Archive for 2006
Well done the Independent. Who knows how its editor, Simon Kellner, decides what to put on the cover but today’s splash (‘What Freedom of Information’) is welcome (if about a fortnight late). It was on December 14 – a day that should become infamous in the annals of government information management – that Labour released its plans to reduce the scant freedom we currently enjoy to access information. This news battled for coverage with Stevens’ report on Diana, Blair’s interview by the police, Lord Goldsmith’s intervention in the BAE investigation, the closure of 2,500 post offices, and the announcement of new runways at Heathrow and Stansted. It lost.
So it’s very good to see its revival since these plans would, in the words of Michael Smyth of Clifford Chance “emasculate” the media. I hope other media organisations – the BBC included – will put the government under similar pressure to scrap these plans and make the current freedom of information machinery work more effectively.
Perhaps the safety of journalists in armed conflicts is finally moving up the international agenda. Since the bombing of media outlets in (ex) Yugoslavia there has been increased awareness about the conscious targeting of news organisation and their employees. During the initial stages of the Iraq conflict (2003-) the US bombed the offices of Al Jazeera, leading to a short flurry of outrage which soon subsided. Later in the conflict there was discussion about whether journalists should carry arms and/or defend themselves if under attack. Again this dissipated. Yet journalists have since become even more vulnerable. 160 have been killed in Iraq since 2003 (not including unnofficial ‘citizen’ journalists). 110 journalists have been killed worldwide so far this year.
So it’s welcome that a few days ago the United Nations passed Resolution 1738 urging countries to become much more aware of the role of journalists and the need to promote and ensure their safety in conflict situations. Right now it’s rhetoric, but it does send a clear message – not least to democratic States who need to set an example.
Lord Goldsmith and Michael Crimp have now warned the media about its behaviour in Suffolk. Now that a suspect has been charged the risks of influencing a future trial have increased substantially. But as Mark Lawson writes today in the Guardian, the media has already had a detrimental influence, and given we all now have a ‘data footprint’ (i.e. lots of private information readily available online) it is highly unlikely news broadcasters and newspapers will be able to restrain themselves from publishing more information about the suspect and his personal life. But since much of the information is in the public domain already what should the rules on publication be? How should the media deal with suspects in criminal trials (and with their families, friends, colleagues)?
Writing over eighty years ago Walter Lippmann noted how attitudes towards what was private and what wasn’t had changed substantially in his lifetime. ‘The history’ he wrote, ‘of the notion of privacy would be an entertaining tale’ (Public Opinion). We could use just such a tale again now.