May 12, 2011 at 13:08

UK phone-hacking scandal "a risk to free press"

UK phone-hacking scandal "a risk to free press"

Press freedom in Britain could be threatened as a result of the phone hacking scandal, newspaper boss Evgeny Lebedev has warned.

Mr Lebedev – chairman of the The Independent and the London Evening Standard - said the “theft of information by dark, murky methods” was a “dereliction of duty” (which) “brings all the press into disrepute”.

Delivering his speech as part of the Gorbachev Lecture Series on Press Freedom at Oxford University, he said: “It invites a crackdown of enforced Draconian laws and threatens our much-valued press freedom.

“Is it mere coincidence that while the phone hacking affair has been moving apace, the judges have taken it upon themselves to issue blanket, stifling super-injunctions – protecting celebrities?”

Russian-born Mr Lebedev said that press freedom was often taken for granted in Britain.

He drew a distinction between stories which are produced for “mere titillation value” and those which are designed to expose corruption.

He said: “There is a huge difference between exposing corruption in our political establishment and intruding for mere titillation value into the lives of private individuals.

“One is valuable, essential, investigative exposure; the other is merely salacious and without value.”

He added: “Here, I believe there is too much trivialisation – when what passes as an urgent story is nothing more than tittle-tattle. And when that meaningless trivia is procured via illegal means, we are on a slippery slope as this becomes the accepted standard or norm.

“We must be wary of abusing our freedom, which could result in losing that very same freedom.”

In his speech, Mr Lebedev also recounted meeting the Prince of Wales at a London reception.

He said: “I wondered if he might express a view on our papers as he has been covered in our pages. Or express a view about the morality or even immorality of press behaviour.”

He said: “But no. Instead, he asked me quite simply: ’Have you been interested in football all your life?’ And that was all. Maybe he thought I was (Chelsea owner Roman) Abramovich. Or maybe he thought that was simply all that Russians do.”

He said of the allegation that police officers had been paid for information for stories: “This is murky and very serious and sadly reminds me of the corrupt practices in my homeland.” 

Tags: The Evening Standard, The Independent


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