The Leveson inquiry holds a strange fascination for me. I don't really have time to watch it, especially not if I am going to have any hope of finishing my PhD in the near future (or any future); but I find the whole discussion of the British Press and its strange standards of behaviour terribly interesting. In my mind, it is tied up with the absurd wonder that is the English legal system, perhaps through the libel link.
I believe Ian Hislop is to blame for originally getting me interested in it all, in part through Private Eye; but at the root of much of my fascination is my ingrained distaste for Rupert Murdoch
and my uncontainable delight in seeing things fall down around him and hopefully hitting him in the head.
In case you have been living under a rock (or somewhere equally sheltered, but perhaps more sensible, and without internet or any other media access), the Leveson inquiry
is led by Lord Leveson and looks into the ethics and practices of the British Press. This springs out of the recent bad behaviour of the Murdoch-owned News International and the subsequent phone hacking scandal
At any rate, while I had been reading the Guardian stories on the subject, and had bought my first ever e-book (Phone Hacking: How the Guardian Broke the Story
, which to my great dismay is not available as a proper book), and following both Alan Rusbridger and the Leveson inquiry on Twitter (my second great foray into the modern world), I had so far managed to stay away from the live hearings. I had watched snippets of course, and read some discussions of it.
But today Nick Davies
was giving his evidence, and I had to see that. Nick Davies is the man who broke the story for the Guardian. And he did not disappoint in his testimony. He was clear, careful, made sure to phrase things so as not to endanger his sources or identify people who should not be identified. A treat to watch.
But Davies was immediately upstaged by the next man. Not because Paul McMullan was equally intelligent, calm and coherent. Nor as sensible. Quite the contrary. McMullan's testimony was a little like watching a car crash in slow motion. But much more fun.
He was told from the start that he was under no obligation to incriminate himself, but that had little effect. Probably because the man seemed to have no idea what was legal and what wasn't. I really recommend you take the time to watch it. Here is the link
. It is not up yet, but that should change soon. I hope the reason it is late is not that they are redacting out the juicier bits.
The premise of his whole testimony seemed to be that he could not have done anything wrong because if he had News of the World
would not have had the biggest circulation in the country. He has a lot more faith in the masses as moral arbiters than I do. But he really did seem to believe that (or at least to believe in that as a strategy). He acknowledged no distinction between "public interest" as a defence and "what the public is interested in". And perhaps his conflation of the two was why he was quite happy to incriminate himself. I believe his exact words wereCirculation defines what is the public interest. I don't see it's the job of anyone else to force the public to read this or that.
He then proceeded to say that he was proud of having caused a riot in which a paediatrician was beaten up, that following celebrities around was much more fun before Diana died, compared Britain to Turkey, Iran and China for having forced him to come give testimony (in fact, I think he ended that particular tirade by saying that Turkey, Iran and China were laughing at Britain, presumably for its harsh stance on journalistic freedom), talked about the time he only failed to hack David Beckham's phone because Beckham answered it too soon, and then of course the star moment:Privacy is evil; it brings out the worst qualities in people. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it.
And then he defended the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, because the police are incompetent. He did some weird stuff at that point, actually: he started talking about how his own child had been missing for 20 minutes, then had the temerity to claim that that was the same feeling as that which Milly Dowler's mother had when her child was missing. And that he could therefore, presumably with this emotional authority, say that the journalists' actions were right. Regardless of what Mrs Dowler might claim.
And of course there was the really interesting bits about how Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and Piers Morgan actively encouraged all the illegal stuff.
On the whole, I am rather impressed with McMullan's candour. Especially if you compare him to James Murdoch, who can never really say anything for sure. But I am not sure whether it is candour or just plain stupidity and an inability to understand what he is actually saying.
At any rate: the man was wonderfully entertaining, and I am a little sad his testimony is over.
I will try to stay off this particular drug for the next few weeks. Unless Ian Hislop shows up on the stand, at which point I will relapse.