UK media regulator Ofcom is investigating BSkyB-owned channel Sky News after it admitted hacking an email account to secure an exclusive story.
Earlier this month, Sky News head John Ryley confirmed the channel had sanctioned a senior journalist to hack into the email account of John Darwin, who had faked his own death in a canoeing accident, and his wife Anne, to secure a story.
Ryley used a public interest defence to justify the move, which states journalists can occasionally go outside of the law to secure a story that carries significant public interest, such as uncovering criminality.
But Ofcom today confirmed it was launching an investigation into whether Sky News had broken broadcasting rules over privacy. “Ofcom is investigating the fairness and privacy issues raised by Sky News’ statement that it had accessed without prior authorisation private email accounts during the course of its news investigations,” it said in a statement.
The news comes amid Ofcom’s ongoing investigation into whether satcaster Sky is a ‘fit and proper” company to own a broadcasting licence, following continued hacking allegations at its 39.1% shareholder News Corp.
Sky News said in a statement today: “As John Ryley said earlier this month, we stand by these actions as editorially justified. The Crown Prosecution Service acknowledges that there are rare occasions where it is justified for a journalist to commit an offence in the public interest.
“The director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer told the Leveson inquiry that ‘considerable public interest weight’ is given to journalistic conduct which discloses that a criminal offence has been committed and/or concealed.”
Ryley was today giving evidence to the Leveson enquiry, which is looking into UK media practices.
News Corp CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James, who stepped down as Sky chairman earlier this month in a bid to temper mounting criticism, will both appear before Leveson this week to give evidence.
Sky News had been a sticking point in News Corp’s bid to buy the 60.9% of Sky it didn’t already own last year. Before the bid collapsed under the weight of public pressure, an agreement had been reached for it to spin out as a fully funded but independent channel amid concern News Corp could influence its content.