UK media feels the heat after phone-hack scandal

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LONDON (AP) - As Britain’s most powerful Sunday newspaper crashes and burns, newsrooms across London are feeling the heat.

Media watchers and former journalists say the practices that felled the News of the World were common across the industry in Britain. With 200 tabloid journalists out of work, two people sentenced to jail, and a former editor-in-chief under arrest, those behind the headlines are wondering whether they’ll soon be in them.

“It’s a warning for Fleet Street,” public relations guru Max Clifford said Friday, using the nickname for the national newspaper industry. “A lot of journalists were up to similar things for many, many years.”

Clifford should know. Besides being one of the nation’s best-connected media operators, he was also among the tabloid phone hacking scandal’s most prominent victims.

It was his hefty settlement with the News of the World _ a reported $1.6 million (1 million pounds) _ that whet other lawyers’ appetites for suing the paper over the practice. That litigation turned up revelations so damaging they proved fatal.

Newsrooms across the country are waiting to see if their publication could be next. Prime Minister David Cameron hinted more heads would roll, saying at a hastily called news conference that there had been “some illegal and utterly unacceptable practices at the News of the World and possibly elsewhere.”

Within hours, Scotland Yard was at the central London offices of the Daily Star Sunday _ a downmarket tabloid with a circulation of about 300,000. They walked away with a disc full of computer material relating to Clive Goodman, the former News of the World journalist who served a jail term in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royal aides, setting the scandal in motion.

Goodman was arrested again Friday, this time over allegations he bribed police for scoops. Former News of the World Editor and Downing Street insider Andy Coulson was also taken into custody. Both were released on bail.

The Daily Star Sunday said in a statement that it had never carried “any story that might have stemmed from phone hacking.”

But the cloud of suspicion hangs heavily over many tabloids.

Fleet Street reporters have long been known for stopping at almost nothing to score a scoop, whether it be rooting through trash cans, fast-talking their way past police or handing out checks for hard-to-get interviews.

In one celebrated case, the Daily Mirror _ once edited by CNN star Piers Morgan _ sent a reporter undercover to work at Buckingham Palace.

In another, News of the World reporter Mazhar Mahmood, posing as a Middle Eastern potentate dubbed the “Fake Sheik,” tricked scores of prominent figures, including sports stars and royalty, into embarrassing indiscretions.

These included getting Princess Michael of Kent to vent some sensational opinions, including an assertion in 2005 that Princess Diana was “bitter” and “nasty.” In 2001, the Fake Sheik drew indiscreet comments from Sophie, Duchess of Wessex, the wife of Prince Edward, that ended her public relations career.

Some of these methods raised ethical concerns; others were unambiguously illegal.

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