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Zac Goldsmith: Tabloids Are Like Auschwitz

Zac Goldsmith

DAVID STRINGER   12/ 5/11 02:05 PM ET   AP

LONDON — A British lawmaker has compared the business ethics of some of Britain's tabloids to a notorious Nazi concentration camp at a Parliamentary hearing on newspaper excesses.

The shocking comparison was made Monday by Conservative Party lawmaker Zac Goldsmith, who testified along with "Four Weddings and a Funeral" star Hugh Grant, comedian Steve Coogan and ex-Formula One racing chief Max Mosley.

When asked if judges ruling in libel or privacy cases should consider whether their decisions might lead to the financial collapse of newspapers found to be at fault, Goldsmith said that "immoral or unethical" businesses should either change or go out of business.

"No one said that Auschwitz should have been kept open because it created jobs," said Goldsmith, referring to the Nazi death camp in Poland.

As part of an inquiry into phone hacking by Britain's tabloids, the Parliamentary committee is gathering evidence about the value of privacy laws and the use of legal gag orders that have been accused of stifling the media.

Media outlets have expressed alarm at the increasing use of injunctions and so-called "super-injunctions" – court orders which not only ban reporting of details of a specific case, but often forbid any public mention that an injunction exists.

Goldsmith's private life became the subject of tabloid scrutiny during the break up of his marriage in 2010 . He told the panel he had previously secured a court injunction to prevent reporting of the fact his email account, and those of his then wife and his sister, had been hacked. The legislator has previously discussed how he took the legal action amid fears newspapers would disclose contents of the emails.

Britain's phone hacking scandal, which has exposed how the private voice mail messages of bereaved parents and celebrity figures were illegally accessed, has led to a raft of inquiries into the country's written press. Britain's broadcast media are scrutinized by a national regulator, while the written media has a system of self-regulation facing criticism for being too lax.

A government commissioned panel, led by judge Brian Leveson, had already taken evidence from Grant, Mosley and Coogan, all of whom have tangled with Britain's tabloids and been vocal in their calls for tighter press regulation.

Grant told lawmakers Monday that he was only able to stop photographers hassling Tinglan Hong, an actress and the mother of his baby daughter, by taking out a court injunction.

The actor said he had first tried to reason with photographers, but was forced to turn to the courts.

"I said do you think this is something grown men should be doing, terrorizing a new mother and her baby? They just said 'Show us the baby'," Grant told the committee hearing.

Grant told lawmakers his car had been vandalized after he had remonstrated with photographers. "I have been arrested twice and had my car Stanley-knifed over every surface once in retribution," he said.

Mosley and Coogan said they were concerned that the ability to constrain the press through the courts was only open to the rich.

Coogan, who starred in movies "Night at the Museum" and "24 Hour Party People," said he had spent around 20,000 pounds ($32,000) in legal fees in an attempt to prevent a newspaper publishing an article about a family member.

A newspaper "was going to publish a story about a member of my family, not about me, that was no way in the public interest," Coogan said. "The correspondence that led to them not publishing cost me between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds."

Mosley won damages from the now-defunct News of The World tabloid after it wrongly alleged he had participated in a Nazi-themed orgy. In a legal case, Mosley acknowledged the orgy but denied it had any Nazi theme.

"I was told if I won, it would cost me tens of thousands of pounds (dollars). If I lost it would cost me one million pounds," Mosley said.

"To put at risk one million pounds is something very few people can do, or would do."

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Filed by Jack Mirkinson  |