Horgan appears at Leveson hearing


Press Ombudsman John Horgan today appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics in Britain.

The independence of the Press Council in Ireland from both the newspaper industry and the State is ‘vital’, Press Ombudsman Professor John Horgan, told the Leveson Inquiry in Britain today.

Every major newspaper in Ireland, he said, has been the subject of critical, adverse findings in one form or another during the council’s five-year existence: “I can’t think of any off hand that haven’t been.”

However, Prof Horgan said the body is respected by newspapers: “The public may not see it as seriously as they do, but in my experience editors take it extremely seriously and will take considerable steps to avoid finding themselves in that situation.”

Questioned about privacy by Mr Justice Brian Leveson, the ombudsman said both he and the council "are guided" by Ireland’s cultural attitudes.

“Things may vary from country to country, but I believe that the interpretation of the privacy aspect of our code reflects fairly closely the cultural context of our country,” he said.

Asked if he has had to face complaints similar to those lodged by footballers in Britain accused of extra-marital affairs, he said: “We haven’t had any complaint about the private lives of individuals by newspapers. It simply hasn’t risen.”

“Or maybe your footballers don’t create that sort of issue,” said Justice Leveson, who is to produce recommendations on the future regulation of the press in Britain.

Prof Horgan discussed the Irish model of regulation amid a possible overhaul of media oversight in Britain.

Britain's Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has previously held talks with its counterparts, the Press Council of Ireland (PCI) and the Press Ombudsman. The Irish oversight bodies were set up just four years ago as an alternative to costly court battles and are independent of government and media.

This afternoon at the Leveson hearings, a barrister who represented footballer Ryan Giggs in a legal battle with a tabloid newspaper today explained plans for the creation of a journalists’ “code of ethics and responsibility”.

Hugh Tomlinson QC outlined proposals for a new system of media regulation - drawn up by a group including academics, lawyers and journalists - to an inquiry into press ethics.

Mr Tomlinson told the Leveson Inquiry in London that he was a member.of the group and had drafted proposals.

The Media Regulation Roundtable group proposes a regulatory system which would protect the media’s right to “publish information on public interest matters” and “protect the privacy and reputational rights of individuals”. Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson said he had requested the proposals.

Mr Tomlinson, who also represents a number of celebrities claiming damages from the owners of the now-defunct News of the World following allegations of phone hacking, stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of any client.

Details of the roundtable group’s proposals - which include the formation of a Media Standards Authority (MSA), established by statute - are outlined in a statement on the Leveson Inquiry website.

The Leveson Inquiry, which commenced a year ago this month, is examining the relationship between the press and the public, including phone-hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour.

It is also looking at relationships between the press and police and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest in Britain. The third module examined the relationships between press and politicians.

Prof Horgan’s evidence today was given as part of module four of the inquiry. This module is looking at recommendations for a more effective policy and regulation that supports the integrity and freedom of the press while encouraging the highest ethical standards.

Additional reporting: PA