The evidence Ian Hislop, editor of the Private Eye satirical magazine, gave to the Leveson Inquiry into Press ethics this morning was most conspicuous for his call David Cameron and former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown give evidence on their toadying relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire.
For decades Private Eye’s Street of Shame column was the only place to go for critical scrutiny of the Press in Britain. So Hislop is well-placed to comment on what used to be called Fleet Street.
"I believe in a free press and I don't think it should be regulated, but it should abide by the law," Hislop said echoing my own opinion.
It was his throwaway line that Lord Leveson should hear evidence from readers of the now-defunct News of the World on why they read the scandal sheet struck a particular resonance with me although it is likely to be overlooked by the Inquiry – and most commentators.
Many weeks into the investigation and no heed has been given to the motive force that keeps newspapers in business – its readers.
Lord Leveson looked flummoxed at Hislop’s suggestion. A pity it is impossible to pluck readers from their day-to-day lives and transplant them into Leveson’s witness box.
He would find tabloid newspaper readers a good deal savvier than he probably thinks now. Such readers are well aware of the expression “don’t believe everything you read.” They are not surprised when stories prove to be wrong.
They’re seeking entertainment – often prurient but that’s human nature. For a relatively modest outlay, they are transported out of their routine existence for a short while. It kept them buying newspapers like the News of the World in their millions.
Deleting messages on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s telephone was, however, a step too far. But now we know the deletions were made automatically by her telephone company and not the newspaper.