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September 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The New York Times’‘s ombudsman, Arthur S. Brisbane, has responded to a letter he has received from Bill Akass, managing editor of Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloid, The News of the World, accusing the Times of “breach[ing] its own ethical guidelines” in its report about the NoW‘s telephone hacking scandal and charging that it “was motivated, at least in part, by the desire to harm a competitor” (presumably meaning the Wall Street Journal, which, like the NoW, is owned by Murdoch’s News Corp. Akass particularly objected to the Times’s use of anonymous sources, a “dozen former reporters,” cited in the article, “whose credibility, seniority, motives or qualifications we are therefore prevented from challenging.” Following his independent investigation, Brisbane has rejected most of Akass’s complaints, pointing out that the controversy over the newspaper’s telephone hacking has been reignited in Britain, with several official investigations now under way, and comes at a time when Murdoch is seeking to acquire complete ownership of the home satellite firm BSkyB and is attempting to “clip the wings of the BBC” — all of which could allow him to dominate Britain’s news media. As for its use of anonymous sources in the article, Brisbane quoted Matt Purdy, the investigations editor, as saying, “We pushed hard to get people to attach their names to their quotes, and we succeeded in some important instances. … But getting people to speak for attribution was particularly difficult because it entailed journalists talking about potentially criminal acts.” [Two former reporters who have come forth to verify the accuracy of the Times article have refused to repeat their accounts to police after being warned that their words could be used against them in court.] However, Brisbane criticized the Times‘s report for including a discussion of Murdoch’s alliance with the Conservative Party in the article and dressing the feature — which appeared in its Sunday magazine — with graphics intended to mimic Britain’s tabloids. “The Times or any news organization covering a rival so prominently,” he concluded, “needs to do it as straightforwardly as possible. Incorporating politics, and dressing the piece in a mock tabloid art treatment, leave room for some to perceive a hidden agenda, and perhaps even quiet glee.”