The Times has alleged that Panorama employed the same private investigator the BBC programme claimed had been used for illegal news gathering by the News of the World.
The Beeb’s flagship investigative show claimed that a sixth employee of the News of the World, Alex Marunchak – the most senior executive caught up in the saga to date – had been involved in commissioning the services of Jonathan Rees, who was alleged to have used a range of illegal methods to obtain information for the NotW.
But the Times has focused its coverage of the episode on an implication by Rees that he had also worked for Panorama.
In the programme, Rees stonewalled questions about his work for NotW, but said to Panorama reporter Vivian White: “What about the information that you’ve got, that your company got?”
White said after this: “Unlike Jonathan Rees, Panorama had not paid any police officers for information.”
But the Times story says Rees “worked for Panorama on at least two programmes in the early 1990s”. One of the claims says he worked undercover to gain information about child abductions, although neither he or the paper offers any evidence of this.
Sitting on the other side of the debate, MediaGuardian‘s Roy Greenslade accused the Times of opportunism, given that it has barely covered the phone-hacking revelations engulfing its sister paper. “Note how the Times‘s story is angled to fit two News International agendas,” says Greenslade. “It throws mud at the BBC, yet again. It minimises the misbehaviour by the News of the World, yet again.
“The real story revealed by Panorama is that a sixth News of the World executive was involved in the commissioning of illegal activities. That’s the tale a paper of record should be reporting, is it not?”
Unsurprisingly, fellow News International title the Sun followed the agenda set by the Times, leading with the headline: “BBC’s own goal over news ‘spy'”.