Stephen Glover: Sometimes it can be right to break the law

Media Studies: If newspapers were prevented from publishing information given to them by police sources, there would be an awful lot of blank spaces to fill

Almost everyone seems to agree that the police overreached themselves when they recently questioned a journalist from The Guardian under caution. Amelia Hill, who has been responsible for a number of phone-hacking revelations over the past few weeks, spent some time being interviewed by the Bill. This followed the arrest last month of a detective in connection with alleged leaks from Scotland Yard's phone-hacking investigation.

I obviously have no idea whether he was her source, but it is pretty clear from reading Amelia Hill's pieces that she is peculiarly well-informed about the police inquiry, called Operation Weeting. For example, on 28 July she and Nick Davies co-wrote a Guardian "exclusive", which revealed that Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter was abducted in July 2000, had been told by Scotland Yard that her phone was probably targeted by Glenn Mulcaire on behalf of the News of the World.

The questioning of Ms Hill was nonetheless extremely odd, as well as indefensible. Crime reporters regularly depend on police sources for inside information about police investigations, and members of Scotland Yard are not above snitching on their colleagues via the public prints. If newspapers were prevented from publishing information given to them by police sources, there would be an awful lot of blank spaces to fill. I hope that in the new climate of rectitude the police are not going to pretend they are more virtuous than they are.

Several people, including the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, have defended off-the-record briefing of journalists by public officials. But he and others draw a distinction between this practice and payment to police in return for information, which is always deemed wrong. In a similar vein, the Labour MP Tom Watson says: "There is a world of difference between a journalist who bribes a police officer for information, and a journalist who gets information from a police officer, freely given." Not necessarily, I would say.

Surely the test is the nature of the story. I would defend paying for information (though it might well fall foul of the new Bribery Act), phone hacking and other underhand or even illegal methods if there were no other way of obtaining an important story plainly in the public interest. If an official had information that a government minister was being bankrolled by a foreign despot, and payment were the only way of acquiring that story, I would be strongly in favour of handing over the money. This is in effect what The Daily Telegraph did when it paid a six-figure sum for a stolen computer disk which contained information about MPs' abuse of expenses.

These important distinctions are in danger of being forgotten amid the post-phone-hacking moralising. I hope the high-minded members of the Leveson Inquiry will not lose sight of them.

Is the BBC in denial about Newsnight?

When an institution responds to an article with a pompous or discourteous letter, one can be sure the article has hit home. That was my feeling last week when I read a letter in this newspaper from Stephen Mitchell, Head of Programmes, BBC News, following my item last week about Newsnight.

Mr Mitchell reasonably took me to task for suggesting that Newsnight is averaging around 450,000 viewers. The figure, he rightly says, is about 700,000. His complaint about a Broadcasters' Audience Research Board quoted figure of 166,000 viewers on 19 May is less well made, for the BBC's own figure of 257,000 (which I mentioned) is hardly much better. Nor did he admit that the average audience this year has fallen from 800,000 in 2010, or indeed 1,068,000 in 2001.

But my central point did not concern Newsnight's slowly declining audience, which of itself is not certain proof that it needs freshening up. It is simply my view, and that of many people I have spoken to, that something has gone slightly wrong with a programme which many still cherish. The pugnaciously defensive tone of Mr Mitchell's letter – and a recent blog by Helen Boaden, BBC's Head of News – suggest to me that some senior people in the Corporation may be in denial.

A tough question for Louise Mensch

The Tory MP Louise Mensch is making a name for herself as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Her interrogation of Rupert and James Murdoch on 19 July was commended by David Cameron the following day in the Commons.

But how tough has she really been with the Murdochs? Last Tuesday she defended James on Newsnight, contending that he had "plenty of wriggle room" and, despite new evidence apparently suggesting he was aware of the extent of phone hacking, said that it was "not at all made clear that he had been told that wrongdoing extended beyond Goodman and Mulcaire".

A re-examination of her performance on 19 July shows that, although effective in her questioning of the Murdochs, she was also elaborately polite to them. Meanwhile she wrongly accused Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror, of having admitted to phone hacking, and insinuated that the Daily Mail had been involved, though without offering any evidence. In more ways than one, she is a woman worth watching.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Senior Web Developer - C# / ASP.NET - London - £55K

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Web Deve...

SThree: Internal Recruitment Consultant (In-House)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money moti...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Manager / Account Director – DSP / Ad tech / RTB

£50,000- £70,000 + commission : Sphere Digital Recruitment: This DSP is an onl...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower