Marco Werman: The British government has also been embarrassed recently by revelations of its spying activities, but this week the focus in Britain is once again on phone hacking by the press. Earlier this year a number of newspapers were found to have illegally hacked into the voice mails of celebrities and crime victims without their knowledge. Jury selection is now underway in the trial of two former editors whose newspapers used hacking in their reporting. The trial has triggered a vigorous debate on whether Britain needs some new press regulations and whether politicians can be trusted to police the press. Matthew Parris is a columnist for the Times of London.
Matthew Parris: There is a potential conflict between what we call privacy or privacy on the one hand and what we call freedom of information on the other and one man's invasion of privacy is another man's curtailment of freedom of information and I suppose no one feels very sentimental about the privacy of communications within government for instance or about the information held by the CIA. On the other hand, when the press appear to be delving into the private lives of completely innocent citizens who are not politicians, people instinctively go on to the side of those individuals who may have had their deceased daughter's mobile phone messages hacked.
Werman: How far would you go to supporting some state mechanism to regulate the press in the U.K.?
Parris: I would go nowhere, no way, at all. I even feel that my own newspaper and News International, Rupert Murdoch's outfit, have gone almost too far in the compromise. I hate the idea that any newspaper or magazine, big or small, should be have to go to an organization that is in the position to deem what is and what is not in the public interest. On the whole, I think that the only criterion is truth and if something is true, it may be inappropriate. It may be stupid. It maybe unwelcome interference into somebody's private life, but if it's true and if it's legal then publish it.
Werman: Matthew Parris, I suspect you've given this next question a fair amount of thought. How do you think this Snowden, the Edward Snowden revelations, have actually affected the debate on phone hacking?
Parris: The idea that the state might be doing to us what some of our newspapers have been doing to private citizens has horrified people and to that extent I suppose increased the general sense of public allergy to snooping or eavesdropping of any kind. However, the logical links between what's happening with Snowden and what we want to insist on in terms of press freedom are not all together clear and are really quite inconsistent.
Werman: Do you think you've ever been hacked into or had your private files or life investigated without your knowledge?
Parris: I don't know if I've ever been hacked into electronically. I do know that when I was first a member of Parliament and a gay and indeed I received a letter from a young man in Northern Ireland who said that he was a young male model looking for somewhere to live in London because he wanted to make his way in the world and did I know anybody who could offer him a room and I've always thought that that was such an unlikely thing to come out of the blue to a member of Parliament from an individual who couldn't possibly have taken the view that he'd be likely to get a very helpful response from most of them that I've always thought it quite likely that a newspaper had decided to do a private investigation into me. How would I have felt if they had? Well if, as a member of Parliament, I had replied to a young male model and said that he could come and stay in my flat and if he did and if he was then taking notes or recording things and if I'd behaved inappropriately, I've got to conclude that it would just have served me right.
Werman: Matthew Parris, a columnist with the Times of London, thanks very much.
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