Why The Guardian's Nick Davies paid child prostitutes for information
Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who has spearheaded coverage of the scandal at News of the World, testified today before a U.K. parliamentary committee. Some highlights from his prepared testimony:
Davies said the Guardian generally doesn't pay sources of information, although he did when he was working on a story about child prostitution:
I interviewed children who were working as street prostitutes. I carried a letter to prove that I was conducting legitimate research and picked children up in my car while they were selling themselves. I would then agree to pay them the cash which they would otherwise have earned from a punter. I did that that for two reasons - first that I thought it was better for them to earn the money by talking to me than by allowing somebody to sexually abuse them; second that it seemed fair to them, if i was depriving them of 'working time,' that I should compensate them for their loss. The amounts involved were pathetically small - never more than £20. But occasions like that are rare exceptions.
Davies said that in-house lawyers double-check the reporting for "legally contentious" stories, but not those that aren't. This means that there are two different levels of scrutiny for news stories:
If there had been a serious legal risk in writing stories which claimed that the world's computers were going to crash on millennium eve, or that Iraq was bristling with weapons of mass destruction, or that millions of people were about to be killed by bird flu or swine flu or SARS, news organisations generally would probably not have published and broadcast them.
In the full statement Davies describes how he started working on the phone-hacking story and how he weighed privacy against the public's need to know for particular stories. || Related: Celebrities say Rupert Murdoch played role in his tabloids' "abusive" coverage (The New York Times) | James Murdoch reappointed BSkyB director as people protest outside (Guardian)