Media: No such thing as a free lunch

Should journalists accept hospitality from the likes of Al Fayed?

IT WAS showtime once again at court 13, the High Court's own Palace of Varieties. Mohamed Al Fayed and Desmond Browne, Neil Hamilton's QC, were settling into their by now familiar slapstick double act when the matter of Mohamed's friends came up. Flourishing a list of the great and the good who had sampled the tycoon's hospitality at the Ritz and Villa Windsor in Paris, Mr Browne mentioned journalists and newsreaders, including Sir Peregrine Worsthorne and his wife, Donald Trelford and Michael Buerk.

"All distinguished honourable journalists," Mr Fayed interjected.

Mr Browne pointed out that while journalists were publishing tales of Neil and Christine Hamilton's alleged gluttony at the Paris Ritz, members of the press had also accepted Mr Fayed's largesse. So how do they defend themselves?

Donald Trelford recalls that he had seen Mr Fayed on the recommendation of Tiny Rowland, who had just bought The Observer (this was before the two tycoons fell out over the purchase of Harrods). "We were investigating Mark Thatcher over allegations about arms contracts in Oman, and Tiny said Mohamed might be able to help," said Mr Trelford. "In fact he didn't know an awful lot, but he ended up by asking me to go to Paris because he wanted to have some books published about the Villa Windsor. It was the weekend of the England-France rugby match so there was an added incentive." Mr Trelford offered to pay, but Mr Fayed would not hear of it. "It didn't really matter to me, because The Observer would have paid, but he simply refused."

When the Fayed-Rowland war began, The Observer published the DTI inquiry, highly critical of Mr Fayed, and Fayed hit back. "Fayed's people spread some stories about my then wife running up a horrendous bill," said Mr Trelford. "It was all bollocks, but I think it eventually got into Private Eye."

Any regrets about accepting the invitation? "Only so far as what a shit the man turned out to be. But who was to know? I didn't write anything about my visit."

Sir Peregrine Worsthorne went to Paris several times as Mr Fayed's guest. The main purpose was to see the Villa Windsor; his wife, Lady Lucinda, was producing a BBC programme about the restoration Mr Fayed had carried out.

Sir Peregrine said: "At the time Fayed was not a controversial figure. This was before he fell out with the royal family, and he had done a good job restoring the Windsor home. Fayed wasn't then seeking to become a British citizen, nor was he seeking a political advantage. I didn't offer to pay for the Ritz - it would have been impossible for me to do so. I would have gone somewhere cheaper.

"Any rules, written or unwritten, about journalists accepting hospitality were not in existence - people did accept freebies. However, there was absolutely no question of him asking me to do something in return, and if he had done so, I would have refused. I asked Fayed to have dinner at the Garrick on several occasions to reciprocate the hospitality."

I too have benefited from Mr Fayed's largesse. It was not a stay at the Paris Ritz, nor even one of the Harrods Christmas hampers he appears to send out so liberally. But I was given bottle of champagne and a new edition of the book on the Villa Windsor by an employee of Mr Fayed with whom I have lunched at least a dozen times while covering his battles with Aitken and Hamilton. I paid for lunch each time. Where does this leave me?

"British journalists have always been rather relaxed about accepting hospitality, and there are very few who don't accept freebies in one form or another," says Ian Hargreaves, former editor of The Independent and The New Statesman and now professor of journalism at Cardiff University. "Although the purist position may be attractive, it has not proved realistic. Even something as simple as travel writers on The Independent not accepting freebies has eventually had to go due to various pressures.

"Journalists and their contacts do buy each other lunches, give presents etc, but that can be justified because information is being gained or exchanged. Going off on a holiday at someone else's expense would be far more difficult to justify. Every journalist has to ask himself or herself whether by accepting hospitality they begin to owe a redeemable favour that could be professionally embarrassing in the future."

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat