Harold Evans Slams U.K. Newspapers' 'Cynicism and Arrogance' After Leveson Investigation

Justice Brian Leveson - P 2012
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The ex-Sunday Times editor gives his verdict on the report's proposals in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed The News of the World and The Sun.

LONDON – Former Times and Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans says he thinks parts of the newspaper industry reacted with "cynicism and arrogance" to Lord Justice Brian Leveson's findings.

Leveson's report in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed The News of the World and The Sun, the tabloids owned and published by News International, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. division, was published in November and included recommendations on press regulation.

Evans, one of the most famous names in the U.K. newspaper industry, said Monday -- while giving a speech at the annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture in London -- that sections of the British press had grossly distorted Leveson's proposal for statutory underpinning of the media.

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Evans, who's married to Newsweek/Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, remarked that he had been "staggered" by the misrepresentation of Leveson's report by leading industry figures.

It was published after months of hearing evidence from boldfaced names including British prime minister David Cameron; actor Hugh Grant; Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling; singer Charlotte Church; former prime minister Tony Blair; News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and his son and deputy COO, James Murdoch. The report has divided national newspaper editors and news executives alike.

In one corner are the industry figures who want nothing to do with any fresh law that binds the press, and, in the other, are those who would be OK with more laws as long as there are rules to protect against political interference in the system.

"As depressing as exposure of the dark arts has been, it is deepened by the cynicism and arrogance of much of the reaction to Leveson, coming from figures in the press who did nothing to penetrate – indeed whose inertia assisted – the cover-up conducted into oblivion by News International, a cover-up which would have continued, but for the skill of [Guardian journalist] Nick Davies and the courage of his editor [Alan Rusbridger]," Evans said during his speech at the London College of Communications.

He added: "A certain rowdiness [in the press] is a given, but the misrepresentation of Leveson's main proposal is staggering. To portray his careful construct for statutory underpinning as state control is a gross distortion."

Evans, who was editor of The Sunday Times for 14 years and was appointed editor of The Times in London after Murdoch's News International bought the titles in 1981 only to resign a year later over a spat over editorial independence, himself gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry in March 2012.

Evans said the notion of putting the freedom of the press into the legal framework of the U.K. for the first time was one he found attractive.

The veteran newspaper man described the British press as "unduly restricted" when investigating serious matters in the public interest and suggested that statutory underpinning would have assisted the Sunday Times during his editorship in its long campaign covering the thalidomide scandal in 1972.

In all, the Leveson reforms showed a way to "protect privacy and encourage high standards while enlarging, not diminishing, the freedom of the press," Evans said.

But Evans also said he had "serious reservations" about other "dangerous" recommendations in Leveson's report describing proposals to reform data protection laws that would allow subjects of news stories access to information that journalists hold about them.

He finished his speech saying he regarded the Leveson plan on the whole as "an opportunity, not as a threat. What further might the British press do if it were free of internal and external restraints inimical to excellence? If the intellectual analysis of the heavies' tremendous flair in tabloid journalism were bent to more positive outcomes – such as Hugh Cudlipp dreamt in his youth and achieved so well in his prime?"

Cudlipp edited the Daily Mirror in the 1950s and 1960s and is widely regarded as one of the greatest British newspaper executives of the 20th century.