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News of the World scandal: How often do reporters pay off police?

According to the Guardian, the News of the World tabloid not only engaged in phone hacking but also paying police for information. The allegations have touched off debate about the practice.

Former Downing Street communication chief and News of the World editor Andy Coulson speaks to members of the media as he leaves Lewisham police station in south London, after being arrested Friday. Coulson is the latest to be swept up the phone hacking and police bribery scandal that has toppled News of the World.

Dominic Lipinski/AP

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In Britain, many are expecting significant political and business fallout from the phone hacking scandal that has forced the closure of News of the World (NotW), Britain's largest-circulation paper and a pillar of Rupert Murdoch's media empire in the country.

The increased scrutiny on NotW has put a fresh spotlight not only on phone hacking but also another controversial practice: journalists paying police for secrets, referred to here as "bunging."

While some claim that's standard behavior for British reporters, allegations that NotW paid police $160,000 has some up in arms.

“I think people are shocked when it is clearly something that has been initiated by the police. In these cases we seem to be seeing the police [officers] selecting whom to release the information to and at what cost,” says Barry Fitzpatrick, national press organizer for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

“It could lead to worse things, in terms of corruption," he says.

Jack Irvine, a former executive for News International – which owns NotW and Mr. Murdoch's other print media holdings in Britain – says bunging has been "commonplace in British journalism for as long as I've been in it, probably before."

"There's always been a very close relationship between reporters and policemen," adds Mr. Irvine, now chairman of the public relations firm Media House. "It might be as innocuous as a relationship where someone goes for a pint with someone. At other times, a journalist might be asked for 10 quid [pounds], 20 quid, 50 quid. It goes on, it has always gone on. I'm not saying it's right, but it does go on."


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