Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#Leveson Inquiry : #ChrisAtkins - Red-tops caught red-handed with tall tales about celebrities

By Stephen Rogers - Friday, October 16, 2009

THEY are usually the purveyors of salacious celebrity scandals but the red-tops have been left red-faced having been out-scooped.
Showbiz hungry hacks offered huge sums of money to snap up stories such as Amy Winehouse setting fire to her beehive while trying to fix the electrics at a house party or Madonna’s ex Guy Ritchie giving himself a black eye while trying to juggle cutlery in a London restaurant.

What they didn’t realise was that the exclusives were in fact made up by a team of documentary-makers eager to prove journalists don’t check their facts.

Starsuckers, which hits cinema screens this month, shows how some top tabloid newsrooms were tricked into publishing the tall-tales – and how much they were willing to pay for them.

One of the filmmakers’ most successful stories involved one of the members of pop band Girls Aloud. They claimed that removal staff taking furniture from Sarah Harding’s home had found paraphernalia of an avid quantum physics hobby.

The tabloids had a field day with stories splashed under headlines such as "Sarah’s a real boffin".

The man behind Starstruckers, director Chris Atkins, said his team had deliberately rang in with stories that were far-fetched and could easily be checked and even gave fake names that sounded outlandish in themselves.

Nonetheless almost all were snapped up and used. He said there were large sums of money offered in return – up to €600 simply for a short phonecall – but they did not accept the cash because it would have compromised the ethics of what they were doing.

"I think it is a real problem in this day and age that celebrity journalism and celebrity reporting has now spread across all parts of our news media," said Mr Atkins. "Everything is about entertainment and making people laugh and a story that is going to sell and absolutely nothing whatsoever is about the truth."