Spotlight shines on celebrity magazines

AFTER weeks examining the illicit and underhanded practices of a sensation- hungry press, Britain’s media ethics inquiry shifted its gaze to celebrity magazine editors, who painted a kinder, gentler picture of their trade.

The editors of Heat, Hello and OK told the inquiry their glossy pages, full of celebrity weddings and stars by the seaside, brought not just happiness to readers, but benefit to stars and publishers alike.

“We’re a positive magazine,” said Hello editor Rosie Nixon. “A glass half-full magazine.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron set up the tribunal after the revelation that Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World had illegally listened to the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and crime victims in its quest for scoops.

Murdoch shut down the newspaper last July, but the scandal continues to rattle Britain’s police, political and media establishments.

Yesterday, News International, former publishers of the NotW, said it was close to settlements in most of the high-profile hacking cases. The details are to be announced today, but a company spokesman would not give specifics.

Justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry has heard from celebrities including JK Rowling and Hugh Grant — as well as non-celebrities trapped in the media spotlight — who said they suffered harassment from reporters and paparazzi.

The three editors said they had a cordial relationship with the celebrities featured in their pages — and their agents, with whom stories were often prearranged.

“They want to share, and they know we will produce a respectful article, and the photos will look lovely,” said Ms Nixon. “They know they are safe with us.”

OK editor Lisa Byrne said her magazine’s approach allowed celebrities who were getting married or having a baby to keep the tabloid press at bay.

Hello and OK specialise in cozy domestic photo spreads of celebrities at home, getting married or on holiday. Heat takes a cheekier approach, often poking fun at the boy bands and soap stars that are its stock in trade.

The editors all said they had ethical boundaries. Nixon said Hello would not run pictures of the Kate Middleton shopping or going about daily life.

However, they acknowledged they sometimes got it wrong, as when Hello ran snatched photos of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in 2000. The couple had signed an exclusive £1 million (€1.2m) deal with OK to cover the lavish event at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Zeta-Jones said she had felt “violated” when Hello published its “sleazy and unflattering” pictures.

The case sparked a lawsuit, which OK won. Nixon called running the unauthorised pictures “a very costly mistake”.

All three editors said they avoided publishing pictures of celebrities who were known to value their privacy, filling their pages instead with those who enjoyed the exposure.

Heat’s Lucie Cave said the magazine had no problem running paparazzi pictures of Simon Cowell on a yacht because “we know from working with him that he enjoys the lifestyle that goes with his celebrity”. But she admitted staff at the magazine were “mortified” by the “grave mistake” it made in printing a sticker insulting the disabled son of glamour model Katie Price.

Heat apologised for the 2007 incident.

Leveson, who is due to make recommendations on media reform later this year, raised the idea of a celebrity privacy register, in which famous people could indicate how much media coverage they wanted of their lives.

Cave said it could be useful, but Byrne worried it could lead to empty pages if too many celebrities opted out.

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