Mark Watts, the co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre, is the former chief investigative reporter on Sunday Business, where he led a three-strong unit, regularly commissioning freelances.
While at the newspaper from 1997 to 2001, he was one of only two journalists in Britain specialising in using the freedom of information act (FOIA) in the US and the “code of access to government information” that preceded FOIA in the UK.
He was co-father-of-chapel at Sunday Business, and successfully fought an employment tribunal – with NUJ backing – for unfair dismissal after being fired for sending two internal e-mails to managers protesting about job cuts.
Watts has worked on several other national newspapers (The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, Sunday Express), an evening newspaper (Hull Daily Mail), and television current-affairs programmes (including World in Action, The Big Story, 3-D).
As a freelance, he has written for nearly every national newspaper (red-top to broadsheet, daily and Sunday, Scottish and London-based) and many magazines (Journalist, Press Gazette, Broadcast, Private Eye, New Statesman, VNU’s Business Age, The Engineer, Computer Weekly).
And he is the author of a book about some of the newspaper industry’s “dark arts”, The Fleet Street Sewer Rat.
Watts was named today as a candidate in the election to be editor of the Journalist, the magazine published by the national union of journalists (NUJ) for its members.
He has an impressive track-record in breaking investigative stories. He helped make the second of two editions of World in Action on Jonathan Aitken, the former cabinet minister. Watts obtained documents for the programme showing that Aitken, while a backbench MP, had offered to sell defence equipment to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, contrary to official government policy.
Watts has also broken several stories about the media industry. His investigations unit at Sunday Business made most of the revelations in the Mirror share-dealing scandal; revealed that Richard Desmond, the pornographer, mortgaged his entire business empire to raise a loan to buy Express Newspapers despite claims that he paid cash; and exposed how Britain’s spooks manipulate the media industry, leading to one national newspaper editor being identified as an MI6 asset.
Besides his role at the FOIA Centre, Watts is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. He is regularly seen on British and international television channels, including BBC News and Sky News. He is a member of the NUJ’s London freelance branch and the society of authors, and a fellow of the RSA.