Tuesday, 28 February 2012

BBC Newsnight Interview - Payment of Sources

I STRUGGLE to believe people are as bewildered as the Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis that newspapers pay sources money for stories.

British national newspapers have been doing this for 150 years and advertise this fact in their newspapers every week.

So do the BBC. Interviews are paid for. Sources are paid for tips which make the news and documentaries.

Was I the only one to think she was being just a little naive in seeming to be so surprised?

What is important is whether or not the News of the World paid police officers, which can never be justified in law. And during my time on the newsdesk, no such payments were approved by me or sought from me.

It's a pity we didn't have more time to debate this important issue and interruptions hadn't halted important themes mid flow. Such as the payment of criminals.

The News of the World avoided paying criminals, in line with the Press Complaints Commission code.

But there were also many occasions when we did in order to expose a crime being committed by others and there is a very clear public interest clause in the PCC code for doing this.

The BBC's very own flagship documentary programme Panorama pays thousands of pounds to criminals to expose crime. Often the same underworld tipsters that I use myself.

As do the police themselves.

And long may that continue.


  1. Nina Hartley28 February 2012 10:10

    It seems you missed yesterday. The whole "it was only journalists doing their job" line - pace Kavanagh / McKenzie / Dacre - fell spectacularly apart.

    - the police are explictly avoiding "run of the mill" contacts with journalists
    - people in sensitive positions were being paid tens of thousands of pounds a year to act as sources, not whistleblowers
    - as Akers said, most of the contact can at best be described as salacious gossip, nowhere near "public interest"
    - the details revealed yesterday of the contact between the Met and News Int in 2005/06/07 - trying to avoid the full implications of hacking - show where this gets you

    And who knows what today will bring. My money's on it not getting any better for NI or the MPS. You're going to need a better story

    1. Neville Thurlbeck28 February 2012 14:02

      The point I was raising was not to defend any criminality. But for the police to have a proportionate, measured response. The 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act was framed to prevent police turning a blind eye to serious organised crime. Not to jail journalists for three years for buying tittle-tattle.

    2. Reply
  2. unlucky_sneeze28 February 2012 12:12

    Yep, I'm with you on this. Imagine someone having the gall to pay for something they want?

    Looking at the flipside, I wonder are the people throwing their arms up in horror equally shocked to learn that anyone in possession of anything of value might consider asking for money for it?

    This whole supply and demand thing, terrible eh? So good that it's been uncovered.

  3. David28 February 2012 12:45

    Hi Neville. Enjoy the blog, some fascinating insights. I'd like to know your views on this article, claiming that good investigative journalism can be done without paying sources:

  4. Anonymous29 February 2012 23:12

    ok if we're asking Neville to comment on things -

    This Daily Telegraph article details the real chilling effect, the superinjunction mess, still in effect, which if broken will cause a diplomatic incident with a friendly Asian ally...

    Superinjunctions are still a far worse threat to freedom of the press than this inquiry.

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