We can do without lessons in ethics from Roy Greenslade
'News of the World' editor Andy Coulson replies to criticism in these pages of the paper's Fake Sheikh
Sunday 23 April 2006
You published last Sunday a sweeping attack on the News of the World's Fake Sheikh and on the newspaper itself.
With a headline that read "Why I am out to nail Mazher Mahmood", no one could accuse your writer, Roy Greenslade, of balance or impartiality. But then Mr Greenslade has never disguised his strangely obsessive hostility to our award-winning investigations editor. We are well used to his inaccurate diatribes. That said, last week's article carried some specific allegations and comment to which we would like to respond.
Let's start with the comment: "I want to put an end to his regular use of subterfuge, the most controversial weapon in journalism's armoury. I want him to mothball the fake sheikh's robes."
To that we say: subterfuge is an essential tool in the craft of investigative journalism. The News of the World has a long, proud and award-winning history of investigative journalism and we make absolutely no apologies for the methods we employ. They will not change. Maz will continue to operate as the sheikh and will also use a number of new identities we have created.
Mr Greenslade says: "Mahmood's methods debase journalism. They often amount to entrapment and, on occasion, appear to involve the use of agents provocateurs." This argument is offered in virtually every court case in which Mazher Mahmood has given evidence. It is the defence used by villains we expose, and it regularly falls flat. We do not "entrap" anyone, neither do we pluck the names of "targets" out of thin air. We act on sound information and then seek to establish whether that information is accurate. How can you entrap anyone into abusing children, smuggling illegals or supplying guns and drugs?
Later, the article conceded: "Let me make it clear that I am not saying that the use of subterfuge by newspapers should be outlawed entirely. But as the editors' code of practice quite properly states: 'Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.'"
We use subterfuge because we have to, and do so in the public interest, sometimes at great personal risk to the journalists involved. Police officers employ similar methods.
Elsewhere your article claimed that certain judges and police officers have "questioned the merits" of this brand of subterfuge. Perhaps they have, though it's interesting that Mr Greenslade was unable to quote anyone directly. But the fact is that numerous Crown Court judges and some of the most senior police officers in the land have praised Mahmood's work and achievements in bringing criminals to justice. Privately and publicly.
Quote: "One of Mahmood's most controversial cases was his revelation of the alleged plot by a supposed 'international gang' to kidnap Victoria Beckham ... There was no plot. The men who were to spend seven months in jail awaiting trial were entirely innocent of that charge."
This was not the view of the senior police officers who spent months trawling through the evidence before charging the men. Nor lawyers who gave the green light to the charges. Neither was it the view of a High Court judge in a libel action brought by one of the would-be kidnappers.
Over two days in that hearing Mazher Mahmood was subjected by the libel claimant's advocate to an attack on his honesty and credibility (mirrored in Mr Greenslade's article last week).
However, after spending a week analysing every shred of evidence, the judge concluded that the assault on Mahmood's character "got nowhere at all".
"Mr Mahmood may be hard-bitten and cynical," said Mr Justice Eady, "but I found no support for the proposition that he had made the whole thing up."
As far as the allegations from Mr Greenslade's informant are concerned, we must reserve our response as the material is the subject of a contempt of court order. You also say that the Press Complaints Commission has "consistently ruled against journalistic 'fishing expeditions'".
So far as Mazher Mahmood is concerned, he has NEVER had a PCC complaint against him upheld. Despite working in areas which, if Mr Greenslade's allegations were well-founded, should have provided a bonanza for libel lawyers, Mahmood's record in terms of libel claims is also exemplary.
Your article asserts that Mahmood's methods encourage bad journalistic behaviour. Not everyone would agree. Certainly not the 12-year-old girl Mahmood rescued from the clutches of a paedophile who had been abusing her for many years.
Once the offender and his wife were jailed, their victim wrote movingly to thank Mahmood for saving her.
Neither would the potential victim of a contract killer agree. That woman is alive today because Mahmood infiltrated the plot to be hired as the hit man. The real would-be assassin got 12 years - yet another in the catalogue of the 130, often violent, criminals convicted by the courts as a direct result of Mahmood's investigations.
Lastly, I refer to Mr Greenslade's battle cry "to root out underhand practices that bring the profession into disrepute". It is difficult to conceive of a more underhand practice than that of a former daily tabloid editor who ran a £1m prize newspaper competition rigged "so that no reader could win". That editor was Mr Greenslade.
Given the high-profile nature of our stories we expect criticism and controversy. But a lecture on ethics from Professor Greenslade? We don't think so. Mazher Mahmood will continue his highly successful and worthwhile career in investigative journalism with the full support of his paper.
We promise that there's more, much more, to come from him and the News of the World's investigations team.
Funny old business
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Whither Martin Newland? The former Daily Telegraph editor may put himself forward as a Conservative Party candidate at the next general election. "At my age, you begin to wonder what to do next - whether to go back into newspapers or turn to politics, something which has always been a calling," says Martin. "There are all sorts of practical difficulties, like having four children and their education on an MP's salary. But this is all idly speculating. It's whether they would want me."
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Publisher John Brown is also singing, and not just because of a fat bank account from the recent sale of his magazines Viz and Jack. Brown has teamed up with Brian Eno and a couple of other friends to form a close-harmony group. "It's something they are doing purely for pleasure," says Eno's agent. Sadly, the group are too bashful to perform live.
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