Hypocrisy of me­dia luvvies and FT re­porter who turned his pa­per pink with shame

Scottish Daily Mail - - Coronaviru­s Crisis - by Richard Pendle­bury

LAST Fri­day af­ter­noon at 5.08pm, the Fi­nan­cial Times jour­nal­ist Mark Di Ste­fano sent a brief vale­dic­tory mes­sage to his 118,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter. ‘hi, let­ting every­one know to­day was my last day at the FT,’ wrote Di Ste­fano, un­til then the pa­per’s me­dia cor­re­spon­dent. ‘This af­ter­noon I of­fered my res­ig­na­tion. Thank you every­one who has given sup­port. I’m now go­ing to take some time away and log off x.’

As he dis­ap­peared into dig­i­tal ex­ile, a flurry of tweets from the great and good at the BBC and the Guardian, as well as hard-Left activists and even a Press re­form cam­paigner, ex­pressed sym­pa­thy and sup­port for him. But by so do­ing, they turned what had been a scan­dal about one man’s eth­i­cal fail­ings into a wider de­bate on the dou­ble stan­dards of some in the lib­eral me­dia.

It was widely be­lieved that Di Ste­fano, who had al­ready been sus­pended by the FT pend­ing an in­ter­nal in­quiry, was al­lowed by his bosses to jump be­fore he was pushed.

his of­fence — prob­a­bly a crim­i­nal one, at that — was to have hacked into pri­vate meet­ings that took place on the Zoom dig­i­tal plat­form last month.

The meet­ings were in­sti­gated by se­nior ex­ec­u­tives at the In­de­pen­dent and the evening Stan­dard to tell their staff about salary cuts and fur­lough­ing to be im­posed be­cause of Covid-19.

The em­ploy­ees learnt the bad news un­aware that a jour­nal­ist from a ri­val news or­gan­i­sa­tion was elec­tron­i­cally eaves­drop­ping on them to get a scoop.

The Di Ste­fano af­fair is a huge em­bar­rass­ment for the FT, which, af­ter some con­sid­er­able de­lay, even­tu­ally apol­o­gised pub­licly to the vic­tims of its staffer’s hack­ing at­tack.

The fi­nan­cial world’s me­dia plat­form of record, the FT has long and some­times loudly prided it­self on its jour­nal­is­tic ethics.

But par­al­lels with the shame­ful and crim­i­nal News of the World phone-hack­ing scan­dal of al­most a decade ago are all too ob­vi­ous. In­deed, Di Ste­fano — an Aus­tralian with left-of­cen­tre views — seems to have em­ployed a sim­i­lar modus operandi to the crim­i­nal cadre at the now de­funct Sun­day tabloid.

News of the World hack­ers took ad­van­tage of celebri­ties, crime vic­tims and ri­val jour­nal­ists who had failed to re­set the orig­i­nal sim­ple fac­tory pass­words for their phone voice­mails. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the Zoom meet­ing Di Ste­fano hacked was not pass­word-pro­tected ei­ther.

Bro­ken by jour­nal­ists at the Guardian news­pa­per, the phone­hack­ing scan­dal of 2011 led to the News of the World’s clo­sure that sum­mer. The surviving in­dus­try was rocked to its foun­da­tions.

The anti-Press pres­sure group hacked Off cam­paigned suc­cess­fully for what be­came the Leve­son In­quiry into news­pa­per ethics. The ex­ist­ing sys­tem of Press reg­u­la­tion was over­hauled, though not to the sat­is­fac­tion of hacked Off and its sup­port­ers.

Many of them — but not all — were on the Left, po­lit­i­cally. The News of the World and other news­pa­pers owned by Ru­pert Mur­doch sup­ported the Con­ser­va­tives.

There was an ide­o­log­i­cal as­pect to the furore.

The rep­u­ta­tion of the UK news­pa­per in­dus­try as a whole was se­ri­ously dam­aged by the crim­i­nal be­hav­iour of a few at the News of the World. So how do we ex­plain the re­ac­tion from some no­table fig­ures in the me­dia to Di Ste­fano’s res­ig­na­tion tweet?

BBC News­night pre­sen­ter emily Maitlis re­sponded: ‘Sad to see this

Mark. hop­ing you’re ok x’. This prompted one of her own 261,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers to quip: ‘Next week emily tweets get well wishes to Kim Jong Un.’

An­other mes­sage of sym­pa­thy for Di Ste­fano was sent by Guardian colum­nist Owen Jones, who has al­most a mil­lion fol­low­ers. ‘Best of Luck, Mark,’ he wrote.

Reg­u­lar BBC Ques­tion Time pan­el­list Ash Sarkar is con­tribut­ing edi­tor at the hard-Left dig­i­tal news and com­ment plat­form No­vara Me­dia, which was one of Jeremy Cor­byn’s most loyal me­dia out­lets. She tweeted to Di Ste­fano: ‘hope you’re al­right, and good luck for ev­ery­thing that’s yet to come.’

This will have sur­prised any who re­call a No­vara edi­to­rial pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary 2018 which ripped into news­pa­per crit­ics of Mr Cor­byn and called for ‘Leve­son 2’ — a fur­ther in­quiry into Press ethics. It was writ­ten by No­vara co-founder Aaron Bas­tani, who on Fri­day tweeted: ‘Sorry to read this Mark. We all make mis­takes and I hope you come back stronger.’

Pippa Cr­erar, for­merly of the Guardian and now po­lit­i­cal edi­tor of the Daily Mir­ror, which has had to pay out huge sums to set­tle phone-hack­ing claims of its own, sent Di Ste­fano this cheery mes­sage: ‘Oh mate, sorry to hear of this, You’ll bounce back. Send­ing love x.’ (Iron­i­cally, Pippa Cr­erar also used to work at the evening Stan­dard, one of the pa­pers Di Ste­fano hacked into.)

Paul Lewis, the pre­sen­ter of BBC Ra­dio 4’s Money Box, went fur­ther in his sup­port. Re­ply­ing to the Di Ste­fano mes­sage, he tweeted: ‘Dread­ful. You did your job as a jour­nal­ist. Now you have been forced out.’ Other Twit­ter users asked Mr Lewis if he thought the law sim­ply didn’t ap­ply to jour­nal­ists when they were ‘seek­ing truth’.

Di Ste­fano has pow­er­ful friends root­ing for him in the dig­i­tal world. Ben McOwen Wilson is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the UK arm of the Google-owned video plat­form YouTube.

he tweeted ‘Best of luck Mark. I look for­ward to the next chap­ter.’

But per­haps the most un­likely good­will mes­sage came from Peter Jukes, au­thor of the phone-hack­ing ex­posé The Fall Of The house Of Mur­doch and an early sup­porter of hacked Off. Mr Jukes is now a di­rec­tor of By­line, the me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion funded by motorsport ty­coon Max Mosley, who suc­cess­fully sued the News of the World in a land­mark pri­vacy case when the pa­per ex­posed his par­tic­i­pa­tion in a sado­masochis­tic orgy.

Mr Jukes tweeted: ‘We’ve had many dis­agree­ments but I’m still sad to hear this, Mark. Be well.’

But not ev­ery BBC jour­nal­ist was keen to com­fort Di Ste­fano. Cer­tainly the sym­pa­thy on his Twit­ter feed be­gan to dry up when BBC in­ves­tiga­tive re­searcher han­nah Bay­man posted this bomb­shell.

‘Two years ago @MarkDiStef in­fil­trated a pri­vate chat of BBC women staff mem­bers — or­di­nary work­ers, not ex­ecs or ed­i­tors — and pub­lished our con­ver­sa­tions along with a string of in­ac­cu­ra­cies,’ she tweeted. ‘Never called any­one to ver­ify or give right to re­ply. It’s not jour­nal­ism.’

The Mail tried to reach Di Ste­fano and Ms Bay­man for fur­ther com­ment, with­out suc­cess. But in May 2018 Di Ste­fano had au­thored an ex­clu­sive re­port on ‘leaked mes­sages’ from a What­sApp group of fe­male BBC em­ploy­ees, pub­lished by his then em­ployer Buz­zFeed.

The leaks con­cerned ‘heated dis­cus­sions on the role of trans women’.

It may be that Ms Bay­man’s tweet — retweeted a num­ber of times — caused Mr Jukes to do an about-turn. On Satur­day night he tweeted of his orig­i­nal mes­sage to Di Ste­fano: ‘For var­i­ous rea­sons I re­tract this . . .’

Last night, a close friend of Di Ste­fano said: ‘Mark de­nies cat­e­gor­i­cally that he il­le­gally ac­cessed a BBC What­sApp group. he feels strongly the claims which han­nah is mak­ing are un­founded, un­fair and li­bel­lous of him.

‘he knew mem­bers of the group and they sent him screen shots of some of the com­ments which were be­ing made in that group . . . he was merely us­ing the in­for­ma­tion his sources sup­plied to him.’

DI STE­FANO had only ar­rived at the FT in Jan­uary. he had fol­lowed Ja­nine Gib­son, the FT’s as­so­ciate edi­tor, from Buzz Feed. She had pre­vi­ously been the Guardian’s deputy edi­tor.

‘It [is] ac­tu­ally al­ways about ethics in jour­nal­ism,’ her pro­tege had pon­tif­i­cated on Twit­ter on March 19 this year.

he was caught be­cause his FT email ad­dress ap­peared on the log files for a Zoom meet­ing two weeks ago. The In­de­pen­dent re­ported that his name had ap­peared on a pri­vate video call to its jour­nal­ists for 16 sec­onds be­fore he left.

Di Ste­fano had then ap­par­ently man­aged to log in to the meet­ing us­ing an anony­mous de­vice with the video func­tion turned off. It is thought he in­fil­trated a sim­i­lar meet­ing in­volv­ing the evening Stan­dard on April 1. Di Ste­fano broke news of the meet­ings on Twit­ter as they were tak­ing place.

It is not clear whether he con­tra­vened the Mis­use of Com­put­ers Act. ex­pert le­gal ad­vice has sug­gested he would strug­gle to mount a pub­lic in­ter­est de­fence.

In a state­ment is­sued af­ter his res­ig­na­tion, the FT said: ‘Last week, the FT re­ceived a com­plaint from the In­de­pen­dent that a re­porter had joined a staff con­fer­ence call

with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion. Ac­cess de­tails had been shared with him. The jour­nal­ist in ques­tion has now re­signed from the com­pany.

‘The FT wishes to apol­o­gise to the In­de­pen­dent and the Evening Stan­dard, which sub­se­quently in­formed the FT that the same re­porter had ac­cessed a meet­ing it had held.’

A source at the FT yesterday cast doubt on spec­u­la­tion that Di Ste­fano would have been fired if he had not re­signed. ‘Not in a mil­lion years,’ said the source. ‘He was Ja­nine Gib­son’s golden boy.’

Un­like most na­tional news­pa­pers, the FT has a sys­tem of self-reg­u­la­tion.

The word ‘karma’ ap­pears re­peat­edly on Di Ste­fano’s mori­bund Twit­ter feed.

A fel­low Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist with whom he had crossed swords tweeted: ‘Hope you learn from this. You’ve or­ches­trated campaigns against many peo­ple, in­clud­ing my­self, in the past. You’ve en­cour­aged pile-ons and a can­cel cul­ture against any­one you con­sider ‘con­ser­va­tive lean­ing’. And what of his Twit­ter apol­o­gists?

As an­other tweeter sug­gested: ‘Con­clu­sion from [their] replies on this thread: hack­ing not so bad if done by some­one I like.’

Sup­port­ive: News­night pre­sen­ter Emily Maitlis, left, and Left-winger Ash Sarkar tweeted sym­pa­thy for Di Ste­fano

Caught out: Mark Di Ste­fano ac­cessed staff Zoom calls

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