BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Sunday, 31 August 2008 11:45 UK

Investigative journalism strangled

On Sunday 31 August Emily Maitlis interviewed Mazher Mahmood

The News of the World's 'Fake Sheik' defends his trade.

EMILY MAITLIS: I began by asking him how it all started.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: I was trying to break into journalism as a sixteen year old and got turned down two years in a row for work experience, unpaid work experience at my local newspaper.

And some family friends came round one night and they were chatting over dinner about video piracy.

One guy was talking about how he was stealing films from a cinema and producing them on video tape. And I thought hey that's a great story.

So I just picked up the phone and rang the News of the World. Next thing I knew, as a sixteen year old, I was down in London working for the News of the World. EMILY MAITLIS: And a lot of the exposÚs have been fair to say indiscretions more than anything. It's sort of loose talk but not actually bad behaviour.

Is there a moment when you think they're quite a nice person. Should I, you know am I really going to ruin their life like this?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: No I mean again I mean there's a fallacy again, I mean we only people, expose people who are involved in criminal wrongdoing or moral wrongdoing. I mean the ..

EMILY MAITLIS: The Countess of Wessex?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: Absolutely. What the Countess of Wessex was doing was that she was exploiting her royal status to cash in.

She was running a PR firm and literally or virtually prostituting herself to ..

EMILY MAITLIS: David Mellor?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: .. to clients and can I Just ..


MAZHER MAHMOOD: Yeah. Can I explain that with the Countess of Wessex the Queen was concerned. The Palace were concerned. They launched an investigation into the role of royals, working royals after my exposÚ. David Mellor you mentioned. Adultery. Damn right.

I mean we expect our politicians to behave in a certain manner. We expect them to be responsible and trustworthy. And they betray - I wouldn't vote for, for an MP - I mean David Blunkett had ...

EMILY MAITLIS: It's not criminal behaviour though is it? It's not criminal behaviour.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: It's, it's, no it's immoral. It's immoral. I mean we have a right to expect certain standards from our members of parliament or people that hold public office. And you know we, they are legitimate subjects for our investigations.

EMILY MAITLIS: One of the criticisms that is levelled against you is that you go on fishing expeditions. You go looking for trouble. That it wouldn't happen without you being there.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: The point of entrapment, setting people up again is a very valid point. Comes up time and time again. And nothing annoys me more than that. No I mean you're a top TV presenter. Is there any way I could persuade you to supply me with cocaine? Is there any way at all Emily? Even if I was dressed as an Arab Sheik or whatever. I could not.

And the other thing is even if you wanted to supply me with cocaine I guarantee that you would not know where to go. So this entrapment argument just doesn't hold any water. And it's been rejected in the courts here time and time again. I've got two hundred and thirty two successful criminal prosecutions so far.

EMILY MAITLIS: And yet your jurors in some of these cases clearly aren't always comfortable with that position and they're not comfortable in the courts, the judgments that are coming out with this invasion of privacy.

There is no privacy law in this country and yet we are getting a feeling now from the kind of sums that are having to be paid out that the judges are getting very strict about that.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: Emily what's happening is that a privacy law is creeping into Britain through the back door. Investigative journalism is slowly being strangled. The Max Mosley case is testament to that if it were needed.

And it's of grave concern to us. What it means is the public cannot be told the truth and it is our job as investigative journalists to make sure the public get to know the truth. That's what we do.

EMILY MAITLIS: And you don't fear that yours is part of a dying trade, that actually the Fake Sheik has been around the block a few times. He's exposed a fair number of people.

You're probably better recognised in that disguise than you would like to be now. And you've got to compete with the courts now saying we're going to take privacy and invasion of privacy very seriously indeed going forwards.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: Emily one of the things that is very unique about the News of the World newspaper is that our readers expect us to act in their interests. That's what we do. At the moment we've got our Save Our Streets Campaign going while every other paper and other media outlet is just simply talking about knife crime.

We're not only publishing the stories we're out there holding seminars up and down the country with police officers, community workers, youth and that's what we do. We work very closely with our readers. Our readers will not allow us to do that, to simply close the door on investigative journalism. That's what the paper's done for a hundred and sixty five years and will carry on doing. We'll fight tooth and nail.

EMILY MAITLIS: And we've, we, we're recording you in a way that won't expose your identity because there are continual threats made against your life you say?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: That's right. As I've two hundred and thirty two successful prosecutions so far so there's a lot of very unhappy people out there and some have put a price on my head.

And also I mean very fact, nature of my work I, I use subterfuge so if my identity were revealed I couldn't work. But the Fake Sheik is just one guise that I use. I'm just as likely to turn up as a, as a turbaned taxi driver or a, you know an asylum seeker or ..

EMILY MAITLIS: Are you very fond of your Fake Sheik robes? Talk us through them.

MAZHER MAHMOOD: ... I am yes. I've had a lot of fun with it. Managed to expose a lot of wrongdoing ...

EMILY MAITLIS: Do you have a lucky robe which always works or ..?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: I do actually. I do. I bought one in a Dubai souk ten years ago. I think cost about twelve pounds. That's my lucky robe. It worked on Sven. It worked on Princess Michael of Kent. Yeah, so I do have a lucky robe.

EMILY MAITLIS: And have you ever gone for a disguise where you just thought I, this, I'm going to be seen through, straight away. There's no way I'll get away with this and it's worked?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: Not really no. It's such an impressive entourage. I mean all the trappings of the Sheik, it's such a polished performance that you know we're fairly secure.

There's one time we almost got caught out when I was pretending to be an Arab Sheik and the chap we were exposing - it was a member of the British army who'd served in the Middle East and spoke fluent Arabic and I can't. So he came in and started talking to me in Arabic.

So that, that was pretty hair raising. Had to quickly say "Go away" you know and tell my minder "Tell him to go away. I don't speak to white men in Arabic. Tell him to speak to me in English". So that, that was a fairly close shave. But by and large no, it's, you get away with it.

EMILY MAITLIS: You use that phrase "We get away with it" do you ever feel ah, a little bit uncomfortable in your own skin that this is the way you operate?

MAZHER MAHMOOD: Not at all. I'm proud to, of what I do. I wouldn't do it otherwise. And as I say I mean the, I've written almost six hundred stories for the newspaper so far.

The high profile celebrity ones are a very small fraction of it. My bread and butter is out there exposing crack dens, drug dealers, arms dealers, paedophiles. That's what I do. I mean the Fake Sheikh is just one guise and just a handful of stories.

EMILY MAITLIS: Mazher Mahmood, thanks very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

Your comments

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail address:

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit