Guardian reporter admitted to phone hacking

August 5, 2011

David Leigh, center, listens at a panel debate during a Norwegian journalism conference, along with Nick Davies, left, of the Guardian and Kristinn Hrafnsson, right, of WikiLeaks. (Image from Flickr via Bye Skille)

David Leigh wrote the article after News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman pleaded guilty to phone hacking, a crime for which he was later jailed.

In the article, Leigh admits to once hacking the phone of a “corrupt” arms company executive, after the businessman accidentally left his voicemail pin code on a printout.

Leigh writes that investigative journalism is “not a dinner party”, “particularly in a secretive country like ours where the privacy cards are stacked in favor of the rich and powerful.” His defense: It all depends who the target is.

“Unlike Goodman, I was not interested in witless tittle-tattle about the royal family. I was looking for evidence of bribery and corruption,” he writes.

Leigh also admits to what’s called “blagging,” or pretending to be someone else on the phone to get a story.

Leigh suggests that these kind of practices should be kosher in journalism only when it is a last resort and when it is in the public interest. 

“As for actually breaking the law? Well, it is hard to keep on the right side of legality on all occasions,” he writes.

Leigh’s investigative work has led to the jailing of former British MP Jonathan Aitken and to the exposure of secret payments by defense and aerospace company BAE.

Leigh is also a professor of reporting at City University in London.

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