A former journalist at News of the World (NOTW) made some astonishingly unguarded remarks on television this weekend. Paul McMullan, Deputy Features Editor of NOTW from 1994 - 2001, explained on the BBC's Sunday Morning Live show how, when covering stories for the newspaper, he had encouraged people he was interviewing to make up ludicrous claims in return for increasing amounts of cash. After several other controversial remarks he pointed vaguely behind him and said "I've got a lawyer telling me to stop implicating yourself or you're going to get arrested." The presenter of the show, Susanna Reid, asked him if he was concerned about being arrested and he said he'd been asked to go to Scotland Yard three times recently to be interviewed under caution but had chosen not to go. "They said you WILL come in tomorrow and I said 'Will I? No I don't think I will. So I haven't." He went on to add: "I don't think I've done anything that deserves arrest."
Asked by Ms Reid if he'd ever done anything illegal he said "I mean I'm not going to say I've broken the law lots and lots 'cos they're just going to listen to the tapes and say 'hey, look, you've just admitted it there.'" The panelist sitting next to him, Derek Hatton, former militant council leader and now an entrepreneur, looked like he couldn't believe what he was hearing (it's at around the 30 minute mark on the Sunday Morning Live link above). McMullan went on to explain why he thought phone hacking was justified: "I tried to write well-researched and truthful articles. What better way to get to the truth than to hear it from the horse's mouth.... perhaps on their own messages."
The question posed to the audience at the start of the BBC programme was "Is an immoral press our fault?" Responses sent by text from members of the public during the one hour show indicated that 71% thought that it was indeed the public's fault.
The previous evening McMullan had appeared on Newsnight and argued with comedian Steve Coogan. McMullan said that it was necessary for the NOTW to reveal "tittle tattle" because 5 million people bought it for the gossip but would then see the occasional important story of public interest. He cited NOTW campaigning successfully for the implementation of 'Sarah's law', which involves the public naming of paedophiles, which he claims has helped to protect children. Coogan argued that everything the tabloids do is only about selling more newspapers. "I didn't realise you're on a moral crusade," he said to McMullan.
In April, actor Hugh Grant interviewed McMullan wearing a hidden microphone for an article in New Statesman in what Mr Grant referred to as 'Bugging the Bugger'. In the recorded conversation he allegedly caught McMullan admitting to phone hacking. Grant evidently felt he was playing McMullan at his own game rather stooping to the same underhand kind of methods as the paparazzi he seems to so despise.
Whether Paul McMullan has now been interviewed by the police is not known. Some of them are apparently rather busy being interviewed themselves about allegedly taking bribes from NOTW.
Meanwhile News Corp has announced a $5bn share buy-back plan in a bid to halt the sliding value of its shares. One of News Corp's options may be to sell or spin off News International. Richard Desmond, publisher of the Daily Express, reportedly offered £1bn for the assets in 2009 but it's unlikely News Corp would get even half that now. Stockbroking firm Panmure Gordon has valued News International at around £300m according to the FT.