The Sunday Mirror has defended its reporting that led to Brooks Newmark resigning as a member of Parliament because of sexually explicit messages he sent to to an undercover reporter.
A freelance reporter posed as a woman named Sophie Wittam who contacted Newmark and other Tory members of Parliament and obtained the sexts of Newmark. “It was an agreed plan” for the reporter, who works for blog Guido Fawkes, to pretend to be a woman on Twitter and interact with Newmark. The blog Guido Fawkes also denied that there was any “intention to trap the PM.”
Mark Pritchard, a Parliament member who says he was contacted by the Twitter account but didn’t give the information requested, told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
“It is in the public interest to see whether the Sunday Mirror has broken the new IPSO Editors’ Code of Conduct and any element of the criminal law, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is the first test for IPSO, the new press regulator, and for the Metropolitan Police. The latter have had too much of a cosy relationship for too long with some parts of the British press – and the former need to prove they are truly independent and have teeth”.
Pritchard tweeted about his complaints.
Test for IPSO and Met Police. I will write to both today about Sunday Mirror story. Was the criminal law and IPSO Code of Conduct broken?
— Mark Pritchard (@MPritchardMP) September 29, 2014
IPSO, the new press regulator, will investigate Pritchard’s complaint. An IPSO spokesperson told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “We have also had a small number of representations from members of the public/readers on the same subject.” IPSO opened Sept. 8 in place of the Press Complaints Commission.
“As IPSO Chairman Sir Alan indicated at a recent event, IPSO would have considered whether to investigate proactively had no complaint arrived, but the complaint from Mr Pritchard removed any doubt,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson noted that based on IPSO’s standards, the Mirror has “up to 28 days to respond to the complaint” and then IPSO will rule.
Sunday Mirror editor Alison Philips said its story was “wholly in the public interest” because Newmark’s actions were “wholly inappropriate,” the Guardian reported. Phillips added,
“We are seriously mindful of the Ipso code. It’s at the forefront of our minds in every single story that goes into the Sunday Mirror … this was not a fishing expedition.”
Likewise, Lloyd Embley, the editor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, argued the story was in the public interest.
And Trinity Mirror’s chief executive Simon Fox agreed that the story was in the public interest. He said,
“Whilst this has attracted a barrage of negative comment and the threat of an Ipso investigation, we believe that we were right to publish this story on public interest grounds.
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“If you have only read or heard the coverage rather than read the Sunday Mirror itself, you will have been left with a very wrong impression of what we did.”
Fox added that the Mirror didn’t print pictures of any women or identify any Parliament members save Newmark.
Days after the Mirror published its report, Guido Fawkes blogger Alex Wickham confirmed he was the person who posed as the woman for the story.
In a Sept. 30 blogpost, the Guido Fawkes blog said that Wickham’s undecover reporting had been authorized and denied that Wickham engaged in a “fishing operation” to see who he could catch. “It was a narrowly targeted effort,” the blog stated. “The Sophie Wittams Twitter account followed almost 100 MPs as part of the cover story – not to target them – which is obvious given that many of them were women MPs and the list included the Prime Minister. There was no intention to trap the PM.”
Guido Fawkes blog further claimed that if IPSO rules against the Mirror for publishing the reporting, it will be caving to censorship. “This blog will never bow to the censors – we will continue to use subterfuge and clandestine methods to go after wrong ‘uns – there is no other way,” the blog stated.
The newspaper was also in trouble because the Twitter account that was used to catch Newmark used photos of real women without their approval.
A 26-year-old woman named Charlene Tyler said it was “quite wrong” for her photo to be taken from her personal Twitter account and used on the fake Twitter account to lure the politicians, the Guardian reported.
The Mirror also used Swedish model Malin Sahlén’s photo.
The Mirror’s Embley said, according to the Guardian, “At no point has the Sunday Mirror published any of these images, but we would like to apologise to the women involved for their use in the investigation.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Mirror for comment.
Back in 2011, the Press Complaints Commission criticized the UK Telegraph for its undercover reporting.The Telegraph had reporters pose as mothers asking Parliament members for advice during private meetings with constituents. The reporters taped Cable commenting negatively about Rupert Murdoch and his at-the-time bid to buy British Sky Broadcasting. (The bid was dropped after the phone hacking scandal dominated news in the summer of 2012 and News Corp. had to shut down News of the World.) Vince Cable was removed as head of media and telecoms because of his secretly recorded comments.
UPDATE: 10/14/2014 1:29 PM EST: Added information