Sky News chief apologises for misleading Leveson

Sky News editor John Ryley has apologised to the Leveson Inquiry after making a submission which stated there had been no interception of communications by its journalists.

Head of Sky News John Ryley said it was ‘highly unlikely’the broadcaster would engage in the practice again.

Earlier today Ofcom confirmed it was investigating Sky News over its admission that one of journalists hacked into the private email account of “canoe man” John Darwin and his wife Anne in 2008.

When the allegations reemerged earlier this month Ryley strongly defended the use of computer hacking – claiming it was in the public interest and accusing The Guardian, which first reported the allegations, of ‘double standards”.

But he struck a less defiant tone when quizzed at the Leveson Inquiry this morning.

‘Sky News is first and foremost a non-stop broadcaster on several different platforms, so the occasions on which Sky News in the future is likely to consider in some way doing something that it shouldn’t is highly unlikely, highly unlikely indeed,’he said.

He added: ‘It is highly unlikely given the nature of our business that we will be doing this sort of thing.”

Asked by the counsel to the inquiry, David Barr, whether he was ruling out the possibility of his journalists breaking the law to obtain a story in future, he replied: ‘Ok, I am pretty much ruling it out, but’journalism is at times a tough business and we need to at times shed light into wrongdoing.”

Ryley said that were occasions when this could happen but that this would be ‘very, very rare”.

Lord Justice Leveson repeatedly stressed the distinction between breaching civil law such as privacy and breaking criminal law, noting there was no public interest defence with the latter and that journalists were at the mercy of CPS discretion.

Ryley told the inquiry that in future such actions would be need to approved in advance by the relevant senior editor, the head of Sky News and its in-house legal department.

Earlier Leveson asked Ryley: “Where does the Ofcom code give authority to a breach of the criminal law?” He replied: “It doesn’t.”

Sky has previously argued that the hacking of Darwin’s emails was in the public interest even though such a defence is not available under the Computer Misuse Act.

Ryley also spoke today about an incident whent Sky News reporter Gerard Tubb hacked the email account of a suspect paedophile.

Tubb sought the OK of his managing editor before attempting the email hack – which involved guessing a webmail password reminder. He received a one line response from his managing editor saying saying that this was a public interest inquiry, and which ended “happy hunting”.

In September, Sky News told the Leveson Inquiry that its journalists had not been involved in illegal message interception. Ryley said “it is very regrettable indeed and I apologise”. The inquiry heard that the mistake was due to the individual compiling the submission only considering breaches of RIPA (the act which outlaws voicemail interception).

Earlier this month Ryley said of the John Darwin hacking: “We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest. We do not take such decisions lightly or frequently.

“They require finely balanced judgment based on individual circumstances and must always be subjected to the proper editorial controls.”

In a later statement Ryley questioned whether the Guardian’s reporting on subject amounted to double standards, saying: “Some of the most important stories have involved breaking the rules in some way. For example, the Daily Telegraph’s exposé of the MPs’ expenses scandal was very clearly in the public interest, but only happened because the newspaper took the decision to pay for stolen data. They have been widely applauded – deservedly – for doing so.

“Indeed, if it was looking for further examples, the Guardian could have found them much closer to home. Its respected investigative reporter David Leigh has admitted hacking a phone in pursuit of a story.

‘The Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, was found on more than 100 occasions to have commissioned information from a notorious private investigator, who was convicted in 2006 of illegally obtaining private data. In each case, a public interest justification has been claimed.

“These cases are a demonstration of the tensions that can arise between the law and responsible investigative journalism. At Sky News ,we do not take such decisions lightly or frequently. Each and every time, they require finely balanced judgement based on individual circumstances. They must always be subjected to the proper editorial oversight.”

He added: “Double standards? Draw your own conclusions.”

Sky News is part of BSkyB, which is 39 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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