One instinctively knows when part of the press has a problem: most papers keep schtum and hope the story will go away. If this fails, there is swift and loud denunciation of whoever stepped out of line, and especially if the hated BBC gets involved. So it has been with the continuing story of Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, who is back in the news. But only in the Guardian.
This photo may be about to get an update
The Fake Sheikh had enjoyed a long line of circulation enhancing stings, joyfully trashing reputations and even getting folks jailed, until his entrapment of Tulisa Contostavlos went off the rails after a judge concluded that he had lied, and had also manipulated evidence. Since then, other sting trials involving Mahmood have collapsed. The Sun claimed to have suspended him.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the Beeb has decided, in its wisdom, to allow the Panorama team to investigate Mahmood. Reporter John Sweeney was all set to front a programme next Monday, and then the lawyers got involved. The screening was under threat. Did the Fake Sheikh have the means to instruct his learned friends?
As if you need to ask: Maz doesn’t have that kind of level of petty cash availability. But he does know a man who does: step forward Creepy Uncle Rupe. My understanding is that the Murdoch empire is bankrolling what could be a non-trivial legal bill. And that begs the question whether this is just the placing of faith in the usefulness of an employee, or something rather more significant.
Mazher Mahmood’s USP has, for some time, been that his identity has been kept a closely guarded secret. Any chance that the Sun, or any other Murdoch title, has of making use of his dubious talents in the future means keeping it that way. So it has to be assumed that Panorama was going to unmask the SOB. That would be enough to finish him, whether or not he is prosecuted for lying to judges.
That would impact on any other journalist who claims that their work undercover means that publishing photos of them would endanger them, or somehow prejudice their careers. Zelo Street is aware of one such hack who has been using this excuse to have such photos taken down, and who may well be following the Fake Sheikh case with more than a little trepidation.
All that we know right now is that, according to Roy Greenslade, “it is thought that lawyers acting for Mahmood have registered an objection to the programme being aired and may seek an injunction to prevent the broadcast”. The BBC, though, is believed to be sticking to its guns. That means that, even if the Panorama programme is not broadcast on Monday, it will air soon after.
The career of Mazher Mahmood now hangs by a thread. Stay tuned, folks.