By Mick Krever, CNN
The United Kingdom needs its own version of the First Amendment protecting press freedom, former editor of The Times and The Sunday Times Harold Evans told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
Evans spoke with Amanpour as one of the great journalistic trials of our time got underway in London: that of two former newspaper editors from the Rupert Murdoch empire, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.
They face charges that include conspiring to hack mobile phones at the now-defunct tabloid newspaper The News of the World.
Among the victims of phone hacking by newspapers was Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl who was later found murdered.
The scandal sparked the creation of the Leveson Inquiry, which after hearing from 180 witnesses recommended a number of reforms to the British press. Ministers and journalists are still at odds over underpinning regulation with legislation.
“I’ve always thought the First Amendment was a pretty good idea, actually,” Evans told Amanpour. “And what Leveson proposed in effect was to create a kind of British First Amendment.”
“Large parts of the press are making a big mistake in caricaturing what Leveson said,” he told Amanpour.
Nobody is suggesting, he said, that the government should be able to interfere with freedom of the press.
But he found it hard to imagine that the family of Milly Dowler starting a legal fight over intrusive press inquiries or the tapping of her cell phone.
“So Leveson provided a remedy for the most heinous offenses,” he said. “I see nothing in Leveson that need stop really good investigative journalism and exposure journalism.”
The start of Brooks’ and Coulson’s trial came on a day that another scandal involving the press – the ongoing exposure of the American government’s spying – was capturing the headlines.
Much of those revelations have come from Glenn Greenwald, who just left the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. Greenwald was the recipient of a major leak of classified documents from former American intelligence worker Edward Snowden.
“I don’t think [Guardian Editor] Alan Rusbridger is a reckless, careful, terrorist, saboteur – anything of the kind,” Evans said.
In his experience as an editor, he told Amanpour, “When we tried to expose the cover-up we were told it was national security; it wasn’t, it was a national embarrassment for the people in power.”
That being said, Evans was not unsympathetic to the arguments of governments lambasting the leaks.
“The governments are entitled to feel anxious because they have the duty to protect us,” Evans said. “And we’d yell like hell if they neglected it out of some, you know, libertarian idea, which I do not go along with.”
“But I’m told that what more concerns them has not yet been published, but what has been downloaded by Snowden.”
Indeed, he told Amanpour, anyone who takes lightly governments’ duty to protect “is betraying the principles of human decency and dignity, just as much as those who try to suppress embarrassing details coming out.”