OFCOM yesterday announced it has launched an investigation into Sky News after the broadcaster accessed private email accounts.
Prompted by Sky News’ admission a few weeks ago that it had “authorised a journalist to access the email of individuals suspected of criminal activity”, Ofcom is investigating fairness and privacy at the news channel.
The media watchdog’s announcement coincided with the appearance of John Ryley, head of Sky News, at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.
Lord Justice Leveson interrupted proceedings to demand of Ryley: “What you were doing wasn’t merely invading somebody’s privacy, it was breaching the criminal law.”
Ryley responded that “it was” before conceding that Ofcom’s broadcasting code does not give any authority to breach the criminal law.
The media regulator is examining the actions of Sky News reporter Gerard Tubb, who was given permission by the channel’s executives to access the email account of “canoe man” John Darwin.
Darwin used a canoeing accident in 2002 to fake his own death so his wife Anne could claim thousands of pounds of life insurance and pensions.
Sky News said it handed the information it obtained to the police and that it was “pivotal” in the successful prosecution of the Darwins.
The broadcaster added: “We stand by these actions as editorially justified. There are rare occasions where it is justified for a journalist to commit an offence in the public interest.”
This inquiry is distinct from Ofcom’s probe into whether BSkyB is a “fit and proper” broadcaster, although a negative ruling for the news channel could reflect badly on its parent body.