Guardian stands firm over 'fake sheikh' photo decision

By Dominic Ponsford

The Guardian has defended its decision to defy the News of the World’s pleas and publish a photograph of its investigations editor Mazher Mahmood.

It was the only newspaper to do so after MP George Galloway defeated a High Court injunction seeking to protect Mahmood’s appearance.

Shortly before the injunction expired, at 4pm on Thursday last week, the News of the World repeated its previous warnings to all newsdesks that Mahmood has been subject to credible death threats, that he has played a role in the jailing of 130 criminals and that his appearance must be protected.

The Guardian published a picture of Mahmood wearing his trademark fake sheikh outfit first on its website and then in the paper on Friday.

It was one of two distributed by Galloway — the other was a small black and white headshot taken, according to Galloway, from a Czech passport used by Mahmood.

A Guardian spokesman said: "The decision to publish a photograph of Mazher Mahmood was taken after careful consideration of the implications of the lifting of the temporary injunction, and the fact that several more identifiable photographs of him were already widely available on the internet.

"There has been considerable public interest in this story and we felt it entirely appropriate and proportionate to use a photograph.

"We did note the News of the World’s concerns, and discussed our reasoning with the paper, and published only a small photograph of Mahmood in his sheikh disguise."

Galloway distributed the Mahmood photos after being the target of an undercover investigation by the reporter in which he attempted to find out whether the MP would accept illegal political funding.

Last week, Galloway and journalism professor Roy Greenslade both called for Mahmood’s resignation after claim- ing that he used agent provocateurs.

The News of the World declined to comment.

● In Press Gazette’s story headlined "Scoops and scrapes of Mahmood" last week we wrongly stated as fact the allegation that Mazher Mahmood was involved in an unsuccessful bid to steal hair from Prince Harry’s head for a DNA test. The NoW has always denied this.

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