Laws 'would produce Kafka-like situation'

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LAWS the Government plans on physical intrusion and covert surveillance would produce a 'Kafka-like' situation that would severely curtail investigative journalism, Tom Crone, legal manager of News International, publisher of the Sun, the Times, the Sunday Times, the News of the World and Today, told the committee.

He gave the hypothetical example of a journalist being tipped off that Robert Maxwell was siphoning pension funds into an illegal share-support scheme, with enough detail to perhaps trap the publisher into an admission. Posing as an American profile writer, he obtains an interview with a tape in his pocket but when pension funds are raised Maxwell 'smells a rat', calls his security men and finds the tape. The reporter is charged, cannot reveal his source, and has no evidence to convince a court that his actions were intended to expose crime - a likely defence.

'The reporter cannot use his tape without a public interest,' Mr Crone told the committee in a written submission. 'But he may be unable to convince anybody that his purpose is in the public interest until his tape records some evidence. Kafka meets Catch-22.'

Several times every week, Mr Crone said, 'News of the World reporters use hidden tape recorders to trap criminals - they also pose as Arab sheikhs, would-be bank robbers, drug dealers, illegal immigrants and whatever other disguise induces villains to speak freely about their crooked activities. Numerous major criminals have been convicted on the evidence of tapes. Journalists who risk arrest and long drawn-out proceedings for secretly taping or photographing are bound to be deterred'.