By Dominic Ponsford
As an army torture video revealed by the News of the World prompted an anti- British backlash this week in Iraq, the paper has defended the story saying: "We are in the business of disclosure without fear or favour."
A video showing British squaddies beating young Iraqi men was revealed on the NoW front page this week and broadcast around the world after it was released by the paper at 5am on Sunday morning.
NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner stated that the Daily Mirror fake torture photos scandal was a consideration. He said: "We considered the Daily Mirror’s debacle of 2004 and the consequences there of… we went to enormous lengths to establish the authenticity of the material. That involved interrogating the source, dealing with people around the source, calling in some very senior and experienced military experts, liasing with the MoD and more besides."
The News of World is understood to have paid money for the video.
The paper gave the video to the Military Police Special Investigations Branch, which on Tuesday arrested three soldiers alleged to have been involved in the beatings.
The soldier believed to have made the video was arrested on Sunday.
Although the NoW declined to reveal the unit and regiment involved for security reasons, it emerged in other newspapers on Monday that it was the 1st Battalion Light Infantry then stationed in Basra.
The Basra provincial council has severed all relations with Britain, and on Tuesday protestors marched on the British consulate and burned a British flag.
When asked whether a possible anti- British backlash was a consideration, Kuttner said: "We consider these things in the round and the fact is that newspapers, radio, TV and the media are in the business of disclosure without fear or favour "The raison d’être of the media and the press is to publish, and it’s the role of journalists to make known things that some will find distasteful, unpleasant and embarrassing. The media should not be in the business of self-censorship."
Kuttner said there was "no foundation whatsoever" in the suggestion which has been made that the publication of the torture video was timed to follow the Muhammad cartoons row.
He said: "The material came to us a matter of days before publication, we considered it on its merits and having established to our complete satisfaction its authenticity, we did what newspapers do — we put it in the newspaper.
"We took a view that the video which came into our possession contained images of quite unsettling and gratuitous brutality, and we took the view that such conduct should be properly reported to the MoD and in particular to the Special Investigations Branch."
When asked if approval for the story was sought from NoW proprietor Rupert Murdoch, who has been an outspoken supporter of the war, Kuttner said "absolutely not".
He added: "He has a substantial newspaper empire — it’s not the practice for editors to get on the telephone to Mr Murdoch every time there’s a good story and say, please sir, can we print it?"
Kuttner said: "The News of the World has always been a newspaper that backs the British military, we have produced over the last few years a special forces edition that we’ve sent to Iraq and elsewhere.
"Our servicemen and women have a very tough and unenviable job, but that does not excuse and can never justify the conduct of a small group of squaddies depicted in our video material."