It was bad timing the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics just hours ahead of Hugh Grant.
Their case against press malpractice in general and the hacking of their daughter's mobile phone in particularly is much stronger than that of Grant’s but inevitably attention will focus on the film star.
Grant’s first aim was to settle old scores with the Associated Newspapers titles Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. For the first time a newspaper group other than News International has been forced centre stage in the hacking furore with, it has to be said, as yet, little firm evidence.
The rest of Grant’s ire was directed at that section of the tabloid press he believed had turned “toxic” in the last 20 to 30 years and remained unchallenged by a process of “bullying, intimidation, and blackmail.”
Piers Morgan, CNN frontman and in his time a controversial editor of the Daily Mirror, a UK ‘red top’ thinks Grant protests too much.
“I do hope Nelson Mandela was watching Hugh Grant today, so he now understands what real persecution is all about,” he tweeted sarcastically.
Grant does indeed make an unsympathetic witness when he’s complaining about press intrusion into his own private life.
In the process of becoming a celebrity, and therefore public property, Grant sold part of his soul – and for a very good price.
He can’t expect to switch on press attention only when he has a new movie to promote.
The law is on his side – especially as he can afford the best counsel. Phone hacking, libel, harassment, and trespass are illegal. The argument should be focused on strengthening the existing law not inventing new ones to shackle a free press.
Away from hacking aggressive paparazzi are a cause of upset. They will not bow to any regulation until their cars, cameras, and where necessary liberty is put in jeopardy.
As Grant himself points out the negative publicity he has attracted has done his films no harm at the box office. So while it may well be irritating to be the target of inaccurate, often fabricated, show biz gossip, it goes with the territory.
But those around Grant have a right to their privacy. If Leveson opts for a new Press Complaints Commission with teeth as has been floated, the press must be made to distinguish between those in public life and ‘civilians’.