Opinion: Why journalists need public interest defense – CNN.com
Those are the two key aspects that seem to separate this instance from two others: the phone hacking scandal and the outing of the Night Jack blogger by The Times.
Richard Horton, a detective constable at Lancashire police, won the Orwell Prize in 2009 for his anonymous blog Night Jack, about life in the police force. His identity was then exposed against his wishes by reporter Patrick Foster, from The Times. The discovery of his identity was revealed in February this year to have been made via the hacking of his email account.
Unlike the outing of Horton, the hacking carried out by Sky News seems to have been a carefully considered decision by a senior executive as to whether it was in the public interest to commit a prima facie breach of the Computer Misuse Act. It was most likely a calculated risk, taken with the understanding that the Act itself offers no public interest defense and that both Sky News and the reporter would be liable to criminal charges and subject to the discretion of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute. In the Night Jack case, a reporter made the decision to intercept Horton’s emails without telling his editors and therefore without subjecting his decision to “proper editorial controls”.
If the Computer Misuse Act did offer such defense, the public interest in obtaining information via interception of emails would still have to be weighed by the courts. But Sky News, for instance, would have been able to explain to the public more confidently, from the outset, how the story came to light. I would say this is what we want from journalism — transparency, responsibility and governance. This may seem a paradox, but that’s what we want from newspapers and journalists even when they break the law.
And despite having indisputably broken the law, the process Sky News seems to have undergone to break this story is a far cry from the industrial-scale criminality carried out and admitted to by News International.