Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Press watchdog backs liars' charter for MPs

The Press Complaints Commission has shot itself in both feet by supporting what is tantamount to a liars’ charter for politicians today.
In a further attack on Press freedom, Britain’s self-regulating PCC has ruled in favour of a LibDem complaint that leading figures in the party were targeted by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters posing as constituents at local surgeries - and secretly recorded criticising Coalition government policy.
It is bad enough that our judges have sided with the undeserving rich who are allowed super injunctions to hide their misdemeanours but now MPs are being guaranteed freedom from exposure should they choose to lie to constituents.
As the Telegraph's editor Tony Gallagher said the ruling "has alarming implications for the future of investigative journalism."
High-minded claptrap can be expected from other newspapers, as with Roy Greenslade’s backing for the PCC decision in The Guardian. This is a bit rich from the paper that supported the WikiLeaks revelations.
By hanging on to Julian Assange’s coat-tails The Guardian was able to expose the gap between what US diplomats were saying in public and private.
Of course the Daily Telegraph is not free of cant either. Editor Gallagher denies the PCC’s main objection that his newspaper embarked on a “fishing expedition” with no fixed goal that could be said to be in the public interest.
Gallagher chose not to publish his undercover reporters’ biggest catch – Vince Cable’s recorded opposition to Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of BSkyB – because it was not in the Telegraph’s interest for the Business secretary to lose his job.
As it happened the BBC’s Robert Peston ran the story and Cable was removed from overseeing the Sky deal.
If you visit your MP at a surgery evening and they express concern, say, for the closure of a local hospital’s A & E department you have every right to be angry by their silence on the matter once back in Parliament.
It would be better if your MP dropped the schmooze and told you that there was no money for A & E; you wouldn’t be happy but at least you would have been treated honestly. In the latter example, the MP would have nothing to fear from being recorded, secretly or not.
The PCC decision today gives MPs more freedom to break their word at a time when faith in our politicians is at its lowest ebb.


  1. When th police do this type of thing it is called "entrapment". If it is not an official press/media interview, the subject should always be told that there is a microphone/camera present, especially if the "interviewers"/journalists present themselves as something other than interviewers/journalists, ie in the Cable case as members of his constituency.

    It is fair to subject the press to scrutiny for its motives. A truly free, democratic and fair press, exercising due self control, will always find legitimate and open ways to expose the hypocrisy of politicians.

    As for press freedom, the British press gets plenty, with very little serious sanction. The public still has not got over the mobile tapping scandal. In other words weak regulation plus an anything goes, devil may care attitude, and ultimately lack of respect for its subjects and its readers leads to these kinds of abuses. [Let the journalists from The Telegraph try interviewing President Assad of Syria next time].

  2. Interesting read

  3. Clause 10 [in "report"} above, 'clandestine devices and subterfuges', says it all. It needs to be implemented to the letter.

  4. Undercover is undercover; but it's not in the rulebook.

  5. Clause 10 of the PCC's Code also states that newspapers “engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge…can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means”. In my book the DT ticks the boxes. GC

  6. The Commissions findings, which you quote in full in the original blog, consider that point and others in very fine detail and rule against The Telegraph; and its findings are a very good example of the objectivity of British justice at its best.

    Also GC, consider this. Some might argue that the relationship in an MP's "Surgery" between an MP and his/her constituent is as 'sacred' as that between doctor and patient or clergyman/woman and congregant. The Commission indicates that the MP's surgery situation must not be compromised.
    If the interviewers had been real constituents, then their rights would also have been compromised if the contents of the interview had been made known. In the light of the phone hacking scandal, who would bet against some sections of the press/media, finding a way of fixing up somewhere in the surgery permanent microphones and even permanent hidden cameras?

    The phone hacking scandal has demonstrated that the press/media have/had often become cavalier about their methods of investigation and about what is or isn't in the public interest; so much so in fact, that its/their actions can often legitimately be interpreted as being actually AGAINST the public interest to the point of criminality and criminal prosecution, with individuals actually being 'banged up' and a communications advisor to the PM himself being forced to resign.

    The Telegraph's evidence indicates that they have/had given serious consideration as to the legitimacy of their procedures and argued well that their journalists' actions were ethical, legitimate and acceptable; but in the event the Commission ruled that they had crossed a bridge too far.

  7. MPs and celebrities are not just 'fair game' for press attention; they too are also members of the public, so that when the line is crossed and they become 'victims' of that press attention, then that too is in the public interest.

  8. Meanwhile 2 newspapers are being charged with contempt regarding their reporting of the arrest of a man in a Bristol murder case, who himself was never charged with the murder.


What do you think? GC