Privacy Commission Day 3, Witness 2: Hugh Grant

The PM Privacy Commission spoke to the actor Hugh Grant on Wednesday June 15, 2011. The commissioners are Sir Michael Lyons, Lord Faulks QC and Baroness Liddell.

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ML: Well our next witness is Hugh Grant, the very well known actor. Hugh thanks you very much for coming along and joining us this morning.

HG: Pleasure

ML: We've got slightly complicated arrangements this morning as a result of train problems preventing me from getting down from Birmingham. So I hope you'll excuse us for what someone has already described as rather idiosyncratic arrangements for this hearing.

HG: I forgive you

ML: Great. Let me begin by asking you to perhaps introduce yourself and then particularly to say something about your interest in these issues about the protection of personal privacy and getting the right balance with the rights of the press and freedom of speech.

HG: Well, yes as you said I'm Hugh Grant, I'm an actor and you know my interest in this is that I know I'm a fan of our Bill of Human Rights imported finally via Europe but which is now part of our constitution and in it as I'm sure you've discussed as nauseam are enshrined two very basic. One freedom of speech, very, very important and the other a basic right to privacy and there's been a lot of moaning recently particularly from the tabloid press about incursions onto their freedom of speech via these injunctions on privacy. And I just occasionally like to pop my head out of the parapet and make the point that although its freedom of speech is very important and although if broadsheet newspapers were complaining about infringements on their freedom of speech I'd be applauding them. It is worth saying that when tabloid newspapers do it then their motive is nothing to do with freedom of speech; their motive is to do with profit and money because they're use of other people's privacy, their.....what I describe as their theft of other's people's privacy which has been on in an industrial scale for some time now and winked at by successive government who need the tabloids to get elected and waved through by some not entirely straight coppers, has I think infringed people's privacy very badly and I think people just need to know that when tabloids are complaining about injunctions etc infringing freedom of speech, what they're actually complaining about is loss of profit.

ML: Is it possible for you to personalise this, are there experiences that you've had that you feel have been direct intrusions into your privacy.

HG: Well there have been too many really to list Michael but you know, only the other day I ended up in hospital in the middle of the night not feeling very good and you know the details of this, all the details were in the Sun. And clearly there was someone on the payroll at the hospital that I went to, you know, dishing this information out. And it's not the first time it's happened to me, it happened to me at the Charing Cross hospital a number of years ago. And you know, the more you read about this sort of stuff, if you read you know "Flat Earth News" etc you realise that in all these major institutions that we think you trust be it hospitals, or the DVLA or British Telecom or whatever there are moles paid off by the tabloids to give out people's private details. And so, yeah, I mean that would be one example but I mean there are just many in my life, thousands...I've had my phone hacked, that's now been admitted by a particular News of The World journalist who I bumped into under weird circumstances which I wrote about in the New Statesman. And I know that also because I had the Information Commissioner round about 6 years ago telling me that all my details were in the notebooks of a private detective they'd arrested but the Information Commissioner was behaving strangely at that time and when I said well who's he working for - and he said well it looks from his notes like he's working for most of the British newspapers. And I said what are you going to do about it? And he said well hang on, we'll come back to you and he never did. But subsequently, I have had the police around, just recently. The new police, the better police, the new team at the Met who are investigating the News of the World phone hacking - Operation Weeting - and they showed me you know terrifying notes from Mulcaire, the private detective who had bugged my phone and knew unbelievable details about friends, family, where they lived, my bank account details etc etc. And as I said I don't often come out of my trench but I am outraged by this and not only on my own behalf. Obviously a lot of this comes from personal grievance but I also I think, it's fair to say care about the country. I'm quite proud of this country I'm proud of the strange system of checks and balances that we've had for many years that crate a pretty fair democracy that we can be proud of and I think that this is a big glitch in that Heath Robinson mechanism and it needs to be put right and people need to know that it won't be put right by our present breed of politicians who unfortunately do need the tabloid press to get elected more than they need to stand up for what's good and right and dignified for this country.

ML: Mightn't some editors' say that what they're really objecting to is a recent change in the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the press in the form of not just the Human Rights Act but the particular making of law of judgements by case law in considering a range of injunctions over the last few years.

HG: Yeah, no I think there are many points to make on this and you've probably heard them from Max Moseley who's brilliant on all these things. But as far as I can see there's one advantage to the system of it being basically down to the judges which is if a newspaper is about to publish something that infringes your privacy very badly, you can injunct them and that information will not come whereas if we had a written, I think it's called a torte, but I'm not very good on legal terms - a written....a privacy law in other words, it would act like our libel law and a newspaper that was about to infringe your privacy very badly would consult it's lawyers and think...mmmm can we get away with this and the lawyer might say, yeah I think you can get away with it, they publish it. Then you could sue them and if the privacy law was right and they had infringed your privacy, they would be held accountable and fined or whatever. But, the problem is the toothpaste would be out of the tube that particular infringement would have been done and there's no putting it back in. That's the advantage of that system but I do see the great disadvantage to it is that it's incredibly expensive and the key here is to make some protection of people's privacy available to everyone not just to people who have money and from that point I think privacy law is preferable. Because....

ML: (interrupts) the press complaints commission have given evidence to us and they believe they do fulfil that role of low cost protection for the individual. Have you had experience of the PCC?

HG: Yeah I have found that not to be the case. They get very angry when I say this, I said this on Newsnight the other night and I had 4000 emails from them saying no we're wonderful but that's just not been my experience in the past. When my medical records were first published in The Daily Mirror back in the 90's I did...I spoke to the lawyer and the lawyer said oh! Well this is clearly a case for the PCC. And about....literally 9 months or a year down the line after much to-ing and fro-ing there was a tiny, tiny, little semi-paragraph like one sentence on page you know 80 of the Daily Mirror saying: the PCC have upheld Hugh Grant's complaint and it didn't even say what it was about. That's how aggressive the PCC certainly used to be and I don't see myself much signs of improvement. After all, there investigation into phone hacking - only 2009 - is widely regarded as a pitiful job.

ML: Thank you - can I just - you yourself picked up this issue of fame and celebrity. Is there any....would you accept there is any point at which someone's fame or celebrity weakens their rights to privacy? Do they put themselves in the public eye and therefore are they fair game as many would suggest is the case.

HG: Well, it obviously depends who you're talking about. I mean there are some clear cut cases where I definitely don't think that's the case. If you are an actor or a footballer or a...I don't know a doctor or a politician, I think it's great that people go into those jobs and I think Britain allows people to go into those jobs. I think it's absurd that as soon as you become successful in one of the jobs, the assumption, the cultural assumption at the moment, especially among the tabloid media is oh well now you're successful you have no human rights we can have your privacy. That strikes me as patently absurd because you know people in those jobs...well let me put it this way, if I do a film it survives or fails entirely on whether or not it works as a film whether or not its entertaining, a little bit depends on how well it's advertised and then a really fractional amount right at the end is banging the drum about it which you'd call publicity and that's when you might have to talk to the media a bit and on the whole people hate doing it. And I don't think that on the basis of that, it can be said oh well you're a media whore you know you deserve to have your privacy infringed. Now clearly there are other people who actually quite enjoy being in the media but I would argue they're in the minority and I would even argue that if you look at Jordan etc, I would even argue that she deserves her privacy and I realise people will think I'm insane but I do. I mean one of the reasons is I think that no newspapers gives anyone publicity for free. It's not like they're doing it as a favour, it's a bargain. It's a we'll run a picture of Jordon cause it boosts our sales and Jordon gets whatever gratification or boost for whatever business she has from that deal and it seems that just in the way that if I give an interview about a film, they're not doing me a favour by publishing the interview, my film company gets a bit of publicity for the film and the newspaper hopes that they'll get know....a little bit boost in sales from having my interview in it so you know it's a barter in the same way you give me 12 eggs and I'll give you sheep or I'll sell you a pint of milk for 50p and it seems to me insane that because I've once sold you a pint of milk for 50p that you can then say you sold me some milk you slut I'm going to take your milk for free forever. Which seems to be the attitude prevalent in a tabloid media and I think you're describing.

ML: I'm going to hand over to my colleague Helen now.

HL: Hugh have you ever been tempted down the injunction route.

HG: No, not yet

HL: What's put you off?

HG: It's's never come up to be honest with you. I have been....there have been a few occasions when I've been told. What they do is they usually tell you in the very last moment if it's a big Sunday tabloid you get word on the Friday or maybe the Saturday that they're about to run a splash on you and seeing as, so far, they've all been, recently they've been completely untrue, I've just told them they're completely untrue and they've backed off. What they're hoping is that you're gonna say oh but it was this or that and give some mitigating circumstances but when they hear that it's completely untrue they tend not to publish, and so I know it hasn't come up for me.

HL: You must have friends though who have been in the situation though where they've either toyed with the idea of injunction or have sought an injunction and you move in the kind of circles, you are comfortably off, you are famous. You've got recourse to your own media skills, but if you were somebody like a school teacher or a school janitor. What can they do?

HG: Well that's exactly right and that's what I was arguing earlier that I think on balance we do need a privacy law rather than this present system where it is enshrined in our law via the European Bill of Human Rights and our own Bill of Human Rights by which you have to do it via a judge or via an injunction. It would be better if we had a privacy law because then if you were, if you didn't have masses of money you would still be protected. The tabloid in question would be thinking before they publish, can we get away with this and they might well decide you know 9 times out of 10 - no cause we'll get hammered for infringement of privacy and that way everyone's protected and you know it is everyone because people often think the tabloids love to tell that it's only rich, fame obsessed celebs who, who's privacy ever gets infringed but that of course is absolutely not the truth. We now know that the family and friends of the little girls murdered in Soham had their phones hacked and it seems to me that that's the thing to focus on, this is why this sort of campaign is a difficult one because people, it's very difficult to gain sympathy for people who appear to you know be so rich etc etc. But, you know, right across the board, peoples privacy has been grotesquely infringed. Even round you know, I don't know, the rich footballer, it's his nanny, it's his sister, it's his sister's nanny anyone who might have some information - all these people have been hacked

HL: One of the difficult things we've had to get our head around is this balance between the public interest and the interest of the public. Now a lot of what you've been saying suggests that the interests of the public is really what drives the tabloids because it puts on circulation. Do you ever see that the two can come together the public interest and the interest of the public when it comes to matters of celebrity? It's the sort of you live by the sword you die by the sword argument?

HG: Well I so strongly deny the live by the sword argument, I just don't see that. I mean this is a myth again put about by the tabloids that people for instance like me live by celebrity. Celebrity is complete....or at least press celebrity is a complete irrelevance. As I keep saying it's to do with - is your film any good or not? If its not, believe me no one will go it doesn't matter. It could be splashed from front to the back of the Sun and no one will go and see that film. The case I always give is "Love Actually" which was a very successful film and I remember distinctly the pr people being in despair because - slightly led by me I will admit - none of the actors would talk to the British tabloid press, they hate doing it anyway and they were all delighted to say well if Hugh's not doing it, we're not doing it and they're all tearing their hair out. Did not make a blind bit of difference, the film was a gigantic success so I absolutely deny the business of you live by the sword, you die by the sword. You live by whether your film is any good, whether you're a good footballer or not, whether you're a good politician or not and the tittle tattle in the media is utterly irrelevant.

HL: You've explained yourself that you've been a victim of entrapment, of hacking, of blagging and all these different techniques that are used that used by the media. Have you as a consequence of that had to change how you do things? Do you had to take advice in your security are you careful about electronic devices and so opn

HG: Yes, all that, all that and periodically your car is swept for bugs like John Terry had his car bugged the other day and that's just part of life now and you have to be very careful how you arrange your mobile phone, who its done through, who you give your number to because they're on you all the time. And you can really never be sure that at any point when you're walking down the street that they're not hidden in the bushes watching you and they very often are in the dead of night and you know I suppose there's an argument that, you know, someone will say oh Hugh this is part of your business but I actually don't see why it should be. I don't really think I've committed a crime, all I've made is a few films some bad some good, and I don't really see why that means my basic human rights shave to be snatched from me for someone elses profit.

HL: You've done a bit of bugging yourself, what prompted you to do that?

HG: Well I have, I had this bizarre encounter when my car broke down in Kent in the winter and there was no one around except this one white van pulled up to help and it turned out to be an ex-News of The World journalist who got out and started taking pictures of me. Anyway to cut a long story short he completely admitted to being the scummiest of the scum in terms of phone hacking and all the dirty tricks and was telling me all this stuff and I was think god I wish I had a tape recorder. And then he made the grave mistake at the end of our encounter of saying he now ran a pub in Dover and I should drop in for a drink sometime. So I did go back a few months later and I did have a recorder disguised as a pen and I got him talking about all this stuff again and I got all the dirt again of their tactics and who they'd bugged and on what a vast industrial scale. I wrote it all up in the New Statesman and it's still online if anyone would like to go and look at it.

HL: Thank you Hugh

HG: Ok

ML: Hugh, going back to that interview with Paul McMullan which you wrote up in the New Statesman did you tell him that you were going to out him in this way

HG: No of course not and ok you can accuse me of hypocristy but I say symmetry. He bugged me, I bugged him.

ML: One of the most extraordinary things in his, in your summery of that conversation is his suggestion that phone hacking shouldn't be a crime I thought.

HG: Yeah, but you know, what's partly shocking is how institutionalised their sort of insanity is in the tabloid world. I mean I think they genuinely believe that umm and also what's shocking is the level of hatred, the level of jealousy and vindictiveness, and just poison and that's a whole other interesting subject the BBC should get onto sometime is about why poison sells so well in this country. I mean I know I'm not immune to it. And I have admitted in the past, nor am I immune - you talked earlier about what's, what's ummm interesting the public - of course if someone...if a paper is front of me with a big splash about some footballer, it's very hard not to read it, it's riveting but that's not to say that it should be allowed in this country and in particular the methods of obtaining that information should be allowed......but I'm drifting...poison, you want poison....let's get off poison, let's get back to, to freedom of speech.

ML: Ok, well let me just follow just one particular strand there. You are world travelled, you act in different countries. Is your experience in the United Kingdom different from you r experience in other countries?

HG: Well it varies from country to country but of course the shining example is always been France where they do have a privacy law and more importantly they have a privacy culture. Which is interesting, I think it's partly just not being Anglo-Saxon protestant, I think that Catholic countries just have a more relaxed attitude to oddly enough to our darker sides, to our, ummm, what Jung would call our shadow, our sexual desires etc. They just don't, they don't have an end of the pier, what the butler saw attitude the British have of oooh look trousers down, blowjob oooh amazing, You know they're just, they have this rather relaxed and I think attractive view that a person is a person and they can be dignified as a politician, or dignified as an actor or dignified as a singer or whatever it is. And you don't need to go through the bedroom door and see what they're up to and I applaud that. Clearly, if that politician happens to be - and we still don't know - a rapist then clearly that is a matter for the press and I have no objection to that. But up to that point they don't go through the bedroom door and I think that's wonderful, civilised and advanced.

ML: As you imply though, some have suggested, the French system is heavily weighted towards men and can, emmm, protect predators. I mean who knows but that's been the accusation hasn't it.

HG: I have heard that accusation but I think it's also true that some of the greatest leaders in history have had very colourful sex lives and if you were to rule all those people out we would have lost many of our great leaders. JFK is a prime example.

ML: Hugh, in a world of.....can I take us onto the subject of new media and I use that as a generic term to cover social networking, the emergence of twitter, of the citizen journalist. Some have said that in a world which is so open, where everyone can be a "journalist" in inverted comma's, it's impossible to, to design effective constraints on the press and indeed the press themselves have said this is unfair to try to do that - what's your view on that?

HG: Well two things, one is the difference between someone's privacy being invaded on twitter for instance - or being libelled on twitter is that no one is actually making a profit out of it whereas in the Daily Mail, they're making a profit - someone's making money out of stealing your most basic human right. So that's one point to be made and the other is that I do think that there is still quite a significant credibility gap in what's published in a national newspaper and what's scrawled on the internet which is rather - to me - much closer to graffiti on the loo wall, you know, you might believe it, it might be fun to believe it for a bit but it could well be wrong which is proven by this recent bout of speculation on twitter about who those people behind those recent injunctions were. We now know that for a, you know, week or two, certainly one actor who was emmm, everyone was certain was the injunctor and it turned out to be completely wrong so I don't, you know, twitter, the internet, new media simply can't be trusted, or IS not as trusted as emm black and white paper, uhhh national newspaper often you know pretending to be, defender of middle class values.

ML: This I - you're probably not going to welcome this question but I think I have to ask it really. After your New Statesman article, The Daily Mail went back to someone from your past - Devine Brown - for a comment and she suggested that you and others were more interested in trying to protect the interest of rich men. Now I know you've underlined your interest in the ordinary member of the public but how do you respond to that accusation?

HG: Uhh, by the way, I'm not remotely uh, embarrassed by anyone bringing up uh, Devine Brown or my scandal of 1995, it's uh, you know I've never been embarrassed by it. I think when the Daily Mail did that they thought it would embarrass me they wanted to punish me for having spoken out And if you speak out against you they will try to bash you. The argument that injunctions are only for rich men is partly true, I mean that's why as you say I argued earlier I think on balance privacy law might be better cause it would protect anyone but you know you won't get the Daily Mail making that argument because it brings up the whole subject if how people like the family and friends of Soham murderers, murder victims had their privacy grotesquely invaded by the British tabloid press.

ML: Thank you, Helen any more questions from you?

HL: Just one final point because that was an interesting point you brought out there how newspapers react to you if you challenge them.

HG: Which is why, which is why I'm quite a lone voice at the moment. You know, at least from my world, umm, there's not many people - I get a lot when I do these interviews, I did one on Radio 5 I did one and Newsnight, I get a hell a lot of emails and texts saying fantastic, go for it, but I can't quite get them up over the parapet fighting.

HL: Because really it's about a balance of power, and they, they have a considerable amount of power..

HG: They've got all the power; you're running into a machine gun. Yeah

HL: Can you see a mechanism that would help redress that power apart from a privacy law. Would a code of conduct work?

HG: No, because they have a code of conduct and it emphatically has not worked. You know they had this chance to police themselves but I've seen no evidence of it whatsoever. Take the Daily Mail again, you know after Princess Diana was effectively murdered by paparazzi who sold pictures to papers like the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail said oh you know we'll never use paparazzi pictures again and they were back at it within months and you know there's no bigger buyer of really scary freelance pap shots than the Daily Mail.

HL: Thank you Michael. Thank you

ML: Hugh thank you very much for that. Are there any areas that we haven't covered that you would like to cover?

HG: I'm sure about five thousand as soon as we switch the mics off. But I'll come back for another rant on some other programme.

ML: Well let me, let me then give you a final chance. As if speaking directly to the audience of the PM.....

HG: Oh sorry, there is one, sorry I have thought of one thing I'd like to say

ML: Yes do, do...please.

HG: I'd just like to make it clear; I actually think there is a role, or has been a role for tabloid papers, popular papers. I mean the Daily Mirror, particular used to be quite an impressive crusading paper, umm standing up for the rights of ummm you know the less privileged and I think one of the most objectionable things about what papers like that have become is their betrayal of that and really of their betrayal of journalism and of, of, of what we expect from a British Newspaper. We don't want toadying and ummm, you know sucking up to celebrities at all that would be a bit American, it would be a bit boring. Nor do we want incredibly serious ummm New York Times journalism, it's good that our journalism is more colourful. But um, the criminal theft of people's privacy - not just rich people - is a great wrong that this country should put right and which as I keep saying successive administrations have not put right for the simple reason they are too scared to cross the tabloid press which they need for their re-election. And it would just be wonderful if suddenly some prime minister came along with the guts to do that but I see no sign of it.

ML: Hugh, I'm inclined to think that's probably a good closing statement from you. But I've asked every witness if they would like the opportunity, speaking directly to the audience to just summarise their views on whether the current arrangements adequately protect the rights of the individual and freedom of expression.

HG: Well, I think I've spoken enough about how they don't protect emm people's right to privacy. Um, I am, as I said earlier....I see the point of the...when the broadsheets or the Private Eye get up in arms about injunctions because they are serious journalists doing a very serious job and when umm a judge granted Trafigura - I can't remember if it was an injunction, or a super injunction or an ultra injunction, what the hell injunction it was. That was, as we now know, a wrong judgement and umm, it was, it was infringement of freedom of speech but I'd nevertheless, I would argue that, that was a rare instance of failure of these judges in these cases and on the whole I think they've done a pretty good job. And in the absence of a privacy law who would I rather judge whether something was umm, an infringement of privacy or whether it was a matter, or whether it was, the paper had a right to freedom of speech? I'd much rather it was a judge than a tabloid editor whose only motive is profit.

ML: Thank you - well let me again thank you for joining us this morning and speaking so frankly.

HG: Thanks, ok pleasure


HG: Oh god now I'll just prepare myself for machine guns.....


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