Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie in his Daily Mail column has defended journalists making payments to whistle-blowers and says the "real scandal" is the arrest of staff on his old paper.
He writes: "Remember, the Sun journalists who have been arrested are not accused of enriching themselves — they were simply researching stories about scandals at hospitals, scandals at Army bases and scandals in police stations that they believed their readers were entitled to know about.
"This was not phone-hacking, but suspected payment for information. It’s not so unusual — even the police do it!
"And since our taxes are funding the wages of the public sector workers who provide such information to the Press, we are entitled to know what murky things are going on with our money — which journalists everywhere quite rightly want to expose.
"Anyone who makes such a disclosure in the public interest is called a ‘whistle-blower’ and is protected by the law so as to encourage people to speak out if they find malpractice in an organisation or workplace.
"If the whistle-blower asks for money, so what? It’s better that we know, for example, that our local hospital is killing its elderly patients through lack of care than have the Press ignore a nurse or an ambulance driver who is asking for payment for such information.
"I suspect you, as a reader, will be pleased that newspapers report such scandals, even if they have to pay money to find out about them. How, otherwise, would we discover what’s really happening? These arrests are the real scandal — not the manner in which the reporters may have got their stories."
- MacKenzie reveals that when he was a junior reporter on the South East London Mercury every Christmas he would tour the seven police stations on his news beat and leave a bottle of whisky on the station sergeant’s desk. "They were my thank-yous to the local rozzers for opening up their incident ‘book’ to me every Monday and Wednesday morning all year long." He says the information provided by police was "journalistic gold" and what the paper’s readers were entitled to know since it involved news in their local area. The Mercury was, MacKenzie adds, happy to pay for the whisky.