Rupert Murdochs Sky News channel twice authorized its reporters to hack into computers,a potentially embarrassing revelation that could further dent the media tycoons hope of acquiring full control over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Sky News said in a statement Thursday that in one case it broke into emails belonging to Anne and John Darwin,the so-called canoe couple who became notorious in Britain after the latter faked his own death in a boating accident as part of an elaborate insurance scam. The circumstances surrounding the second case werent made clear.
Sky News acknowledged intercepting the canoe couples emails,but said the material was later handed to police and insisted it had done nothing wrong.
We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest. We do not take such decisions lightly or frequently, Sky News chief John Ryley said in a statement.
He noted that,in a 2004 investigation,a Sky News journalists had bought an Uzi submachine gun to illustrate the availability of banned weapons in Britain. In 2003,a reporter sneaked into a restricted area at Londons Heathrow Airport to highlight security failings. These investigations serve the public interest and are a legitimate part of responsible journalism, Ryley said.
A media frenzy was kicked off when John Darwin long thought to have died in a boating accident in the North Sea walked into a London police station in late 2007 and said: I think Im a missing person. He claimed to have amnesia and said he could remember nothing since 2000,but his story unraveled as journalists and police started digging into his background.
Sky News didnt identify which of its stories was the result of hacking,but in an article dated July 21,2008,journalist Gerard Tubb said the channel had uncovered documentary evidence showing that John Darwin had decided to come back to England because he was having trouble staying in Panama.
The companys public interest defense immediately drew skepticism from British legal experts. David Allen Green,media lawyer at Preiskel & Co.,said that there was no such thing as a public interest defense as far as Britains Computer Misuse Act was concerned.
It is not possible for the editor of any news organization to authorize criminal acts,’ said Green,who’s been a frequent critic Murdochs News Corp.
Britains Crown Prosecution Service can decide,however,that it wouldnt serve the public interest to file charges.
As Sky News took the hacked emails to the police themselves,it appears that any prosecution was decided not to be in public interest, Green said in a message posted to Twitter.
Skys email hacking,first reported in Britains Guardian newspaper,could be a further headache for Murdoch. His international media empire has spent the better part of a year in the spotlight over widespread illegal behavior at now-defunct News of the World,where journalists routinely hacked into phones.