Operation Elveden threatens investigative reporting in U.K.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | February 21, 2013

Investigative journalism may be at risk in the U.K. following arrests related to the Leveson Inquiry. A senior London police official voiced concern Wednesday that Operation Elveden may prevent whistle blowers from coming forward to media.

In addition, other news outlets might follow The Sun’s lead of avoiding some investigative projects for fear of putting reporters and sources at risk of arrest.

Since the News International phone hacking scandal in 2011, police have arrested 107, 61 from Operation Elveden alone. Fifty-seven of those arrested were journalists, 24 of which worked for The Sunaccording to The Guardian.

Kevin Hurley, former detective chief superintendent for London police, said that Operation Elveden has created a “climate of fear” such that whistleblowers are thinking twice before exposing genuine corruption, The Guardian reported.

On Tuesday a prison worker was arrested for allegedly exchanging information about a high-profile prisoner for £3,350 from The Sun. The arrests of Chief Superintendent Andy Rowell and two other police officers last week were even more troubling considering they allegedly did not receive inappropriate payment. Hurley said now many public sector officials fear arrest for any contact with the press, so “atrocious examples of wrongdoing” are likely to remain hidden.

“The media find out about [scandals] very often because public officials come forward and tell them about it because they don’t have confidence in their own organisations,” Hurley said to the BBC, later adding, “We are a liberal democracy and the press should be able to build relations and people should be able to speak to the press and expose wrong doing if they see it.”

Brian FlynnThe Sun’s investigations editor, said in November that new restrictions have led to paper to reject whistleblowers who ask for compensation “every day.” In the past, Flynn could justify breaking the law for the pursuit of public interest, as he did on trial after an exposé was published alongside illegally recorded clips from a Parkhurst Prison.

But under the 2010 Bribery Act British journalists can now be charged for paying whistleblowers, regardless of whether they did so for public interest.

Flynn referenced The Sun’s 2010 investigation that revealed a prisoner’s plot to drug his ex-lover and have a former cellmate send an incriminating text message from her cell phone. The newspaper’s findings caused an additional two years to be tacked onto the criminal’s six-year-sentence.

“Do you think we would even consider conducting that investigation now?” Flynn asked a meeting of the Society of Editors in November, Press Gazette reported.

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