Exaro

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Exaro
Type of site
News website
Available in English
Owner New Sparta Ltd. (Jerome Booth)
Website www.exaronews.com
Launched October 2011 (2011-10)
Current status Closed down (as of 21 July 2016)

Exaro was a British investigative news website based in Covent Garden, London, that operated from 2011 until 2016.

History[edit]

Launched in October 2011, Exaro specialised in carrying out in-depth investigations. Its journalistic creed was "Holding Power to Account.” It set out to produce “evidence-based, open-access journalism – not spin, not churnalism, not hacking – just journalism about what should be transparent but isn't."[1][2]

Exaro was majority owned by the city entrepreneur Jerome Booth.

Booth owns a group of companies called New Sparta.[3] These include the telecoms company New Call,[4] the film finance company New Sparta Films and the film distribution company Icon.[5]

Civil service tax avoidance[edit]

On 1 February 2012 an investigation by Exaro revealed that the UK's Student Loans Company was paying its chief executive, Ed Lester, through a private company, enabling him to reduce his tax bill by tens of thousands of pounds.[6][7] The day after the story broke the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Danny Alexander was summoned to the House of Commons for an urgent debate. He announced a review of all civil service contracts.[8]

At the end of the Treasury review more than 2,400 civil servants were found to be making use of "off payroll" contracts that could allow them to minimise tax.[9] Civil servants found to have underpaid tax will have to pay money back with interest and penalties. They could be billed for unpaid tax going back up to six years, as well as penalties of thirty per cent or more of the amounts owed. One accountant estimated that the HMRC could recoup as much as £100 million in unpaid taxes as a result of the crackdown.[10]

Danny Alexander thanked Exaro in Parliament for exposing the scandal.[11]

Rupert Murdoch[edit]

In partnership with Channel 4 news, Exaro revealed secretly recorded tapes of Rupert Murdoch talking to The Sun journalists, criticising the "incompetent cops" who handled the phone-hacking investigation and promising to take care of any journalist that had broken the law.[12] Murdoch reportedly characterized the inquiry as a fuss over nothing "Why are the police behaving in this way? It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing." Whilst it was working in partnership with Channel 4 news, Exaro also broke the story that Murdoch was aware for years that his journalists were bribing public officials.[13][14] On the tape Murdoch can be heard saying that bribery was part of the culture of Fleet Street and that every newspaper did it.

Later on that year Exaro released another secretly recorded audio, this time of News International CEO Tom Mockridge.[15]

In the tape Mockridge admits that News Corp is facing an estimated $1.62bn in costs for phone hacking, far more than any previous estimates given to shareholders.[16]

Elm Guest House child abuse investigation[edit]

Exaro journalist David Hencke passed Tom Watson MP evidence that child abuse had taken place at Elm Guest House in Barnes in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[17][18] Watson raised the allegations in parliament and the police subsequently launched a scoping exercise under the name "Operation Fairbank". Five Metropolitan Police officers considered allegations relating to Elm Guest House, and other allegations gathered by Watson. Later a full-scale criminal investigation specifically addressing allegations relating to Elm Guest House was launched under the name "Operation Fernbridge".

Military intervention in Syria[edit]

In July 2011 a RUSI expert told Exaro that the chances of foreign military incursion into Syria to secure chemical weapons had risen to "more than 50 per cent".[19] The same month Exaro also reported that hawks in the US administration were pressing for military intervention to topple the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.[20]

Exaro broke the news that the UK Foreign Office negotiated a secret deal with the Libyan government to pay £450m to IRA victims.[21]

Bribery in defence contracts[edit]

In August 2012 the Serious Fraud Office launched a criminal investigation into bribery allegations in connection with a UK-Saudi Arabian defence contract between the EADS subsidiary GPT Special Project Management, and the Saudi Arabian National Guard.[22] Exaro persistently investigated the allegations, writing more than 20 stories over seven months before the SFO launched its criminal investigation.

Private investigators[edit]

In June 2012, Exaro outed Kroll Inc. as having convinced the City of London police to instigate an unnecessary investigation costing £1 million to protect the reputation of one of its clients.[citation needed]

Interviews[edit]

The outgoing head of the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) used an interview with Exaro to admonish Tony Blair's government for curtailing an investigation in Saudi bribery allegations. Richard Alderman, who headed the SFO for four years until April 2012, told Exaro that the UK's reputation around the world suffered great and lasting damage from Tony Blair's "very regrettable and very unfortunate" decision to quash the SFO investigation into the alleged bribery of Saudi officials by BAE.

Former Chancellor Lord Lawson used an interview in Exaro, by David Hencke, to call for an orderly dismantling of the Euro. He also condemned the financial markets for making a series of superficial assessments of the Eurozone crisis.[23][24][25]

Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, revealed to Exaro his plans to scrap the PCC and replace it with an alternative regulator two months before he outlined his proposals to the Leveson Inquiry.[26]

Plaudits[edit]

In June 2012, Exaro was commended in the Best Investigative Journalism category of the Online Media Awards.[27]

In the Leveson Inquiry witness Nick Davies, a journalist from The Guardian, described Exaro's then editor-in-chief Mark Watts' book The Fleet Street Sewer Rat as "the best single source, hugely detailed, of information about the dark arts of journalism."[28]

In October 2012, The Guardian published a lengthy article about Exaro, including a profile of Mark Watts.[29]

Exaro's former editor-in-chief Mark Watts was nominated for the European Press Prize Editor of the Year for 2012. The nomination described Exaro as "an insightful, agenda setting website." It credited the site for its "serious investigative journalism" saying "this is not standard, not-for-profit journalism, but document-based, niche performance at a high level of expertise."[30]

Exaro senior reporter David Hencke won the Political Journalist of the Year 2012 award for his work uncovering tax avoidance in the civil service.[31] Hencke was longlisted for the Orwell prize for political journalism in 2014.[32]

Exaro was shortlisted for two 2013 British Journalism Awards. Exaro's expose of Rupert Murdoch was shortlisted for Story of the Year, and reporter Fiona O’Cleirigh[33] was nominated for New Journalist of the Year for her series that revealed how Northern Irish and Irish government officials gave £1.3 million to former IRA members in a serious of suspicious deals.

Exaro was shortlisted for two 2014 British Journalism Awards. Exaro's campaign for an inquiry into child sex abuse was nominated for Campaign of the Year, and reporter David Hencke[34] was nominated for Political Journalist of the Year.[35]

Criticism[edit]

Private Eye magazine wrote on 18 September 2015 that "Exaro is struggling to live up to its strapline of 'holding power to account.' For several months the investigative site has published no news at all apart from the latest paedo developments and, slightly bizarrely, items on a corporate insolvency monitoring service it runs alongside its 'news.' The latter centres on the supposed 'Whitehall paedophile ring' and the lurid allegations against former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, and involves magnifying the slightest procedural development and tweeting like mad under the hashtag #VIPaedophile."[36]

Barrister Matthew Scott, a consistent critic of the site's modus operandi, stated that "it has generated a poisonous atmosphere of outrage and hysteria in which wild and immensely hurtful accusations can be made and believed on the flimsiest of evidence; and that by publicising detailed allegations of paedophile orgies and murder it has risked destroying the prospect of fair trials either for victims or defendants."[37] A report in The Guardian stated that the conduct of Exaro had been the subject of complaints to officials supporting the Goddard Inquiry into child abuse.[38]

Dame Janet Smith called the editors "irresponsible" following Exaro's publication of a leaked draft copy of her report into child sex abuse, stating that “Exaro’s decision appears to have been taken for its own commercial gain without any thought for the interests of the many victims of Savile or the integrity of the reporting process.”[39]

Exaro journalists[edit]

Notable Exaro journalists included David Hencke, David Pallister, Nick Fielding and Mark Watts.

Facilities[edit]

The site also had a WikiLeaks-style secure dropbox that people could use to leak documents to the organisation.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "ExaroNews: Investigative journalism and analysis". exaronews.com. Archived from the original on 2 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Burrell, Ian (23 January 2012). "Holding power to account is Exaro's creed. But is there a readership for it?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  3. ^ New Sparta group website
  4. ^ Rees, Jon (20 July 2013). "City entrepreneur Jerome Booth signs £10m phone deal to take control of New Call". Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  5. ^ "News in brief: Lloyds attracts TSB approaches, New Sparta buys film distributor Icon, Baker Finsbury on acquisition trail". London Evening Standard. 23 September 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "Revealed: special tax deal approved for senior official". Exaro news. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  7. ^ "Civil servant tax claims: Danny Alexander orders review". BBC. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "Urgent question on public servants tax avoidance". Parliament.uk. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "Found: 2,000 civil servants working ‘off payroll’". exaronews.com. 
  10. ^ "Revenue to investigate civil servants in Whitehall tax scandal". exaronews.com. 
  11. ^ "Danny Alexander thanks Exaro for uncovering tax scandal". exaronews.com. 
  12. ^ Revealed: The Rupert Murdoch Tape
  13. ^ "Rupert Murdoch secretly admits: I knew about bribing officials". exaronews.com. 
  14. ^ "Transcript: Rupert Murdoch recorded at meeting with Sun staff". exaronews.com. 
  15. ^ "Transcript: Tom Mockridge recorded at meeting with Sun staff". exaronews.com. 
  16. ^ "News Corp Could Lose $1.6 Billion From Phone Hacking Scandal: Top Exec". The Huffington Post. 
  17. ^ Hencke, David (16 February 2013). "Public should know truth about VIP paedophile ring". Exaro. London. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Operation Fernbridge: Norfolk priest Tony McSweeney arrested". The BBC news online. London. 7 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  19. ^ "Military intervention in Syria is ‘more than 50 per cent’ likely". exaronews.com. 
  20. ^ "Pentagon hawks plan military strike for ‘regime change’ in Syria". exaronews.com. 
  21. ^ "UK and new Libyan leaders agree deal for IRA victims". exaronews.com. 
  22. ^ "SFO launches criminal probe into deal with Saudi national guard". exaronews.com. Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. 
  23. ^ "Europe ‘must dismantle euro in orderly way,’ says Lawson". exaronews.com. 
  24. ^ "Lawson condemns markets for being 'superficial'". exaronews.com. 
  25. ^ Harris, Julian (24 November 2011). "Nigel Lawson contradicts chancellor by calling for a break up of Eurozone". cityam.com. 
  26. ^ "Hunt plans to replace PCC with new Press regulator". Exaro news. 14 December 2011. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  27. ^ "Online Media Awards". onlinemediaawards.net. 
  28. ^ Transcript Leveson Inquiry into Press Standards, 29 November 2011
  29. ^ Plunkett, John (1 October 2012). "How Mark Watts of Exaro aims to return to Fleet Street's golden age". The Guardian. London. 
  30. ^ "European Press Prize - The awards for excellence in journalism". europeanpressprize.com. 
  31. ^ "British Journalism Awards 2012 showcase: Political Journalist of the Year finalists". pressgazette.co.uk. 
  32. ^ "Investigative site Exaro News among nominations for Orwell Prize political journalism award". pressgazette.co.uk. 26 March 2014. 
  33. ^ "Fiona O’Cleirigh". exaronews.com. 
  34. ^ "David Hencke". exaronews.com. 
  35. ^ "Making a difference: Finalists revealed for the British Journalism Awards in association with TSB". pressgazette.co.uk. 4 November 2014. 
  36. ^ Private Eye No 1401 (18 September 2015), p. 8.
  37. ^ Exaro: Spare us the sanctimony, spare us the bullying and try to be a bit more transparent, BarristerBlogger, 3 December 2014
  38. ^ Laville, Sandra; Halliday, Josh (21 September 2015). "Westminster child sex abuse inquiry 'split over credibility of witness'". The Guardian. London. 
  39. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (25 February 2016). "Janet Smith: Exaro was 'irresponsible' to publish draft Savile report". The Guardian. London. 

External links[edit]