Steve Coogan said the Duke of Sussex’s partial victory in a High Court phone hacking case showed there was an “omerta… systemic cover-up by the press” and called for a strengthened system of independent regulation.
The British actor and comedian, involved in the Hacked Off campaign, reiterated his calls for press reform after Prince Harry won a substantial part of his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).
The High Court judge concluded on Friday that there was “extensive” phone hacking by MGN between 2006 and 2011. Justice Fancourt ruled that from a representative sample of 33 articles about the prince examined during the trial, 15 were the product of phone hacking. or illegal collection of information. The judge also found that there had been “piracy, even to some extent”, during the Leveson inquiry into media standards.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Saturday, Coogan said the decision showed there was “a systemic omerta, collusion, of cover-up by the press”. “The judge said there was no doubt that the editors were aware of the deception and illegal collection of information,” he said, adding that “for years we have been told this lying about a rogue journalist.”
Coogan called for the press watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organization (Ipso), to be replaced with a stronger regulator, describing the body as “toothless”. “We need some kind of body that would protect journalists who do their job brilliantly – there are many brave, inspiring and tenacious journalists, and (they) hold accountable those who abuse their power,” he said. he declared.
He said the “millions” in damages paid out by the Mirror, including money awarded to him, were “money that could have been spent paying journalists to do a real public interest journalism.” Coogan was awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages from the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People in 2017 after admitting hacking his phone.
The Metropolitan Police said on Friday it would “carefully review” the decision. In 2012, the Leveson Report criticized the Met for errors in its handling of the phone hacking scandal, saying some senior officers had become too close to News International.
The judge ruled on Friday that there could be “no doubt” that Piers Morgan, editor of the Mirror between 1995 and 2004, and other senior executives were aware of the practice of phone hacking. Morgan denied knowledge of phone hacking while he was editor-in-chief. He said he “never hacked a phone” while he was editor or asked anyone else to do it.
Although Coogan acknowledged the diminished power of the tabloid press over the past decade, he said it still wielded “enough power to influence the public discourse of this country and therefore must be held accountable.” “All public bodies are responsible – the press should be no exception. »
Sir Alan Moses, former chairman of Ipso, told the program that there was a risk that discussions over regulation would result in “seeking to limit or destroy a part of the press… which has become very weak such that ‘she is “. He strongly refuted Coogan’s allegation that Ipso was “run by the press”. “It’s run by independent people… It’s ridiculous to consider them controlled or toothless,” he said.
When asked why newspapers should be treated differently to the requirements placed on broadcasters such as the BBC, Moses replied that “from time to time it reveals things that a controlled and authorized press would never reveal”, adding : “The result of the control by legal prescription. would outweigh the benefits of greater discipline.