“Bad Boy” British Newsman Michael Leidig Explains his Ethics: “It’s 100% Journalism”
When a book on Austrian teenager Natscha Kampusch’s kidnapping was published just three short months after the young woman was found, tumult broke out.
Michael Leidig, a British journalist living and working in Vienna, researched the Natascha case and fed writer Allan Hall with interviews and translated articles from the Austrian press.
Kampusch herself had not wanted a book to be written, and secured the rights in Austria. But how can you control research into a crime with so many people involved? The book came out just as the local press coverage had subsided. Now the Austrian media have reported claims that the interviews in the book are falsified. Michael Leidig agreed to explain the nature of the project to The Vienna Review.
The Vienna Review: How did the project begin? Of course the story was in the air but when did you decide on the book?
Michael Leidig: I was one of the few correspondents for the [London] Times based in Vienna at the time Natascha Kampusch was found. A book agent contacted me, and the time scale was of course very short, three months.
VR: Is there a fundamental difference between the ethics of Austrian and British journalism?
ML: Yes, it’s different. In England they span between the Times and the Telegraph, but in both cases the coverage went further [than here]. There were a lot of things the Austrian media outlets just didn’t write about it.
In Austria, it became a big deal to adhere to what Natascha wanted. English media don’t give a damn what anybody wants. The fact that they wanted to sue my ass off… that kind of thing doesn’t intimidate British journalists.
VR: Do you think it’s appropriate to operate on that standard in other countries?
ML: If nobody operated on their own standards in other countries, lots of corrupt dictatorships would never be found out, or the human trafficking in Bulgaria and Romania would have never come to light, and many people would have died. So yes, I not only think it’s appropriate. It’s vital.
And also, checkbook journalism didn’t really exist in Austria before Natascha. And as soon as they started selling, the Austrian press lined up with all the other newspapers.
VR: What do you think about Kampusch’s response to the book?
ML: She’s entitled to her opinion, but she couldn’t read the book in the original and what Österreich published had no connection to what was written in the book. I think that’s the only source she had.
VR: Did you have any qualms after the book was finished?
ML: No, it was good journalism. There were no mistakes in the accuracy, the translations were good, and the book doesn’t make any claims; it’s 100% journalism.
As to regrets, Leidig has none. He is frustrated, though: "The most disappointing part was that Kampusch’s father was not happy about his interview," he said.
The young woman’s father, Ludwig Koch, has been quoted denying that the interview ever took place. Some Austrian newspapers published articles reporting this and international news wires picked it up, apparently unsubstantiated.
While Leidig declined to comment, it is safe to say that accusations of fabricated interviews could be extremely damaging to someone who makes his living selling stories to the international press.