Starsuckers filmmaker accuses UK tabloids of increasingly ‘murky newsgathering’

The tabloid press is adopting increasingly ‘murky newsgathering’ tactics according to a documentary maker who exposed UK tabloids for publishing false celebrity stories.

Speaking at a Media Society debate on Wednesday night, ‘Starsuckers’ director Chris Atkins called for better self-regulation among British newspapers and accused them of colluding to keep the public ignorant of media malpractice.

“When pharmaceuticals and the police are up to no good, everyone reports it. But when journalists are up to no good, no one reports it,” he said.

Atkins focused his criticism on the News of the World after it attempted to stop the release of his film, which showed one of the newspaper’s journalists taking details of a false story.

“They will fight privacy laws and restrictions, but when you criticise them, they will do everything to shut you down.”

In the course of making the Starsuckers documentary, Atkins’ team planted a fake story about Amy Winehouse’s hair catching fire.

“It’s the same journalists who write about Amy Winehouse’s hair [catching fire] who then write something about global warming,” he said.

He added that a tabloid tendency to promote showbiz reporters to senior editorial positions took the problem beyond celebrity gossip stories. “Why do [the Sun’s] Bizarre reporters get to be editors? They don’t check facts, and then you have the Sun saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” he said.

But former editor of the People Bill Hagerty defended tabloid behaviour:

“I disagree that people lie about news across all areas. I reject the thought that many journalists start out to falsify news. It’s a few bad apples, and it’s not huge.”

Hagerty also held the online ‘welter of media’ responsible for falling standards in print journalism, but maintained that false reporting was not a widespread practice:

“It’s true that reporters don’t go out any more, and news is often web driven. The press is in very bad shape, but it isn’t driven by people who want to make up stories.”

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