Hunt underlines importance of off-the-record briefings

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has underlined the importance of off-the-record briefings in the wake of the questioning of a Guardian journalist by police investigating allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Guardian reporter Amelia Hill was interviewed under caution by Scotland Yard over alleged leaks from the investigation into hacking allegations at the News of the World, Operation Weeting.

Hill, the newspaper’s special investigations correspondent, who has broken a string of exclusives about the inquiry, spoke to officers earlier this month after a 51-year-old detective constable was arrested and bailed in August.

Labour MP Tom Watson, who led Parliamentary calls for a fresh probe into hacking allegations, yesterday highlighted Hill’s case in the Commons.

Watson (West Bromwich East) said: “There is a world of difference between a journalist who bribes a police officer for information and a journalist who gets information from a police officer freely given,

“The former corrodes our democracy, the latter protects our democracy.”

Speaking at Culture questions, Watson asked Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt if he was concerned about police quizzing Hill.

The Culture Secretary refused to comment directly on the case, but said: “There is a very important difference between off-the-record briefings and the payment of money to the police in return for information.

“Journalists have to operate within the law, but at the same time as we go through this entire process… we have to be careful not to overreact in a way that undermines the foundations of a free society.”

A Guardian News and Media spokeswoman said earlier this week: “We can confirm Amelia Hill has been questioned in connection with an investigation into alleged leaks.

“On a broader point, journalists would no doubt be concerned if the police sought to criminalise conversations between off-record sources and reporters.”

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