Taking the sting out of press exposes

The sting is now the media's weapon of choice, the guided missile they select from their post-Levesonian armoury to ravage reputation and to restore their own.

Ian Monk: 'False inducements, some argue, are incitements to break laws or rules and that itself may constitute a crime.'
Ian Monk: 'False inducements, some argue, are incitements to break laws or rules and that itself may constitute a crime.'

So far this month three peers, two MPs, a bank (Lloyds TSB) and a pop star (Tulisa Contostavlos) have fallen prey to undercover media operations. This media muscle-flexing has spawned front page exposes, professional investigations and - in Tulisa's case - a police arrest.

Those responsible for the seven deadly stings above are The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, the BBC and The Sun. Others are now working to facilitate operations that rely on scattering temptations and inducements in the path of high profile targets under the gaze of spy cameras and concealed mikes.

It is indicative of a political class demonstrating its free press creds post-Leveson that Cabinet member Eric Pickles came out in support of undercover journalists, insisting they were 'doing their job' in scamming peers and MPs into indiscretion.

For the media, the satisfaction of that job is enhanced by the fact that each sting produces gloriously grainy footage, instantly suggestive of guilt, which plays out to multi-platform global audiences.

Combating the sting is becoming a challenge for reputation managers. Some are working to establish that levels of entrapment and surveillance involved render the operations themselves further beyond the law than the conduct of their victims. False inducements, they argue, are incitements to break laws or rules and that itself may constitute a crime.

Others claim it is current codes of conduct rather than the behaviour of individuals that are wanting.

Both strategies depend on a moral relativism that is unlikely to remove the reputational stain of footage indicative of venality and poor judgement at best.

The simple advice to clients is: don't say anything to anyone you haven't checked out that you wouldn't want to see printed or broadcast. Beware of those bearing gifts and remember that it if seems too good to be true then it will certainly look too bad to be true on camera.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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