The Press Complaints Commission has opened an investigation into The Daily Telegraph’s use of “subterfuge” in a series of undercover stings – one of which led to Business Secretary Vince Cable telling reporters he had “declared war on Rupert Murdoch”.
The press standards watchdog confirmed that Tim Farron, president of the Liberal Democrats, had asked the body to conduct an investigation into the actions of the Telegraph Media Group after its reporters posed as constituents to secretly detail conversations with several leading Lib Dems during constituency surgeries.
One of these sessions took place in Cable’s Twickenham constituency where he made his comments about Rupert Murdoch and indicated he could seek to block the proposed takeover of BSkyB by the media mogul’s News Corporation.
In his capacity as Business Secretary, Cable had the power to veto the takeover on on media plurality grounds, however, revelation of his comments led Prime Minster David Cameron to strip him of this power and pass it over to Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The PCC issued a statement this morning saying: “The PCC has today confirmed that it has initiated an investigation into the use of subterfuge by the Daily Telegraph, which led to reports of comments made by Liberal Democrat MPs published in December 2010.
“The PCC was contacted by around 200 members of the public on this subject, and proactively sought the comments of party representatives.
“The president of the Liberal Democrats has today written to the PCC and asked it to investigate the issue.”
Press Gazette understands that senior Lib Dems are angry at the Telegraph’s use of clandestine recordings, believing the resulting articles failed to produce anything that could justify a public interest defence.
Lib Dems believe the Telegraph simply embarked on a “fishing expedition” designed to entrap a number of its MPs.
Clause 10:2 of the voluntary code of practice to which journalists sign up to states: “Engaging in misrepesentation…can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.”
Spokesperson for Telegraph Media Group said: “The Telegraph always abides by the terms of the editors’ code and co-operates fully with the work of the PCC.
“We will of course assist their investigation on this complaint in any way we can. We are satisfied we acted within the terms of the code as we believe there is a strong public interest in our publishing this story.”