REPORTING FROM LONDON — Two top British journalists rejected the need for new regulations to rein in their nation’s scandal-tainted industry Wednesday as they appeared before a panel studying future guidelines to balance press freedom and personal privacy.
The nonjudicial inquiry headed by Judge Brian Leveson follows revelations of telephone hacking by the News of the World that caused a public uproar and led Rupert Murdoch's News International to close the best-selling tabloid.
Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the popular Sun tabloid, told the six-member panel that the scandal was limited to the “low-grade criminality” of one newspaper and didn’t warrant new regulation.
“Yes, there was criminal cancer at the News of the World,” MacKenzie said. “Yes, there were editorial and management errors as the extent of the cancer began to be revealed. But why do we need an inquiry of this kind?”
The inquiry should “decide there is nothing wrong with the press,” he added. “We should enshrine free speech in [Prime Minister David] Cameron’s Bill of Rights and accept the scandal was simply a moment … when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper.”
But Dacre, a powerful voice in the British press, told the panel that self-regulation by the media, “albeit in a beefed up form … is the only viable way of policing a genuinely free press.”
“Let’s keep all this in proportion,” he said. “No one died. The banks didn’t collapse because of the News of the World. …. The nation didn’t go to war.”
He told the group of media executives, a civil liberties lobbyist and a government media watchdog agency that he felt the inquiry was instigated by “hypocrisy and revenge in the political class' current moral indignation over a British press that dared to expose their greed and corruption.” Politicians, he said, “had spent years indulging in sickening genuflection to the Murdoch press.”
So far 16 arrests have been made related to the phone-hacking scandal, top police chiefs have resigned and 30 police investigations are underway. A parliamentary media committee has questioned top executives from News International, including the mogul and his son, James Murdoch.
The younger Murdoch has been called back to appear before the committee in early November.
— Janet Stobart
Photo: Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun tabloid, arrives to testify before a panel studying future guidelines to balance press freedom and personal privacy in Britain. Credit: Oli Scarff / Getty Images