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.)

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