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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 18:14 GMT
The hunt for celebrity scoops
Elle Macpherson
Supermodel Elle Macpherson had messages intercepted
There are hundreds of journalists prepared to use voicemail interception techniques in a cut-throat tabloid market desperate for celebrity scoops, media analysts have said.

Now that the rich and famous are skilled at evading media intrusion, reporters are turning to such covert devices to get the story.

But while Clive Goodman's case may be the "tip of the iceberg", according to one analyst, the stories obtained often barely manage to make an impression on the celebrity story Richter scale.

Exemplifying this, the News of the World's royal editor Goodman - who admitted intercepting mobile phone voicemail messages - sparked suspicion over a fairly brief story about Prince William's knee.

These stories are hardly world-shattering stories
Roy Greenslade, Professor of Journalism, City University

Meanwhile, the Information Commissioner has expressed concern over police officers, people within government agencies and companies who are prepared to sell information that will be passed on to journalists.

A recent report said there were 305 journalists known to be involved in the practice.

Former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University, said the Goodman case was the "just the tip of the iceberg".

He said: "At the time journalists were quite openly saying, but of course anonymously, that this was a widespread practice - being able to intercept phone calls on mobile phones and to listen in to messages is something that is fairly widespread among the red top tabloids.

"This individual case has to be seen in this light."

He said there was "desperation" among tabloids to get scoops.

Max Clifford
Mr Clifford said he was "not surprised" to find he was being bugged

"That is more difficult these days with the public relations control and the wisdom of celebrities not to get caught out by newspapers so this is another device equal in its own way to old-fashioned doorstepping or bugging in ensuring that you can obtain an exclusive story, albeit of a fairly trivial nature," he added.

Prof Greenslade also said: "These stories are hardly world-shattering stories."

Media commentator Nicholas Jones said: "What we have to look at is the way this is changing the nature of journalism in Britain.

He pointed out that in recent years, prestigious journalism awards had been given to two scoops which originated from covertly-taken photographs - of Kate Moss allegedly snorting cocaine and Prince Harry wearing a swastika at a fancy-dress party.

"It is the trade in pictures and information which I think is pushing up against the boundaries of what is permissible," Mr Jones said.

Publicist Max Clifford, one of the targets of the phone-tapping, said the practice had become more prevalent in recent years.

"I obviously wasn't happy about being tapped but I wasn't altogether surprised either - it is a sign of the times," he said.

"I suppose the only way you can justify this kind of activity is when the end product is something which genuinely is something that the nation can benefit from, something to do with national security."

'Tittle tattle'

Mr Clifford added: "If, by tapping people's phones, you save people's lives and you can stop some national tragedy, then the end justifies the means.

"But for tittle-tattle and gossip, then the end does not justify the means."

In light of the case, the Press Complaints Commission said it would take a look at whether or not there's a case for improving its code of practice.

But chairman Sir Christopher Meyer, said the PCC was "absolutely clear on the issue" of phone message tapping.

Crime

"It is a totally unacceptable practice unless there is a compelling public interest reason for carrying it out.

"In this case, a crime has been committed as well - something which I deplore."

He added: "The editor has now apologised to the parties concerned and made clear that steps will be taken to ensure that there will be no repeat.

"He has also already written to reassure me of his newspaper's strong commitment to the Code of Practice, and to outline the measures that the paper takes - including continuous professional training and writing compliance with the code into its journalists' contracts of employment - to ensure that this commitment is reinforced. This reassurance is something that I welcome."


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