Film catches UK reporters in celebrity info hoax

Thu Oct 15, 2009 7:32pm EDT
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By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - Three British tabloid newspapers discussed buying confidential medical information about actor Hugh Grant, director Guy Ritchie and other celebrities in a hoax set up by a documentary film maker.

As part of the documentary "Starsuckers", which premieres at the London Film Festival later this month, the filmmakers also planted several fake reports with British tabloids to expose inaccurate celebrity reporting.

"We wanted to do a test to see how they would react," director Chris Atkins told Reuters. "It is just showing the public what goes on behind the stories that they pay for every day."

The "Starsuckers" team posed as members of the public to offer the papers fabricated stories about well known-figures to test whether the journalists would check the facts.

"We kept trying to do things that they wouldn't print and it happened a couple of times but they pretty much printed most of what we said," Atkins said, adding that their stories had featured in The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Star.

Atkins claimed to have a contact working as an administrative nurse in a fictitious cosmetic surgery clinic, and offered the papers the chance to obtain supposedly confidential information about Grant, Madonna's ex-husband Ritchie, and other stars.

Journalists from three newspapers said they would need to see proof of the claims but expressed interest in obtaining the information. One told Atkins his 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 a breach of British data protection laws unless the media can prove that obtaining the data was in the public interest.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)