The president of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, has written to the Press Complaints Commission asking it to investigate the undercover stings carried out by reporters from the Daily Telegraph at the surgeries of MPs.
Farron claimed that “all the indications” were that the operations were done as a “fishing expedition” and were not in the public interest. The undercover reporting highly embarrassed the Business Secretary Vince Cable who was recorded telling two female Telegraph journalists, posing as LibDem supporters, that he was “at war” with Rupert Murdoch. As a consequence, the sensitive decision as to whether the bid by Mr Murdoch’s News Corp to take full control of BSkyB should be referred to the competition authorities, was taken out of Mr Cable’s hands.
Several other prominent LibDems were targeted in similar operations. In his letter to the PCC, Mr Farron said: “The articles fail to provide any plausible public interest justification for breaching the [PCC] Editor’s Code, indeed all the indications are that the Daily Telegraph embarked on a ‘fishing expedition’ designed solely to entrap Members of Parliament.
“Robust media scrutiny of politicians is obviously critical for a vibrant democracy. However, if journalists are licensed to embark on clandestine fishing expeditions at constituency surgeries in this way, MPs of all parties will be constrained from engaging in frank discussions with their constituents. Media scrutiny on this basis, far from contributing to democracy, threatens it by undermining the privileged nature of the relationship between constituents and their MPs.
“There are real matters of principle and public interest at stake in this case which are far more significant than the Telegraph articles themselves and I would therefore be grateful if the PCC could investigate this matter and offer guidance for future conduct.”
The PCC confirmed that it has initiated an investigation "into the use of subterfuge by the Daily Telegraph". In a statement it said: "The PCC was contacted by around 200 members of the public on this subject, and proactively sought the comments of party representatives. The President of the Liberal Democrats has today written to the PCC and asked it to investigate the issue."
The commission's investigation will be carried out under clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
A spokesperson for the Telegraph Media Group said: “There is a clear public interest in The Daily Telegraph publishing this story. The Daily Telegraph takes the Press Complaints Commission code extremely seriously and has always adhered to it.”