UK broadcasting regulator OfCom ruled that Sky News didn’t break broadcasting rules when it hacked the email of a man named John Darwin.
Last year, Sky News admitted to hacking email for its 2008 reporting on Darwin, who faked his own death, and his wife Anne, who collected the insurance money. Later, Darwin admitted to faking his death.
At least OfCom noted in its recently published ruling report that hacking is illegal.
In March, the UK Crown Prosecution Service, which “is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales,” announced it had decided not to prosecute Sky News for the hacking, as iMediaEthics wrote at the time.
OfCom said that given the “public concern about” the media’s use of hacking, it took the investigation up on its own instead of in response to any complaint.
The Guardian reported that OfCom decided that Sky News, which is owned by BSkyB, didn’t break the broadcasting code guidelines on privacy.
OfCom explained that the Darwin hacking incident showed “exceptional circumstances.”
OfCom’s report read:
“The broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference…outweighed Mr and Mrs Darwin’s expectation of privacy.”
While OfCom found that the couple “did have a legitimate expectation of privacy which was infringed,” and that their personal email accounts are private, OfCom decided Sky News’ parent company “BSkyB’s conduct was warranted” because of both the criminal and “public interest” aspect of the Darwins’ story.
OfCom argued that, because they actually did break the law, SkyNews was “at the boundaries of what is appropriate.”
But, OfCom said Sky News “behaved responsibly” with the hacked emails by turning them over to authorities. The emails were given to police and used in the trial against the pair and BSkyB defended the hacking to OfCom citing the public interest, OfCom noted.
During its investigation of this hacking incident, OfCom said it learned that BSkyB didn’t have any “written guidelines specifically relating to its procedures for the authorisation of potentially unlawful conduct.” BSkyB excused itself, claiming that “such instances had been extremely rare.”
Yet last year, BSkyB told OfCom that it has now set up guidelines for any future occurrences. The BSkyB guidelines, which OfCom OKed as “adequate,” require staff to have incidents of any potential illegal activity “documented” and approved by Sky’s CEO.
A BSkyB spokesperson told iMediaEthics that it had no comment beyond “we note OfCom’s announcement.”