Mazher Mahmood (better known as the Fake Sheikh) calls what he does genuine investigative journalism and says that revealing his identity will put his life and the lives of his family in danger due to the convictions his investigations have ensured in the past. A judgement on the issue, all relating to George Galloway’s decision to expose the journalist after he tried to doop the Respect MP, decided that only his income was at risk from his identity being made public.
Looking through the list on the Wikipedia, Mahmood’s career stinks of tabloid pointlessness; entraping celebrities to expose their drug habits or extramarital affairs can hardly be described as integral and honest work. At the same time there is no denying that some of his work has actually unveiled serious crime.
However, as was proved by the recent Sven-Goran Eriksson affair, his main role is to make those in the public eye look stupid or to unveil a darker side of someone that has done their best to be seen as innocent or honest up until then.
Paul Williams, a well known Irish investigative journalist has exposed much about the criminal underworld in Ireland and lived to tell the tale. Of course, a better known Irish example is Veronica Guerin, who paid the ultimate price for her work but hers and the work of Williams can be considered to be truer to the term ‘investigative journalism’, it focuses on getting contacts and sources and finding out the truth; it isn’t about imposing yourself into a situation and manipulating it into an interesting story. This very difference is what has led to criticisms of the Mahmood, for instance in his 1999 drug revelation relating to actor John Alford which many describe as entrapment.
It is fair to say that a journalist should never make the news, they should just report it. It is also fair to say that in reporting a story a journalist should tell the public what is going on in that part of the world they live in, rather than create a controversy, arguably under conditions that would not have existed in the real world, just to entertain. That is not to say that Williams is never the story rather than the reporter of a story, and of course Guerin couldn’t help but become the focus of many news pieces and features after her death.
It is fair to say that by pretending to be someone he is not, and using that misleading pretense to reveal wrongdoing, trivial or otherwise, Mahmood is always leaving himself vulnerable to the actions of his victims, or would-be victims. It is also worth noting that under Irish law entrapment and the use of recording equipment on unwitting victims makes much of his evidence generally inadmissable in court; I would assume that serious instances are different, but I cannot be sure. For that matter, how much good is his work likely to do from a legal point of view?
Perhaps now that Galloway has exercised his right to freedom of expression, and has done similar to the sheikh as he has been doing to celebrities and others for years, Mahmood will hang up his robes and start looking for genuine contacts.