Please, Lord Justice Leveson – this weekly ordure is not OK! | Marina Hyde

Hello!, OK! and Heat editors all had to testify. So few, when so many celebrity magazines regularly splash dubious misery-porn

What has circled sweat patches, the medical condition Pseudologia fantastica, and makes the Daily Mail look like an evening with Gloria Steinem? If you answered "the weekly celebrity magazine market", then congratulations. You win the chance to flick through this week's divorce and eating disorder speculation, and photo spreads of the great adipose migration. (It is one of the immutable laws of showbiz that fat in the celebrity world can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only be transferred from one star to another, and chronicling this endless shift accounts for an estimated 30% of weeklies' business.)

What you don't win, alas, is the chance to see the editors of most of these titles required to gloss their activities before Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press standards. This seems a shame. Given that celebrity mags sold 3.2m copies a week in 2011, carry paparazzi pictures that even tabloids draw the line at, and base the overwhelming majority of their misery-porn cover stories on anonymous sources who talk exactly like mag journalists, you'd hope they might pique the inquiry's interest. Furthermore, when the then information commissioner published his 2006 What Price Privacy Now? report, magazines such as Closer made the list of those paying private investigators and driving the illegal trade in confidential personal data.

Yet the invitation to court 73 appears to have fallen on so very few of the editors' doormats. Blink and you could have missed the appearance this week of the only three to have got the call-up – those who helm Hello!, OK! and Heat. Their position can best be summed up by OK!'s editor, Lisa Byrne, who explained to the court: "We haven't really done anything wrong."

Oh Lisa, Lisa, Lisa … DO ME A FAVOUR.

Since junior counsel to the inquiry sadly passed up the opportunity to remind Byrne of some of her greatest hits, allow me to drag you kicking and screaming down memory lane. Arguably, Byrne's most audacious triumph was the Jade Goody tribute issue, a bumper commemoration of the life of the reality TV star who died of cervical cancer, published with the coverline "1981-2009". The only cavil was that the Richard Desmond title decided to put it out while Goody was still alive.

Infuriated by the criticism this drew, OK! put out a statement saying the family were "extremely grateful" – not so, according to Goody's mother-in-law – and reminding people of all "the support OK! has provided during this distressing period". Once again, satire had failed dismally to keep pace with reality. Many of us did not predict that the logical end of magazines acquiring exclusive rights to weddings and births would eventually be the buying up of someone's death. Goody – whose miserable childhood drove her desperation to provide a financial future for her two young sons – was the perfect candidate.

The implications of this WORLD EXCLUSIVE acquisition were diversely ghastly, but perhaps epitomised by OK!'s refusal to allow Goody's close friend and biographer to attend her wedding, held a month before she died, because this woman worked for another magazine. (She now edits Heat, funnily enough.) It was surely this instinct to protect their exclusive, no matter into what swamps of moral repugnance it led them, that forced the publication of the tribute issue while its subject was still alive. God forbid she'd die on the wrong day of the week and the magazine would get scooped on its lucrative souvenir.

So maybe Lisa Byrne really is so thick that she thinks that her magazine genuinely is all about warmth and sympathy and giving readers the chance to gawp at Colin Montgomerie's breakfast nook or some celebrity's kid too young to give their own consent. But in an ideal world, the Jade episode would have made it impossible to maintain that figleaf for ever more. There is a direct bloodline between this licensed inhumanity and the Scottish Sunday Express's exposé of the surviving Dunblane children, or Richard Desmond's horrifying defence of his papers' McCann coverage. (If you missed it, he held that because he only had to settle libel actions on 38 of the 102 articles his papers published on Madeleine, the rest of them must be "good".) It is a lack of empathy and remorse some would class as psychopathic.

If only such ordure were limited to Desmond's Augean stable, but it is sprayed across the celeb titles. Heat magazine still plays cheeky mate to the stars, despite past iniquities including publishing snatched pictures of Britney Spears in her own home – an unforgivable intrusion also visited upon the late Amy Winehouse by several magazines apparently no longer content with the tearful and bloodied doorstep shots obtained by the army of paps who rang her bell round the clock. But on it goes. A recent issue of new! magazine carried a grim, confected story about the Duchess of Cambridge, splashed on the cover as "Broody Kate's anorexia nightmare". Could a tabloid put that on its front page and get away with it? Absolutely not. Lord Justice Leveson is respectfully implored to ask the celebrity mags why they think they can.

• For legal reasons this article will not be open to comments

Twitter: @MarinaHyde


Marina Hyde

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