British tabloids caught out by filmmaker's hoaxes
By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) - Three British tabloid newspapers discussed buying confidential medical information about celebrities, in a possible contravention of Britain's privacy laws, after being offered it as a hoax by a filmmaker.
Journalists from The Sunday Mirror, News of the World and People met Chris Atkins, director of new film "Starsuckers," after he offered them the stories to see how far journalists would be willing to go to obtain intrusive information.
A fourth tabloid, The Sunday Express, refused to meet Atkins, telling him his proposal breached the code of practice laid down by the industry's self-regulating body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and was a "legal minefield."
"We wanted to do a test to see how they would react," Atkins told Reuters. "It is just showing the public what goes on behind the stories that they pay for every day."
Atkins, who claimed to have a contact working as an administrative nurse in a fictitious cosmetic surgery clinic, offered the papers the chance to obtain supposedly confidential information about celebrities including actor Hugh Grant and film director Guy Ritchie.
All three journalists said they would need to see proof of the claims but expressed interest in obtaining the information, with The Sunday Mirror's reporter telling Atkins the paper would pay around 3,000 pounds ($4,900) for every story published, a video clip on The Guardian newspaper's web site showed.
Obtaining private medical records without consent is usually a breach of the Data Protection Act, although some breaches may be justified by media organizations if they can prove that obtaining the data was in the public interest. Continued...