The police have been rounding up and shooting journalists from “The Sun”. Actually that is a lie. But they have been hauled in en masse by the Boys and Girls in Blue, and generally grilled (about what is a little unclear, perhaps there has been something “off message” in the “Dear Deirdre” column).
Former Sun editor Trevor Kavanagh wrote an article in that paper complaining that journalists are being treated “like members of an organized criminal gang”. He also appeared on the Richard Bacon show to repeat his complaints and expand on his complaints. The interview can be heard here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00p4k2h
I would beg to differ. I would be surprised if an organized criminal gang received such attention in Topsy Turvy Britain, a land where the criminal gangs seem to prosper whilst pensioners starve and, those who attend to the urgent needs of pensioners in distress are sacked and stripped of their jobs.
In any event, according to Mr. Kavanagh there are now no less than 171 officers involved in three different investigations into the Press; if taken together that would be perhaps the largest police operation of all time, larger even than the Lockerbie investigation. And one might say that if the Milly Dowler case had been given that level of resources, it might have been concluded a little earlier than it was.
Some 30 Sun journalists have been arrested. Many in dawn raids. I hear reports of squads of up to 20 police officers attending, turning houses upside down and journalists being treated with extreme discourtesy. What seems to be going on is an investigation into not just phone hacking but “corruption”, that is payments by journalists to police and other public officials for information.
Kavanagh makes the case that there is something of an agenda behind this for those who hate News International and Rupert Murdoch in particular.
I think he has a point. No one would seek to justify a culture of “industrial” phone hacking. But it is not industrial murder. It needs a sensible and proportionate police investigation and a hefty fine or two, and maybe a few choice individuals need to be guests at one of Her Majesty’s especially secure guest houses for a few months (bearing in mind that this of course costs the tax payer money).
As for “corruption”, can we get over this? Serious cases of bribery which might prejudice an investigation should be treated as such. I suspect from time to time this has gone on. In such cases the perpetrators need to be caught and prosecuted, and if police officers are proved to have been involved then they must be dismissed. But for as long as there has been a police force the Press and the Boys and Girls in Blue have had a close and somewhat seedy relationship. Anyone who doesn’t think that pints are bought, mutual tip offs are given and, yes, fivers are exchanged in plain brown envelopes is living in cloud cuckoo land. Of course it needs to be reigned in when possible. But I have doubt that what is going on here is a fishing expedition in which the police are happy to display a new found rigour to their political Lords and Masters.
The police are a highly attuned political interest group; one look at ACPO’s distasteful general lobbying and money making offshoots shows it. In a world in which big budget cuts are on the agenda, playing the attack dog for those in political power and influence is a no brainer.
Kavanagh’s point is well made. It is not a question of turning a blind eye to criminal behavior; it is a case in which there is an Establishment sub text to kick back against a press which they would seek to muzzle. In the forefront of those seeking State regulation of the Press is of course Alistair Campbell, a man who enjoyed huge political influence, but who was never elected, and whose sole purpose in professional life was to get the Press to toe the government line by whatever means. And that is putting it politely. No surprise then to find him calling for statutory regulation of the Press.
Just because we have a change in government, do not believe that there is a change in climate. In the modern political age all governments seek control of information, and anything which might rock the boat is perceived as a threat.
MP’s never really did get over the severe kicking they got once the appalling details of their corrupt expenses were spread all over the papers. Details which Speaker Martin fought like a tiger to prevent being disclosed, and which were finally obtained, if I remember correctly, by a little bit of theft and with a cash transaction being involved.
Of course I do not know Rupert Murdoch, and I would not be surprised to find that he is a pretty ruthless character who has many a skeleton in the closet, and that there may well be quite a few bodies buried “Brookside style” under the Murdoch patio too for good measure. I suspect you don’t get to be a billionaire media mogul by baking cup cakes.
And I accept there is good reason to be concerned by media barons. Men like Robert Maxwell, for example (who did good “outrage” as I recall, and used his legal attack dogs to muzzle the Press until he finally went both literally and metaphorically overboard).
I accept that there have been intrusive and illegal practices by the Press. I accept that there is every reason to make sure that media barons do not overly appropriate the control of information to themselves.
I also accept that Mr. Murdoch is highly able man who appears to me to display at least one admirable quality, namely loyalty to those who are loyal to him (not a quality much in evidence amongst the political classes); that I find my Sky subscription pretty good value for money; and that if I was stuck in a lifeboat a very long way from land I would rather intuitively prefer it to be in the company of Rupert and Wendi Deng-Murdoch than Alistair Campbell and Tom Watson MP. I feel I would have less chance of having my throat cut and ending up on the menu.
In short, the whole matter is being taken completely out of proportion and there is frenzy for blood lust and revenge within the Westminster Tented Village and its newly acquired principality, Luvvie-Land. Whilst I am probably guilty of falling pray to the pre-Raphaelite charms of Rebekah Brooks, I found the atmosphere of the whole Home Affairs Select Committee phone hacking inquiry something in the nature of a nasty Stalinist or Spanish Inquisition show trial.
So I am pleased that Murdoch plans to show signs of striking back with the announcement of the forthcoming Sunday Sun. Besides, frankly my Sunday has been incomplete of late. There are certain things which should be partaken of by a gentleman on a Sunday morning (no, not that).
I need my low fat yoghurt, followed by fresh skinny cappuccino, some freshly grilled rashers of bacon and poached eggs and toast and The Sunday Times Sports Section, leader page and magazine (in that order), perhaps crisply ironed by my valet, and then The Economist. But man does not live by bread and analysis alone, and there is nothing better than a good old dose of third rate celeb based tittle tattle to accompany that second coffee and a pain au chocolat. I have been insufficiently titillated of late by the appropriate inclusion of words and phrases such a “bonk”, “topless”, “betrayal”, “vice girl”, “love child”, “whiplash” and of course, the old favourite “romp”, all inserted in titles which will usually include some improbable multiplier and someone I have never heard of from ‘Enders.
So good news to have “The Screws” Mark II back.
On a more serious note, for all its crass intrusions and hurtful half truths, the value of a free press outweighs the damage it causes. A sense of proportion is needed in dealing with these issues. It is a short step from the dawn raid to the uncontrolled knock on the door in the night. The press must fight back! The State must back off!
Gildas the Monk