Democracy in Britain has been corrupted by illegal and unethical press practices, Hugh Grant has said.

Speaking at a rally for media reform on Thursday 17 May 2012 – hosted by the Hacked Off Campaign and the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform (“CCMR”) – the actor said it was a “disgrace” nothing had been done to curb criminal behaviour.

He told the rally:

“I think that the first two modules of the Leveson Inquiry have shone a lot of very disinfectant sunlight into a lot of very infected corners. As a result people are – around the country – starting to realise that this whole thing is about more than just phone hacking. It is about corruption of police, corruption of public officials, the intimidation of elected politicians and basically the emasculation of five successive British governments. It’s really about the corruption of democracy here in Britain, the focal crucible of democracy.

He went to to say

“However abhorrent the idea of state run media is – and it is utterly abhorrent – it’s nevertheless increasingly obvious that we have been living for about 30 years in a media controlled state, and that is equally abhorrent, and it’s a disgrace that nothing’s been done about it until now.

Grant urged the Leveson Inquiry to examine the database from Operation Motorman – files seized from private investigator Steve Whittamore who was employed by journalists across Fleet Street to obtain private information – and ask why reporters commissioning illegal activity were never prosecuted. He added:

“There is a great stack of unexposed, unpublished material… activity which the Information Commissioner described himself as ‘as serious as phone hacking if not more serious’.

The rally – chaired by Hacked Off founder Brian Cathcart and Natalie Fenton of Goldsmiths University – also heard from deputy leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman MP and Tom Watson MP.

Harman called for a “knife amnesty” between the press and politicians. She added:

“There’s nothing new about the press being too powerful and media monopolies being too powerful. We have an historic opportunity to solve these problems and not be here in another one, two, three decades discussing the problem.”

She went on to criticise Jeremy Hunt over the failed News Corp BSkyB bid. She said the Culture Secretary “has showed that’s he’s not prepared to obey the rules or the law”.

Tom Watson urged the audience to give public support for reform, saying politicians would come under “enormous pressure” to dilute proposed changed coming out of the Leveson Inquiry. He added:

“That is the time that all of us have to come together to tell politicians that this isn’t enough, they’ve got to act. Because if we don’t, we know that these thing can reoccur and I don’t want to be responsible for letting that happen – and I hope that David Cameron doesn’t want to be and I’m pretty certain that Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband don’t want to be.” This campaign is going to be central to keeping a focused message to every politician in the land that now is the time to act”.

Former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt said the time had come for “rank-and-file journalists” and the public to make their voices heard, and keep reform on the news agenda. He said the Leveson Inquiry had exposed tabloids as part of a “ruling elite” and criticised proprietors and editors for “actively and cynically trying to maintain the status quo”.

Hacked Off founder Martin Moore and campaign adviser Dr Evan Harris backed up the need for reform, with Moore telling the audience public support had been “amazingly empowering” as the campaign was set up last summer. He said:

“It is true that we did come an awfully long way in those two weeks in July. Real change in this is going to take years and it is going to be against the teeth of many of those who would prefer change not to happen. Throughout this whole period were going to need public support – the public are the reason that this happened and will be the reason things change.”

James Curran, chair of the CCMR, also gave a speech. He said:

Perhaps the only problem isn’t that the press lies to sell copies, and the only problem is not that people’s private lives are trampled over without real public interest justifications, or even that it’s become acceptable in some newspaper offices for journalists and their private investigators to blag, bribe and in effect blackmail, the problem goes further than this. Most of the press is no longer fighting in our corner. Press controllers are the friends and intimates of the powerful.”

Also speaking at the rally was Sir Peter Bottomley MP, who said he fought four libel cases against newspapers in the past. He said:

“I fall in with the Ian Hislop line that you ought to use ordinary law rather than special media law to deal with clear problems. I would counsel you and advise you to do that if you can.

Other speakers were author and columnist Owen Jones, human rights lawyer Imran Khan, Jacqui Hunt from Equality Now, Jacqui Davis from Keep Our NHS Public and National Union of Journalists president Donnacha DeLong – who was met with applause when he said the NUJ had reestablished its first chapel in Wapping.

Leveson witnesses Mary-Ellen Field, a victim of phone hacking, and former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames – who was put under surveillance by the News of the World in 2003 – explained their personal experiences.

There is a video of the rally online here.

Natalie Peck, is the web reporter for Hacked Off and a PhD researcher examining privacy law and public figures. She is @nataliepeck on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off website and is reproduced with permission and thanks.