U.K.'s BSkyB Cleared of Breaking Broadcast Code in Email Hacking Case

British media regulator Ofcom said the pay TV satellite operator, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, did not violate rules in the so-called "canoe man" case.

LONDON – British pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, has been cleared of breaking the broadcasting code for hacking e-mails belonging to John Darwin, the so-called "canoe man" accused of faking his own death.

U.K. media regulator Ofcom gave the the satellite operator the all-clear Monday following its investigation into the case.

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Ofcom mounted an investigation in April this year after Sky News, BSkyB's news channel, admitted that one of its senior executives gave the thumbs-up to a journalist to hack into e-mails on two separate occasions.

BSkyB argued that such hacking was in the "public interest," even though intercepting e-mails is a prima facie breach of the Computer Misuse Act. Through this law there is no such "public interest" defense.

But on Monday, Ofcom said BSkyB has not broken rule 8.1 of the broadcasting code, which relates to fairness and privacy.

The code states that broadcasters must follow a series of standards and principles to avoid the unwarranted infringement of privacy in connection with how material to be used in broadcasts is obtained.

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"Ofcom concluded that the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference, in the exceptional circumstances of this case, outweighed Mr and Mrs Darwin's expectation of privacy," Ofcom wrote in its 25-page ruling on the investigation.

Between July and December 2008, Sky News broadcast various news reports and programs relating to Darwin and his wife, Anne Darwin, both of whom were convicted in 2008 of fraud-related offenses committed in connection with Darwin’s staging of his own death in 2002.

In 2002 Darwin staged his own apparent drowning at sea in a canoeing accident, and his wife subsequently received approximately $380,000 (£250,000) through claims on insurance and pension policies.

In January 2008, Mr. Darwin confessed to having staged his own death and was convicted, along with his wife, to a term of imprisonment. The prosecution case used e-mails that had been provided by Sky News to the police.