LONDON — After weeks examining the illicit and underhanded practices of sensation-hungry press, Britain's media ethics inquiry shifted its gaze Wednesday to celebrity magazine editors, who painted a kinder, gentler picture of their trade.
The editors of Heat, Hello! and OK! told the inquiry that 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."
She told the inquiry that the publication's Spanish founder had dubbed its philosophy "La spuma de la vida — the froth of life."
There has been little froth so far at the judge-led inquiry, which has been examining the intrusive and sometimes illegal techniques used by tabloids to get stories.
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 even 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.
Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry has heard from celebrities including J.K. Rowling and Hugh Grant — as well as non-celebrities trapped in the media spotlight — who said they had 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 Hello! editor Nixon. "They know they are safe with us."
Celebrities can also profit financially, she said.
"Sometimes," she acknowledged, "a fee does come into it."
Both Hello! and OK! specialize 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.
OK! editor Lisa Byrne said her magazine's approach allowed celebrities who were getting married or having a baby to keep the hounds of the tabloid press at bay.
"The sad truth is that there can be almost a bounty on the head of that child for the first photos," she said. "They can make a paparazzo a lot of money. So to work with a magazine such as ours where we can offer a controlled, safe environment means they can take that into their own hands."
The editors all said they had ethical boundaries. Nixon said Hello! would not run pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, shopping or going about her daily life.
But they also 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 pound 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 long-running lawsuit, which OK! won.
Nixon called running the unauthorized pictures "a mistake ... 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."
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 celebs opted out.
The judge, who had a copy of Heat amid the legal papers on his desk, acknowledged the world of celebrity glossies was not his usual territory.
Nixon advised him at one point that "you mustn't believe everything you read" about the fees paid to celebrities for exclusive stories.
"Oh," Leveson said. "Should I not?"
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless