Looking as troubled as he ever did in Four Weddings and a Funeral -- and occasionally being as funny -- actor Hugh Grant delivered a depressing account to the UK media inquiry yesterday of what it's like to be pursued by Britain's tabloid newspapers.
Taking aim at the Murdochs' now-defunct News of the World, the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Grant proclaimed:
"I don't want to see the end of popular print journalism. A free press is the cornerstone of democracy there is no question about that. I just think there is a section of our press that has allowed to become toxic over the last 30 years. The main tactic seems to be bullying and blackmail and it takes courage to stand up to. I think it's time this country found the courage to stand up [to it now]."
Grant told Lord Leveson's inquiry in London's high court that his telephone had been tapped, his medical records stolen, his apartment burgled, and an ex-girlfriend paid £125,000 for photographs.
Newspapers made up stories about his private life, he said, regularly indulged in "hatchet jobs" and usually imparted an "ugly spin" to sell more papers.
All the while, they defended their actions with what Grant called the "10 Myths of Journalism".
- Myth 1: The tabloids only target politicians and celebrities.
- Myth 2: Only the News of the World is to blame.
- Myth 3: Cracking down on the rogues will damage free speech. Grant commented wryly: "The phrase that is always used is 'don't throw the baby out with the bath water'. I have always said I don't think it is that difficult to tell what is bath water and what is a baby. To most people it is pretty obvious."
- Myth 4: Regulation of the press would make Britain like Zimbabwe.
- Myth 5: The press would be muzzled by statutory regulation. (Yet no one has taken a privacy case against The Guardian.)
- Myth 6: Judges always find against the media.
- Myth 7: Only the rich can afford privacy, (so why should anyone else have it?)
- Myth 8: All sex exposes have a legitimate public interest, which is to stop cheats trading on their good name. "I wasn't aware I was trading on my good name," quipped Grant, "I've never had a good name at all. I'm a man who was arrested with a prostitute, and the film still made loads of money."
- Myth 9: Celebrities court publicity for their films, so they're hypocrites to demand privacy. This, said Grant, was like saying: "You sold me your milk, you slut. I'm now entitled to help myself to your milk for ever".
- Myth 10: The tabloids are just loveable rogues. Not when they hack into a murdered schoolgirl's voicemail they're not, said Grant. "The licence that the tabloid press has had to steal British citizen's privacy, especially vulnerable citizens, for profit is a scandal that weak governments for too long have allowed to pass."
More fun tomorrow, with actor Steve Coogan, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World and who has been one of the Murdochs' most outspoken critics. Watch this space.