had they done so, it might have been nipped in the blood and, Hey Presto, no Leveson!