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Steve Coogan tells press standards inquiry he ‘never signed away privacy’

Comedian Steve Coogan today told an inquiry into press standards that he had never said he was a “paragon of virtue” and not “sought” fame.

Coogan told the Leveson Inquiry that he “liked to keep himself private”.

He told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson that he had not made a “Faustian Pact” with the press.

“I have never wanted to be famous, as such – fame is a by-product,” Coogan told the inquiry.

“Me, myself, personally, I like to keep myself private.”

He said he had not made a “Faustian Pact” with the press and added: “I have never said I am a paragon of virtue, a model of morality. I simply do what I do.”

Coogan told the judge that some people did “use” the press. But he said he did not and was not in the “fame game”.

“One could argue that there are those who make their career out of being famous and those people do enter into a Faustian Pact, where they use the press to raise their profile. They exploit the press for their own ends,” he said. “They are in the fame game.”

He added: “I don’t do that.”

Coogan said in his witness statement: “I learned years ago that aspects of my personal life – and for that matter my professional work – do not meet the approval of some tabloid editors and proprietors.

“But I do not believe that gives them the right to hack my voicemail, intrude into my privacy or the privacy of people who know me, or print damaging lies.

“I am an actor, comedian and a writer. I never entered into a Faustian pact with the press. I did not become successful in my work through embracing or engaging in celebrity culture.

“I never signed away my privacy in exchange for success.”

Coogan described some of his encounters with the press, including one occasion when a journalist telephoned the late great-grandmother of his daughter pretending to be conducting a survey on behalf of her local council.

“They claimed to be from the council doing a survey and started to ask more and more questions pertinent to me,” he said.

“At that point she said, ‘Are you from the gutter press?”‘

He told the inquiry the journalist admitted he was from the Daily Mirror. He believes the paper got hold of the phone number after seeing her address on the back of a letter, addressed to him and with her listed as the sender, in his communal lobby.

Coogan said that he was often under surveillance – with photographers sitting outside his flat with cameras – and that reporters occasionally went through his rubbish bins looking for a story.

“I saw them from my bedroom window,” he told the court.

“They did not look like tramps – not far off.”

Coogan told the inquiry that he had worked in television, film and production for the best part of 20 years.

He said he began his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into acting, writing and producing.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a creative person,” he said. “It’s what I do. It’s my vocation.”

He added: “It’s what defines me.”

Coogan told the hearing that in August and September 2007 the Daily Mail printed a “number of articles” which “repeated the lie” that he was somehow responsible for, or connected with, the alleged suicide attempt of American actor Owen Wilson.

The pair, who are friends, appeared together in children’s film Night At The Museum.

An article headlined “Steve Coogan blamed for Owen Wilson’s drug spiral” was published in the Mail Online. But Coogan told the hearing that he had not been in the same continent as Wilson for nine months before the incident.

He said he issued a curt denial statement but did not want to say anything more “to give legs to the story”.

“I did not want to shine the spotlight on him when he was in a particularly vulnerable state,” Coogan said.

He added: “They are not interested in what the facts are, they are interested in good copy.”

He told the hearing that he did not wish to complain to the Press Complaints Commission, adding: “The soap opera that would ensue outweighs any benefit it would have.”

Coogan was referred to an interview he gave to Piers Morgan for GQ magazine originally published in January 2006 in which he was was questioned about his personal life.

He said: “I certainly wasn’t doing an expose and spilling my guts. I was talking about things that had already been aired in the public domain.”

The comedian added: “I would rather not talk about it but if you are doing an interview you don’t want to come across as being curmudgeonly or precious, and you want to support the film and be open.”

Coogan told the inquiry he often ignored misreporting about himself because he preferred to concentrate on his work.

“I rarely take action about these things because I expend a lot of time and energy on the existing systems of redress but I don’t want to channel all my energies into this,” he said.

“I would rather spend my time writing and doing what I do for a living because it is quite time-consuming and it drains you of energy.

“And that is why oftentimes I have just walked away and got on with my job.”

He added: “Given a choice between constantly engaging with the press and trying to mount a sort of campaign of self-justification, and saying nothing and retaining a little privacy, even though there is misinformation out there, I choose the latter.

“It is the lesser of two evils.”

Coogan told the inquiry that newspaper and magazine regulator the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) did not “fill him with confidence” over its ability to redress wrongs.

“I think that is borne out by the fact that the biggest test in the last 40 years of their ability, the hacking scandal, completely passed them by,” he said.

“So I don’t feel my suspicions and prejudices about the PCC are without foundation.”

Coogan said “denials and corrections” could only mitigate because the “damage had been done”.

He said litigation was “expensive”, “unwieldy” and time-consuming.

And he said the press had failed to regulate themselves.

“I wish there was no need for regulation outside the press,” added Coogan. “I wish the press were able to regulate themselves. I would like that. But they have been given many opportunities and have failed.”

He said press freedom was important but could be used as a “smokescreen”.

“Press freedom is important,” he said. “There is some brilliant journalism in this country.”

He added: “There needs to be a privacy law so that genuine public-interest journalism is not besmirched by this tawdry muck raking.”

Coogan said some newspapers “factored in” potential damages when deciding to run a “big story” and added: “They can afford to take the hit.”

He told the judge that the inquiry was not just about him and actor Hugh Grant, who gave evidence on Monday.

“It’s not the Steve and Hugh show,” he said. “We are here, not with any great enthusiasm. We are here because somebody has to represent all those other people who have not got the stomach to be here.”

He added: “Of course there is a personal element to it. But it is not just about us. It’s about other people.”

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