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JK Rowling At Leveson Inquiry: Author Condemns UK Press Intrusion

By JILL LAWLESS   11/24/11 12:56 PM ET   AP

LONDON -- Writer J.K. Rowling and actress Sienna Miller gave a London courtroom a vivid picture on Thursday of the anxiety, anger and fear produced by living in the glare of Britain's tabloid media, describing how press intrusion made them feel like prisoners in their own homes.

The creator of boy wizard Harry Potter told Britain's media ethics inquiry that having journalists camped on her doorstep was "like being under siege and like being a hostage." Miller said years of car chases, midnight pursuits and intimate revelations had left her feeling violated, paranoid and anxious.

"The attitude seems to be absolutely cavalier," Rowling said. "You're famous, you're asking for it."

The pair were among a diverse cast of witnesses – Hollywood star Hugh Grant, a former soccer player, a former aide to supermodel Elle Macpherson and the parents of missing and murdered children – who have described how becoming the focus of Britain's tabloid press wreaked havoc on their lives.

Rowling said she was completely unprepared for the media attention she began to receive when her first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," became a sensation. The seven Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies, spawned a hit movie series and propelled Rowling from struggling single mother to one of Britain's richest people.

"When you become well-known ... no one gives you a guidebook," she said.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry amid a still-unfolding scandal over illegal eavesdropping by the News of the World tabloid. Owner Rupert Murdoch closed down the newspaper in July after evidence emerged that it had illegally accessed the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search of scoops.

More than a dozen News of the World journalists and editors have been arrested, and the scandal has also claimed the jobs of two top London police officers, Cameron's media adviser and several senior Murdoch executives.

It has also set off national soul-searching about the balance between press freedom and individual privacy.

Rowling, 46, said media interest in her began shortly after the publication of her first novel in 1997 and soon escalated, with photographers and reporters frequently stationed outside her home. She eventually moved after stories and photographs revealed the location of her house.

"I can't put an invisibility cloaking device over myself or my house, nor would I want to," Rowling said. But, she added, "it feels threatening to have people watching you."

Rowling said she had always tried to keep her three children out of the media glare, and was outraged when her eldest daughter came home from primary school with a letter from a journalist in her backpack.

"I felt such a sense of invasion," Rowling said. "It's very difficult to say how angry I felt that my 5-year-old daughter's school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists."

By the time her younger children were born in 2003 and 2005, Rowling said, the scrutiny was "like being under siege and like being a hostage."

She also described how, early on in their relationship, her now-husband Neil Murray gave personal details over the phone to a reporter who was pretending to be a tax official. An article about him duly appeared in a tabloid paper.

"That was a not-very-nice introduction to being involved with someone famous," Rowling said.

Rowling told the inquiry she had gone to court or to Britain's press watchdog more than 50 times over pictures of her children or false stories, which included a claim by the Daily Express that unpleasant fictional wizard Gilderoy Lockhart had been based on her first husband.

Before the final Potter book appeared in 2007, a reporter even phoned the head teacher of her daughter's school, falsely claiming the child had revealed that Harry Potter died at the end, in an apparent bid to learn secrets of the plot.

Miller, who became a tabloid staple when she dated fellow actor Jude Law, said the constant scrutiny left her feeling "very violated and very paranoid and anxious, constantly."

"I felt like I was living in some sort of video game," she said.

"For a number of years I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily," she said. "Spat at, verbally abused.

"I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal."

The 29-year-old actress told the inquiry that a stream of personal stories about her in the tabloids led her to accuse friends and family of leaking information to the media. In fact, her cell phone voice mails had been hacked by the News of the World.

Miller, the star of "Layer Cake" and "Alfie," was one of the first celebrities to take the Murdoch tabloid to court over illegal eavesdropping. In May, the newspaper agreed to pay her 100,000 pounds ($160,000) to settle claims her phone had been hacked.

The newspaper's parent company now faces dozens of lawsuits from alleged hacking victims.

Also testifying Thursday was former Formula One boss Max Mosley, who has campaigned for a privacy law since his interest in sadomasochistic sex was exposed in the News of the World.

Mosley successfully sued the News of the World over a 2008 story headlined "Formula One boss has sick Nazi orgy with five hookers." Mosley has acknowledged the orgy, but argued that the story – obtained with a hidden camera – was an "outrageous" invasion of privacy. He said the Nazi allegation was damaging and "completely untrue."

Mosley said he has had stories about the incident removed from 193 websites around the world, and is currently taking legal action "in 22 or 23 different countries," including proceedings against search engine Google in France and Germany.

"Invasion of privacy is worse than burglary," Mosley said. "Because if somebody burgles your house ... you can replace the things that have been taken."

High-profile witnesses still to come include CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan, who has denied using phone hacking while he was editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to Britain's system of media self regulation.

Rowling said that she supported freedom the press, but that a new body was needed to replace the "toothless" Press Complaints Commission.

"I can't pretend that I have a magical answer," she said. "No Harry Potter joke intended."

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JK Rowling's Testimony To The Leveson Inquiry
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Filed by Jack Mirkinson  |