Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Responding to deliberate obfuscation with deliberate obfuscation.

It's not often that you see the Murdoch press seriously rattled; it probably last happened when the Sun misjudged the public mood over its increasingly personal attacks on Gordon Brown. In that case the paper backed down and softened its coverage, but it didn't have that option when it came to the release last night of the Culture, Media and Sport committee's report into press standards, privacy and libel, which included the fresh allegations concerning the phone-hacking at the News of the World.

The options it did have were to either ignore it entirely, as it almost completely ignored the story when the allegations were running in the Guardian last year, or to come out fighting despite it not actually concerning the Sun itself in any capacity. It chose to do the latter, a decision which has probably deeply mystified its readers that wonder what on earth the paper is banging on about. It's not even as if the paper is still edited by Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade), a former editor of the NotW, but rather by Dominic Mohan, who has no connections with the Sun's sister paper whatsoever. It therefore makes you think it was a management decision, or indeed, even one that came directly from either Murdoch senior or junior themselves.

The most damning comments made by the parliamentary committee were that those giving evidence for News International had indulged in "deliberate obfuscation" while also suffering from "collective amnesia". What better way then to respond to such a slur than through, um, deliberate obfuscation, which is exactly what the Sun's editorial does?

TODAY is another dark day for Parliament.

MPs on the Labour-dominated Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have abandoned fairness and independence in pursuit of cheap political advantage.

The committee had an important opportunity to investigate crucial issues such as privacy law, libel tourism and the Madeleine McCann case.

Yet members wasted seven months - nearly half their time - on unfounded claims made by the Labour-supporting Guardian newspaper against News International, publisher of The Sun and the News of the World.

An important opportunity which the committee took, and looked at in great detail. The section on the News of the World phone-hacking takes up only half of the chapter on "press standards"; the rest of the report deals at length with all the subjects the Sun mentions, but maybe it's because the committee comes to conclusions which the Sun doesn't like that it dismisses them in such a way?

Shamefully, the committee colluded with The Guardian, giving it leaks and tip-offs. But not a shred of new evidence was found to support The Guardian's claims.

Is there any evidence whatsoever that the committee colluded with the Guardian in this way? No. Was there however new evidence to support the Guardian's claims? Well, err, let's see what the report says in answer to exactly that allegation:

493. The Guardian articles did contain new information, in particular, concerning the payments to Gordon Taylor and others and the 'for Neville' email. This inquiry has subsequently revealed more facts, including the pay-offs made to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and that they tapped the phones of the princes themselves. They also highlighted the fact that a culture undoubtedly did exist in the newsroom of News of the World and other newspapers at the time which at best turned a blind eye to illegal activities such as phone-hacking and blagging and at worst actively condoned it. We condemn this without reservation and believe that it has done substantial damage to the newspaper industry as a whole.

Thwarted, the committee has fallen back in its report on familiar Labour tactics of smear and innuendo.

Yes, tactics which this editorial and which News International as a whole regards as completely abhorrent. They would never smear anyone or rely on innuendo.

Labour MP Tom Watson pathetically used the report to try to link the Conservative Party with the bullying allegations that have shamed Downing St.

Oh, what's that? A smear perhaps? It's also not sour grapes on the Sun's part, having to recently pay a certain Tom Watson damages for libelling him, by err, claiming that he was involved or knew about Damian MacBride's smearing of Tory MPs. And in any case, why shouldn't we be able to compare the allegations made about Gordon Brown's behaviour in Downing Street with the err, proved allegations involving ex-Screws editor and now Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson's bullying of Matt Driscoll?

Parliamentary select committees are important but only work if MPs on them behave with fairness and honour.

Some on this committee have not. Its report is accordingly worthless.

The Sun talking about behaving with fairness and honour? Would someone please pass the sick bag?

(For more on the committee's report, see the post on my own blog.)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Big Fat Lies

Two weeks ago there was an article in the Sun which was basically a promotion for a book called "Big Fat Lies: Is Your Government Making You Fat".

Apparently some ex-city lawyer is taking on Big Govt, Big Shop and Big Food by showing how only she knows the Truth (TM) about what we should and shouldn't eat.

To be fair to the Sun, it quotes a Dietician (someone who is qualified and registered to speak on the issue) who states that the author is "cherry-picking" data as well as quoting the FSA's Chief Scientist who bluntly states "She has her own website selling a weight-loss programme based on her theory." and also labels it a "fad diet".

On the face of it, I'm leaning towards the book being a load of rubbish. However, I would like to be able to review the book to see who is correct, but do not have a copy. Is there anyone out there who does? If so, would you be willing to send me one? If not, does anyone have any reviews of it? I can't seem to find anything!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Whose side are you on?

BenSix has already had a go at the esteemed Con Coughlin for his response to yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal concerning the seven paragraphs, but there's another contender for the prize title of "worst journalist in Britain" in the form of whoever wrote today's Sun leader column:

IN Afghanistan, our troops fight al-Qaeda. Here, the battle against the terrorists is undermined by judges.

Except they're not fighting al-Qaida, they're fighting the Taliban and various other insurgents, but who's being picky?

How, pray tell, is the battle against terrorists being undermined by judges? Yesterday's ruling should in practice affect absolutely nothing, as MI5 and MI6 are meant to have already changed their rules when it comes to handling British detainees held by other authorities. Or have they?

That is the ludicrous position we are in after yesterday's ruling over ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed claims America's CIA tortured him.

America shared information about Mohamed's interrogation with Britain on terms of strict secrecy.

As a refugee here, he used our courts to force details to be released.

The Sun has belittled Mohamed's account of his torture in the past, as well as said that it didn't want him back, along with other various degrees of heartlessness about his treatment. Unfortunately, considering that the American judge Gladys Kessler backed his account of how he was tortured and rendered (PDF), it now seems to be fact rather than anything approaching fiction. It's true that Mohamed is only a resident here rather than a citizen, but that should have no bearing on his access to the courts, especially when it was our security services that were actively involved in his detention. As for this idea of strict secrecy, or the "control principle", as David Miliband described it, when such information contains details which make clear that even residents of this country are being mistreated and that we are complicit in that mistreatment, it stops being need to know and starts becoming an issue of legality, of our international and indeed national obligations.

The liberal judges who backed him have damaged relations with our greatest ally.

If America now decides we cannot be trusted with security secrets, we will be at greater risk from al-Qaeda.

Yes, the statement from the White House that they were "deeply disappointed" with the ruling is bound to set our relations with "our greatest ally" back years. The Americans don't care a fig about this for the simple reason that they've already willingly released far worse information about what they did at the time; they're just for once prepared to go along with Miliband's attempts to block publication most likely as some obscure favour. Even if the Americans suddenly decided to stop sharing intelligence, which they won't, as we give them just as much as they give us, it's still pooled with other intelligence agencies which would. The idea that this will make us less safe, because we've finally found that our security services are liars and blackguards is absurd. If anything, it's likely to make us safer, not less.

The ruling is also a purely political gesture. Mohamed's claims have already been aired in the US.

A purely political gesture? If the Sun really believes that uncovering the true nature of what our security services have been involving themselves is just a "political gesture", then it's even more jaded and dismissive of any abuses of power than ever before. Mohamed's claims were aired in the US which is exactly why there was no "secrecy" and therefore they could be released, and why the arguments made the paper and the government are so bogus.

Our security services deserve support. The war on terror is not a game of lawn tennis.

Yes, they do, don't they? Because being complicit in torture isn't counter-productive at all, and doesn't undermine our values in the slightest. If only we could truly let rip against these jihadists, then maybe the war on terror really would become a game of lawn tennis. It's the liberals and the mad judges that are holding us back!

Whose side are you on, your Lordships?

You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A massive feminist victory for the Sun!

Back in December the Sun revealed the truly incredible news that a Premier League football manager had been visiting a brothel - although as a good majority of them are it was "disguised" as a massage parlour. It didn't however name him, claiming that they had been stopped from doing so by "creeping privacy laws".

Today the paper has named the manager, although I'm not going to because the paper, as then, has provided absolutely no evidence that he actually paid for sex. Even if he did, it seems that his wife couldn't care less, and has defended him.

A couple of wider points: the Sun's initial article resulted in a predictable wave of guessing at just who the manager was, most of them completely wide of the mark. Most fingered was probably Phil Brown, manager of Hull City, who had his Wikipedia page defaced as a result. Second, despite the Sun's claims about being silenced by the privacy aspects of the Human Rights Act there's still no ruling up on referring to the case, and as it's far more interested in the lurid aspects of the story rather than the legal side, we don't learn anything about just how and why it was blocked from naming the manager until now. Lastly, and hilariously, the paper even tries to portray itself as cutting a dash for the women who had been working at the parlour, with a helpful quote provided by the charity Eaves:

"It is very damaging that a public figure could behave like this with seemingly relative impunity.

"We would prefer this issue to be highlighted so that the vulnerability of the women involved is not merely hidden from view.

"The conditions these women work in are often dangerous and, frankly, awful. Many live in fear of their lives and earn little, if any money."

Well, they certainly won't be earning any money now: as a result of the Sun's story the landlord has ended the parlour's tenancy. Presuming that the women working there were vulnerable and in danger, they'll almost certainly be in a worse overall position now. Another massive victory for the Sun's crusade for truth and morality!

Monday, 1 February 2010