REPORTING FROM LONDON -- TV personality Piers Morgan denied Tuesday that he had indulged in illegal methods to obtain stories during his time as editor of two British tabloids, which ended in 2004.
The CNN moderator was grilled by a British panel investigating the ethics and culture of journalism following revelations that the now-defunct News of the World, one of the tabloids where Morgan once worked, this year hacked into the cellphone voicemail account of 13-year-old kidnap victim who was later found slain.
Testifying via video link from the United States, Morgan insisted that unlawful methods were not the practice at the Daily Mirror during his time at that tabloid. “Not a single person has made a formal complaint against a Daily Mirror journalist,” he told lawyer Robert Jay. “Certainly all journalists knew they had to act within the confines of the law. This was enshrined within their contracts.”
While confirming previous quotes that he “felt sorry” for Clive Goodman, a reporter who served a prison sentence for hacking into the phones of royal household personnel, Morgan said his only knowledge of hacking came from “the rumor mill.”
Questioned relentlessly about a phone call he once said he had listened to between Paul McCartney and the rock star's then-wife Heather Mills, Morgan refused to reveal the source of the tape. “I can’t discuss that tape or who made it,” he said. “I listened to a tape of a message, yes .... I’m not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me.”
He was asked about his response to a BBC interviewer's comments on methods used by tabloids to get stories, such as raking through garbage bins, taking secret photographs and hacking into phones. "Let’s put that into perspective," he told the interviewer. "Not a lot of that went on.... A lot of it was done by third parties rather than staff themselves.”
On Tuesday, he said he was not alluding to phone hacking specifically.
After further querying on celebrity stories and how they were obtained, he told the panel: “How much privacy are you entitled to if you yourself sell your privacy for personal gain?”
[Updated, 12:55 p.m., Dec. 20: News International, which closed News of the World in July in the face of the scandal, said Tuesday it was paying compensation to seven more victims of phone hacking. Among those being paid were James Hewitt, who had once been in a relationship with the late Princess Diana, and Paul Dadge, a survivor who helped other victims of the terrorist bombing of the London subway in 2005. The amounts of the settlements were not disclosed.]
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Piers Morgan, host of CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight," in Pasadena on Jan. 6, 2011. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press