Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Villains and Heroes: Met attacks Guardian, uses Official Secrets Act

I'd thought this story had run out of potential shock value, but the Met Police, exposed by the Guardian as strangely unwilling to properly investigate Hackgate and now forced, under pressure from Parliament, to investigate why its investigation was so lax, decided in Sept 2011 to attack ... The Guardian!!!
Bit cheeky, not to say reeking of vengeance!
The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) forced them to back down, but they've exposed how obscure legislation can still play a part in muzzling a free press, and covering up stories that figures in the Establishment would rather be kept hidden from public knowledge.
The Guardian's Hackgate microsite has links to all the stories on this and more, but here's a couple of excerpts from just one, Jonathan Freedland's savage attack on the Met:

The entire British press, including the Murdoch-owned Times, joined in lambasting the stupidity of shooting the messenger in this way. As the Telegraph put it: "Are they seriously contemplating that the first prosecutions arising from the phone-hacking scandal should involve the very people who exposed it?" Or, to quote my colleague Marina Hyde, the Met showed itself to be "not tough on crime, tough on the reporting of crime".
The detail of the Met's case was even more laughable. Among stories it described as "gratuitous" – literally, without merit – and not in the public interest was the revelation that the News of the World had hacked into Milly Dowler's voicemail. The textbooks of the future will struggle to find a better example of a story in the public interest than that one: it had an enormous public impact, from the closure of the NoW and abandoning of the BSkyB bid to the departure of the Met's commissioner and one of his most senior officers. The Met called it gratuitous, but when the previous commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, appeared before MPs in July, he lavished praise on the Guardian for persisting where three inquiries by his officers had failed. Even in its statement last week, the Met paid tribute to this paper's "unwavering determination to expose the hacking scandal". So what was the Met position, that the coverage was gratuitous or praiseworthy?
But worst was the Met's abuse of the Official Secrets Act. That legislation has been used to pressure journalists to reveal their sources before, whether in the Shayler or, much earlier, Vassall episodes, but the substance of those cases related to genuine affairs of state and national defence: think Clive Ponting and the Belgrano. What was at stake substantively this time was not the safety of the realm, even cynically defined, but criminality inside a powerful corporation. Of course the Met would want to pursue a leaker in its midst, but to invoke the Official Secrets Act was to abuse the law – and for no better purpose than to try and force a Guardian reporter to reveal their confidential sources, which is barred under the act. The courts would surely have thrown out this order, realising the chilling effect it would have had on journalistic inquiry, which in the phone-hacking affair proved the only protection available when both police and politicians so signally failed. Perhaps a phone call from the attorney general or director of public prosecutions spelled that point out to the new commissioner.
More widely, the police have the enormous task of establishing whether criminal activity was not just conducted at the margins but somehow central to how the business worked. It is striking that so many of the targets of News of the World hacking were political, very many of them Labour politicians. Was this the modus operandi, gathering dirt on public figures by criminal means as a form of currency, a threat held in reserve to pressure policymakers to tilt the regulatory playing field in favour of Murdoch's multiple media interests?
One highly respected, establishment figure believes that this eventually operated in a directly partisan way, that News International was, in effect, running a shadow intelligence operation, funnelling the information it gathered on the Conservatives' political enemies to that party – in return for benign treatment of its businesses.
But it might not always have run on such party political lines. The police have before them a complaint from Gordon Brown. He believes he was targeted as early as 2000 by a "blagger" working for the Sunday Times who sought access to Brown's legal and financial records, apparently in search of damaging information. That cannot have been designed to help the Tories: at that time the Murdoch papers strongly backed Tony Blair, whose only serious rival for power was Brown.
We don't know the truth of these allegations or of the many others that still surround News International and the phenomenal power it has exerted over British public life. We need the police to help discover the truth – not to hound those determined to find it.

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