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Journalism, Observations, Opinion

Baxter’s Best Bits – extracts from Ian Hislop’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

My favourite bits from Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop’s appearance at Leveson –

Hislop on the very basics of what journalists and Editors do

“… Essentially as Editor, you trust your journalists and the people who work for me, I trust them to check out stories, to make sure they are accurate, not to be given stories that are pure grudge, that are not rubbish, that do stand up, and then with any very contentious stories, I’m sure all editors will say, you will talk to them, you will talk to your lawyers, and you will say, “This is absolutely right, isn’t it?  The source is reliable. We will be able to stand this up.”

Hislop on Blagging

“In terms of blagging, I don’t throw my hands up at blagging. There have been some very effective blags.

“For example, the Channel 4 programme where someone pretended to be a lobbyist and a number of greedy MPs and members of the House of Lords came and offered to offer their services for free.  That was good.  The Sunday Times cases with FIFA or with the whaling inquiry – I think you can get a bit sort of throwing out the baby with the bathwater in terms of how journalism operates.”

Q.  Yes, the Data Protection Act, of course, recognises a public interest defence, as you’re aware.  But blagging I don’t think is a practice which Private Eye indulges in; is that right?

“No.  On the whole, we rely on people telling us things straight.

“That is Paul Foot’s view of the secret of investigative journalism, is people ring you up and tell you things.”

Hislop on Ethics

“… I think they should be self-evident, and a lot of the evidence given to this Inquiry by people quibbling about whether it’s in the code or not — it seems to me all of the things that you have focused on are quite self-evidently against any sort of ethical practice.

Q.  One witness told us last week that he didn’t understand what the term “ethics” means and you’re telling us that ethics is self-evident.  There may be some sort of mid-position here where certain things we grasp intuitively but other things in grey areas we need a system of principles and then perhaps a system of rules, always subject to exceptions, to tell us what to do.  Would you not accept that?

“The person who didn’t understand what ethics was was Mr Desmond, I gather, which again, I think you shouldn’t use that as a rule of thumb for everyone else.  It seemed to totally bewilder him, the idea that this could have occurred to anyone.

“So no, I’m not in that camp, but I do think that statutory regulation is not required, and most of the heinous crimes that came up and have made such a splash in front of this Inquiry have already been illegal.

“Contempt of court is illegal.

“Phone tapping is illegal.

“Taking money from  – Policemen taking money is illegal.

“All of these things don’t need a code. We already have laws for them.

“The fact that these laws were not rigorously enforced is, again, due to the behaviour of the police, the interaction of the police and News International, and — I mean, let’s be honest about this — the fact that our politicians have been very, very involved, in ways that I think are not sensible, with senior News International people, and I hope you’ll be calling the Prime Minister and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to explain how that comes down from the top.”

Q.  Are you saying, Mr Hislop, that the existence of legal rules, whether it’s the criminal law or the civil law, is a reason for there being no need for a better regulatory system?

“It is possible to have a better regulatory system, but my view is that we have quite a lot of regulation and most of the offences that have come up and have been so shocking — the contempt in the murder case, the Milly Dowler, all of these things that the public have felt this is absolutely unacceptable — well, it is unacceptable.

“It’s illegal.

“It’s not for me to tell you what to do, but I think any Inquiry needs to find out why none of these things were enforced.”

Hislop on politicians

Q.  Can I ask you about your relationship with politicians? I’ve asked this question of other editors, of course. Do you have social interactions with politicians?

“Yes, I occasionally meet them.”

Q.  In a nutshell, what do you think the purpose of such interactions is, apart from social pleasure or however you want to put it?

“Sorry, I think I’ve slightly misunderstood the question.

“I have social interaction in that I go to lunches or I meet them at parties or I see them occasionally.

Q.  Is it because the politicians are trying to get one over you in terms of what you might say about them, or do you have some sort of motive towards the politicians or is it simply you’re meeting them socially?

“No.  I mean, I’m sure there’s an agenda on both sides.

“I’m hoping to find out information that will be useful to me and a world—insight into the world that they’re operating in.  I think they’re trying to the do the same.

“… it’s a two-way trade.  But I think arm’s length is what you need with politicians, and that is — I mean, they come — we invite MPs to Private Eye lunches, I see MPs at events.

“I haven’t been to any slumber parties with any, with my children or wife. I haven’t appointed any to be on the staff of the Eye.

“I think a certain amount of distance is probably a good idea.”

 Hislop on Leveson

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  There’s only one rather general question: the area which is the subject of the Inquiry is clearly one which you, in your capacity as the editor of Private Eye, have been interested in for very many years. Is there anything that has happened in the course of the Inquiry, or indeed in the course of what’s been generated over the last six months, that causes you to have any new views or any insights that you would like to share as to what should come out of the Inquiry?

“My overall feeling — after about the first two weeks of the Inquiry, I thought, well, that might be it for the press.

“The level of distaste from the public, for the whole business of journalism, seemed to be ratcheting up.

“The celebrities got a very good coverage, as they would do, but got a very good chance to put their side of the case, and I was very worried that for X weeks there would be nothing to say except, you know: “Why don’t you just close down the lot of them?  They’re all utterly revolting?”

“And I just wanted to put in a plea for journalism and for the concept of a free press, that it is important, it isn’t always very pretty, and there are things that go wrong, but I really hope that this Inquiry doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

And, finally, Leveson on Hislop

LEVESON:  Yes, well, I hope you’ll feel that we’ve given titles the opportunity to celebrate what is good about each of the titles that have come to give evidence and tried to provide some context for everybody.

That is part of the reason for considering it very important that you, who have had the Street of Shame, in other words have been prepared to talk about these stories in ways that others haven’t always — sometimes have, but haven’t always — was so important.

Watch Hislop or read the full transcript of his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry here.

Read Baxter on Ian Hislop’s appearance at Leveson: A rare display of journalism’s highest standards

Read more Baxter on Private Eye: Private Eye – the only news I still pay for


About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.



  1. Pingback: Private Eye – the only news I still pay for « Sally Baxter - January 21, 2012

  2. Pingback: A rare display of journalism’s highest standards « Sally Baxter - January 21, 2012

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Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.

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