Brooks Newmark 'entrapment': New press watchdog in spotlight as fallout sets tone for future of tabloid journalism

Response to Sunday Mirror sting in IPSO’s first month of operation is critical to regulator’s credibility

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The Independent Online

The way the new press watchdog handles the fallout from the Sunday Mirror’s alleged “entrapment” of minister Brooks Newmark will set the tone for the future of British tabloid journalism in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.

The paper is accused of going on a “fishing expedition” in using a fake social media identity to carry out a sting on Tory MPs including Mr Newmark, who resigned after sending an obscene image of himself to a freelance journalist.

Swedish model Malin Sahlen said she is “shocked” by the paper’s use of her image on fake Twitter and WhatsApp accounts in the name of “Sophie Wittam”, set up by an undercover male reporter to target MPs. Mark Pritchard, one of the Tories approached, has lodged a complaint with new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) about the paper’s behaviour, and indicated he will also contact Scotland Yard.

The high-profile test case in IPSO’s first month of operation is critical to the regulator’s future credibility. Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Sunday Mirror, is a key founder member and funder of the regulator. It is also embroiled in the phone hacking scandal that brought down rival tabloid the News of the World in 2011 and faces mounting financial costs as around 50 claimants seek compensation after the publisher admitted staff had intercepted phone messages.

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Government minister Brooks Newmark resigned from his post (Rex)

If IPSO rejects claims by the Sunday Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley that there was a “nailed on public interest” for the Newmark investigation, it may introduce a new note of caution that will limit the behaviour of journalists across the popular press.

So far, other news organisations have not rushed to Trinity Mirror’s defence. Rival The Sun said it had been offered the Newmark organisation but had turned it down. It is believed the News UK title had concerns over entrapment. The Daily Telegraph, which was censured by the old Press Complaints Commission over the use of subterfuge in a sting on then Business Secretary Vince Cable in 2010, reported comments from Ms Sahlen, criticising her treatment by the Sunday Mirror. “I am shocked and it is unpleasant for someone to use the picture without permission,” she said.

Clive Thorne, a partner in the IP and Commercial Team at Wedlake Bell, said Ms Sahlen could be entitled to sue the paper for breach of her right of privacy under section 85 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Mr Embley said that subterfuge had been used after “sources” had informed the freelance journalist that MPs were using social media to attract women.

Smith said that the Sunday Mirror had gone on “a fishing expedition” and had produced no prima facie evidence of misbehaviour by the MPs. “On the face of it, it’s a pretty stark breach of the Editors’ Code,” she said. “It’s a test of whether the tabloid press has learned anything from Leveson.”

Trinity Mirror is a funder of IPSO and is becoming increasingly embroiled in the phone hacking scandal that brought down rival tabloid the News of the World in 2011. It faces mounting financial costs with around 50 claimants seeking compensation after the publisher’s admission of liability over hacking.

Comment: The real scandal isn't Brooks Newmark sending nude pictures, but the Sunday Mirror exploiting a young woman

At the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday Sir Alan Moses, chair of IPSO, will defend his new organisation on a panel that includes John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons select committee on media, Joan Smith, chair of the press reform group Hacked Off, and Jonathan Heawood, director of rival regulatory body The IMPRESS Project. Smith said that the Sunday Mirror had gone on “a fishing expedition” and had produced no prima facie evidence of misbehaviour by the MPs. “On the face of it, it’s a pretty stark breach of the Editors’ Code,” she said. “It’s a test of whether the tabloid press has learned anything from Leveson.”

Since it replaced the PCC three weeks ago, IPSO has fielded around 100 press complaints.

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