SKY NEWS HAS admitted to twice hacking into the email accounts of members of the public – but say that it stands by its decision to do so.
In a statement released today by head of Sky News, John Ryley, the broadcaster said the actions were editorially justified and in the public interest.
However, it added that it was “acutely aware of the tensions that can arise between the law and responsible investigative journalism”.
Ryley outlined the two cases in which a journalist was authorised to hack into the emails of members of the public.
In 2008, Sky News met with Cleveland Police and provided them with emails offering new information relevant to Anne Darwin’s defence. Darwin’s husband, known as “canoe man”, had faked his own death as part of an insurance fraud.
Material provided by the broadcaster was used in the successful prosecution and the police made clear after the trial that this information was pivotal to the case.
Mrs Darwin was convicted and received a jail sentence of six and a half years. Over half a million pounds were also recovered and returned to insurance companies and pension funds.
The journalist who uncovered the fraud had asked permission from his editors to access the accounts as he suspected they were being used by the Darwins to communicate after his “death”. In a second statement, issued as a retort to a Guardian article, Sky said none of the material obtained was broadcast prior to the conviction and its coverage made clear that it had discovered and supplied emails to the police.
Ryley said the decisions to hack into the mails were not taken lightly, nor is the practice frequent.
They require finely balanced judgement based on individual circumstances and must always be subjected to the proper editorial controls.
In the first statement, separate investigations were also highlighted.
A Sky News journalist bought an Uzi machine gun in 2004 to highlight the easy availability of illegal weapons in the UK. On another occasion, our reporter penetrated airside security at Heathrow in 2003 to highlight failings in the system. These investigations serve the public interest and are a legitimate part of responsible journalism.
Sky News said that in light of the recent phone hacking scandal and “heightened interest in editorial practices”, it has commissioned an external review of email records and an internal audit of payments.
No grounds for concern have been found so far, said Ryley.
Refuting the Guardian’s article which outlined that intercepting emails is against the law and no public interest defence is written into legislation, Sky said “some of the most important stories have involved breaking the rules in some way”.
For example, the Daily Telegraph’s exposé of the MPs’ expenses scandal was very clearly in the public interest, but only happened because the newspaper took the decision to pay for stolen data. They have been widely applauded – deservedly – for doing so.
Sky said it is in agreement with the BBC about how there are certain occasion in which it is acceptable to break the law in pursuit of a story in the public interest.