‘The CPS asked me to stop selling Private Eye. I said “No”‘
A newspaper seller tells spiked why he refused to cave in to officialdom's demands.
Yesterday, the jury deciding the fate of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, once of the now defunct News of the World, were sworn in at the Old Bailey in London. While many have pondered the potential impact this case will have on the future freedom of the British press, few could have imagined the state’s fetters would be felt so quickly – and in such bizarre circumstances.
It started when the satirical rag Private Eye‘s latest issue came under fire for its ‘Halloween Edition’ front cover, which featured a photo of Brooks with the jokey subtitle ‘Horror witch costume withdrawn from shops’. Justice Saunders, who will preside over Brooks and Coulson trial, held up the offending title in court as an example of the kind of media speculation the jury must put to the back of their minds. However, earlier that morning, officials had already attempted to stop the issue being sold in the first place.
Tony McCarthy’s news-stand
Tony McCarthy, whose family has been running the newspaper stall outside of Farringdon rail station since 1952, was approached by both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to remove the offending issues of Private Eye.
‘We had a couple of mysterious visits in the morning. Someone, unbeknown to us, took a photo of our advertisement for the new Private Eye, then about an hour later, a guy got out of a taxi and came over with a picture on his iPhone of the board, asking about it. I thought it was strange but that was the end of it’, said McCarthy, speaking to spiked earlier today.
‘Then at about half past one, plain-clothes policemen showed up. They wanted to know a lot about the distribution company that I use, whether I know what outlets had got Private Eye, how many copies had gone out on the street: questions of which I had no answers to.’
The police then, ‘rather embarrassingly’ in McCarthy’s words, asked if he would consider removing the issues at the request of the CPS. He staunchly refused. ‘I asked if the judge had directed me to take them down; they said “No”. I asked if the publisher had ordered for these to be taken down; they said “No”. And I said, “until that happens, I’m not doing it”. The more controversy that surrounds any title, the more I sell. I don’t care what’s on the front of the page of anything, I just want to sell newspapers and magazines.’
As he makes his living off of the press he concedes a certain bias, but McCarthy is concerned about chilling of press freedom. ‘I don’t think the press should be shackled. I don’t think there should be controls on the press, on reporters trying to find out stories. They’ve got every right to have a look and dig deeper, that’s their job. There is a fine line: phone hacking is plain wrong, but you know if you’ve broken the law. You don’t need to be told.’
Nevertheless, his news-stand has seen some benefit from officialdom’s meddling in his business. ‘After the story ended up on the internet, I’ve had reporters lining up. Now people can’t get enough of Private Eye. I hope it happens again.’
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked.