British tabloids out of control, inquiry told

Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:44pm EST
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By Kate Holton and Alessandra Prentice

LONDON (Reuters) - British tabloid journalists competing ferociously to secure front-page news believed themselves untouchable in recent years, losing all sense of right and wrong and making some public figures afraid to leave home, an inquiry has heard.

Appearing at a public hearing into media standards, witnesses including the family of a murder victim, a lawyer and the actor Hugh Grant said the press had completely lost control before a phone hacking scandal blew up this year, drawing attention to media practices.

Grant said that if he ever called police to report a crime, a photographer would always turn up first. Fear of drawing attention to a girlfriend meant he had missed the birth of his child and previous girlfriends had been hounded by photographers, leaving them terrified.

"A free press is of course a cornerstone of democracy," Grant told a packed London court room. "I just think that there has been a section of our press that has become toxic over the last 20 or 30 years.

"It's main tactic being bullying, intimidation and blackmail. And I think it's time that this country found the courage to stand up to this bully now."

The disclosure in July that phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World had stretched from celebrities to murder victims provoked a national outcry that led to the closure of the newspaper.

Within days, his News Corp group withdrew its bid to buy the 61 percent of broadcaster BSkyB it did not already own; its British newspaper arm News International shut the 168-year-old paper and Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the inquiry.

The parents of the murder victim Milly Dowler have become key figures in the debate about media practices, appearing with Hollywood stars and other high-profile figures who have suffered from a ruthless hunt for stories to boost sales.   Continued...