By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — J.K. Rowling described how press intrusion made her feel like a hostage, Hugh Grant traded insults with a newspaper editor and a former tabloid reporter insisted that only evildoers had any need of privacy.
The first phase of Britain's media ethics inquiry ended this week after 40 days of dramatic hearings that heard from 184 witnesses — celebrities, journalists, editors, academics and lawyers — and revealed wildly differing perspectives on the murky workings of the tabloid press.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, in response to a scandal that began with illegal eavesdropping by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old tabloid in July after evidence emerged that it had accessed the mobile phone voicemails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search for scoops.
The first section of the inquiry looked at the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
Here's what we've learned so far:
PHONE HACKING WAS JUST ONE FORM OF WRONGDOING — AND THE NEWS OF THE WORLD WASN'T THE ONLY PERPETRATOR
As the inquiry opened, victims' lawyer David Sherborne said it was not just the disgraced News of the World, but "the whole of the press, and in particular the tabloid section of it, which we say stands in the dock."
Illegal eavesdropping was just one of the improper techniques of which papers stood accused. Celebrities — and non-celebrities thrust into the spotlight — described paparazzi stakeouts, late-night pursuits and relentless attention that left them angry and paranoid.
Hugh Grant testified his apartment had been broken into, details of a hospital visit leaked and the mother of his baby daughter hounded by paparazzi. He accused the Mail on Sunday of hacking his phone ("A mendacious smear," countered Paul Dacre, editor of sister paper the Daily Mail).
Singer Charlotte, Church, the subject of intense media interest from childhood, said her mother had attempted suicide partly as a result of a News of the World story about her father's extramarital affair headlined "Church's three in a bed cocaine shock."
Journalism professor and former tabloid editor Roy Greenslade said that even for newspaper veterans, the daily accumulation of evidence had been startling.
"I think all of us who have worked in popular newspapers were not massively surprised but there were, even so, eye-opening moments — harassment of people, pursuit of people and intrusions into their private lives," he said.
As for phone hacking, other newspapers were accused — but without firm proof. Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace said hacking "might well" have been going on at the Mirror in the early 2000s, though CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan said he didn't believe he had ever listened to hacked voicemail messages while he was editor between 1995 and 2004.
But he offered no explanation for how he heard a voicemail message left by former Beatle Paul McCartney for his then-girlfriend, Heather Mills.
JOURNALISTS AND CELEBRITIES HAVE VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS OF PRIVACY
Celebrity witnesses expressed outrage that fame made every aspect of their private lives fair game for the press. Rowling said the tabloids' attitude was: "You're famous, you're asking for it." The press camped on her doorstep, phoned her husband pretending to be tax collectors, even slipped a note into her 5-year-old daughter's schoolbag.
"I felt such a sense of invasion," Rowling said. "(It was) like being under siege and like being a hostage."
Others described a similar sense of violation.
But representatives of the tabloid press saw it differently — as a codependent relationship involving attention-starved celebrities and story-seeking journalists.
The Daily Mail's Dacre said that "a lot of celebrities, celebrity chefs, sportspeople make a lot of money by revealing their lives to the public. I believe newspapers should be given some latitude to look into their lives when they err."
Former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan put it more bluntly: "The only people I think need privacy are people who do bad things," he said. "Privacy is evil."