Reputation survey: Undercover investigations - Stars survive scandals

The public has still not forgiven Johnnie Walker for drug abuse, but John Higgins and Lawrence Dallaglio have been less damaged by tabloid scandals, new research shows.

Despite the storm surrounding John Higgins and allegations of match-fixing, the snooker player's reputation does not seem to have been as damaged as those of other high-profile figures who have been the subject of undercover investigations.

According to PRWeek/One Poll's latest survey of 3,000 members of the public, BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker, who admitted to the News of the World that he used cocaine, was the figure the public had the lowest opinion of following a tabloid investigation.

Interestingly the allegations against Walker were published in 1999, showing the public has not forgotten them. But for rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, who boasted to News of the World reporters about his drug use in 1999, the opposite seems to be true. In total 73 per cent of respondents said the Dallaglio scandal had not damaged the sport of rugby, and he came second behind boxer Joe Calzaghe as the undercover investigation figure the public had the highest opinion of.

Overall, however, the outlook for Higgins in the eyes of the public is bleak. In total 43 per cent of respondents said he should be permanently suspended following the allegations, and 46 per cent felt the sport of snooker would suffer long-term damage thanks to the allegations.

The public was divided over whether undercover reporting was a fair way of getting a story. In total 30 per cent felt it was, but 21 per cent said it was not, with a further 49 per cent saying it was fair sometimes.

And while 37 per cent of respondents said subjects of undercover investigations should not be able to claim entrapment as a defence, 22 per cent said they should, and a further 40 per cent said they sometimes should.

HOW I SEE IT - PHIL HALL, FOUNDER, PHA MEDIA

The telling statistic is that in the bar chart question half those polled said they had no opinion on, thus no interest in, the private lives of celebrities. And yet newspapers clearly run the stories because they sell newspapers. Is the public in denial?

To a certain extent yes, but the public feels uncomfortable when a story turns into a full-time, prolonged slaughtering of an individual that is disproportionate to the perceived crime. The public forgives sporting stars if they continue to perform at the highest level, which is why Dallaglio recovered; winning the World Cup erased the memories of his drugs shame. But the allegations surrounding John Higgins are more damaging to snooker because they involve serious criminal activity if true. Undercover reporting is vital in a democratic society when the investigation is justified in the public interest, but I do not feel the method is justified when exposing the love lives of the rich and famous.

- Will snooker be damaged long term by the recent allegations of frame-fixing surrounding John Higgins?

Don't know: 20%

No: 34%

Yes: 46%

- Is undercover reporting a fair way of getting a story?

Don't know: 48%

No: 21%

Yes: 31%

- Rugby's reputation

73% did not think rugby was damaged by the 1999 expose on Lawrence Dallaglio in which it was claimed he told an undercover reporter he took and had dealt drugs

- Boxing's reputation

58% said boxing was not damaged by the expose on Joe Calzaghe in which he confessed to using cocaine

- Snooker's reputation

40% said John Higgins had suffered more than the News of the World, snooker or journalism from the paper's expose

- Entrapment

37% believed subjects of undercover investigations should not be able to claim entrapment as a defence

Survey of 3,000 members of the public conducted by global research agency OnePoll.

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