NEWSPAPERS outside Fleet Street have a “very good reputation” for behaving ethically and should not be tarnished by the phone-hacking scandal, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Editors of newspapers from around the UK said they had never come across the illegal interception of voicemail messages or the practice of paying public officials for confidential information.
John McLellan, editor-in-chief of The Scotsman, told the inquiry that the revelations of wrongdoing that resulted in the News of the World’s closure were “as much a shock to those of us working outside Fleet Street as for the wider public”.
He said in a witness statement: “The press serving smaller communities, while not perfect, has a very good reputation for behaving responsibly and ethically and should not be tarnished by recent scandals involving newspapers with an entirely different agenda.”
Several editors who gave evidence to the inquiry said subterfuge was sometimes justifiable to obtain a story that was in the public interest.
Jonathan Russell, editor of the Herald in Glasgow, said: “I would say the potential is there for it to be used and it has been used. If I thought there was anything likely to be illegal or in breach of the editors’ code of conduct it would be brought to my attention.”
Mr McLellan, a member of the Press Complaints Commission, warned Lord Leveson that removing serving editors from a new regulatory body for the press would leave Scotland without a guaranteed representative.
He said that while there needed to be a single body for the UK, it needed to have a Scottish representative.
Mr McLellan and Mr Russell said that politicians in Scotland had a different relationship with the press than London-based national titles.
“There is no Scottish equivalent to the lavish Chipping Norton parties,” Mr McLellan noted, referring to social events attended by the Prime Minister David Cameron and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Mr Russell defended his sister paper, the Sunday Herald, for publishing the identity of footballer Ryan Giggs, who had taken out a super-injunction, as testing the law on an identity which had already been widely published on the internet.
Mr McLellan said The Scotsman considered identifying celebrities who had taken out injunctions in English courts, but decided against the move because, although the injunctions did not apply in Scotland, it could still have breached privacy laws.
The inquiry was told that the press outside London was facing a series of challenges, with both print circulation and advertising revenue falling. There was a warning that a costly alternative to the PCC could further damage the industry’s “fragile” position.
Advertising provides a much bigger proportion of the revenue of regional newspapers than their national counterparts, the hearing was told.
Mr McLellan said job adverts, previously a “mainstay” of the regional press, had “all but disappeared” in recent years.
Spencer Feeney, editor of the Swansea-based South Wales Evening Post, added: “The general picture is over the last five years advertising revenues in the regional press have halved.”
Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson said: “I am really trying to grapple with the concern which has been expressed that all print media are under pressure, but none more so than newspapers that are not London-based.”
Mr McLellan expressed optimism that new technologies like the iPad and other computer tablets could provide a “brighter future” for the press.
“The new way of reading on tablets and on phones is that people are now re-learning that they have to pay for some of these services,” he said.