Archive for the ‘accountability’ tag

Let the press appoint its own independent investigator

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Nick Davies’ revelations about News Group Newspapers reiterate both the serious public concerns about privacy intrusion highlighted by the Media Standards Trust in its report earlier this year, and the failure of the current system to deal with this effectively.
“No evidence has emerged”, the 2007 Press Complaints Commission (PCC) report on subterfuge and newsgathering stated, “either from the legal proceedings or the Commission’s questions to Mr Myler and Mr Hinton of a conspiracy at the newspaper going beyond Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire to subvert the law and the PCC’s Code of Practice”. “[N]o-one else”, it continued, “at the News of the World knew that Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire were tapping phone messages for stories”. Clive Goodman was, according to the (new) editor of the News of the World, a “rogue exception”.
Davies’ allegations that awareness of phone tapping was both widely known and accepted would, if proved, contradict these findings. During the Goodman inquiry, Davies reports, ‘officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into “thousands” of mobile phones’. ‘The Scotland Yard files included paperwork which revealed that, contrary to News Group’s denial, Mulcaire had provided a recording of the messages on Taylor’s phone to a News of the World journalist who had transcribed them and emailed them to a senior reporter, and that a News of the World executive had offered Mulcaire a substantial bonus for a story specifically related to the intercepted messages’.
At the time of the PCC’s inquiry it stretched credulity to think that a private investigator could have done such a significant amount of information gathering for the newspaper and no-one but Goodman be aware of many of his activities. Yet the inquiry seemed almost designed not to shed further light on the episode. The PCC decided it was beyond its jurisdiction to interview the relevant editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, because he had resigned following Goodman’s conviction. “The Commission had announced that it would make specific inquiries of the editor of the newspaper”, Sir Christopher Meyer, then Chairman of the PCC, said, “but as he [Coulson] has now resigned this is no longer appropriate”. Therefore they had to rely on the knowledge of the new editor, Colin Myler. But since Myler had not been working at the News of the World during the period in question – indeed had been editing a newspaper in New York – it was virtually certain he could not have known anything about what had been happening at the paper.
After speaking to Myler and Hinton, the PCC chose not to extend its interviews to more newspaper editors, but rather to write to them with specific questions. But these were not, as you might expect, to check whether the practices engaged in by Goodman were or were not widespread. Rather they were ‘to inquire about the extent of internal controls and what they [editors] did with regard to educating journalists about the requirements both of the Code and the law’. The PCC reported that it was satisfied by their responses. It then issued further guidelines about newsgathering and subterfuge. That was it. End of story.
Yet, only months earlier, the Information Commissioner had presented the PCC with files of evidence showing that the practices were widespread, and had urged the Commission to conduct a proper investigation. The PCC declined. Frustrated by the press’ lack of action the Information Commission published two reports, ‘What Price Privacy?’ and ‘What Price Privacy Now?’, referencing evidence of widespread illegal data hacking – most of it demonstrably not in the public interest. The Information Commissioner also published a ‘league table’ of newspapers’ trade in confidential personal information. The News of the World did not even come top of the table: the Daily Mail did, with 952 ‘transactions’ (and this from one detective agency, there could well have been others). Yet the Commissioner refrained from publishing the names of the victims or of the journalists involved. Some of the names of the victims are now being revealed by The Guardian’s new allegations.
Davies’ investigation backs up and extends the findings of the Information Commissioner’s inquiry. It confirms what many people thought, and what the Media Standards Trust report said earlier this year: that the current system of press accountability is not effective.
The question is, what to do now? There clearly ought to be proper investigation into the collection of personal information by newspapers – particularly the use of phone tapping. But who should do it? The Press Complaints Commission has already had an opportunity to conduct an inquiry but failed to discover any further wrongdoing. Moreover, its Articles of Association constrain its freedom to act and it has limited resources and personnel. However, any disproportionate action by Parliament or the police would raise understandable – and justifiable – concern about freedom of the press and a journalist’s right to protect the anonymity of their sources.
The press should, therefore, appoint a genuinely independent figure with wide-ranging powers, to conduct a lengthy and detailed investigation. There is precedent for this within the media and elsewhere. The BBC appointed Will Wyatt in the wake of the ‘Queengate’ affair. Wyatt then published a report highly critical of the Corporation. The FA appointed Lord Burns to look into the structure of the Football Association. The government has a long history of finding independent figures to run inquiries including MacPherson, Nolan, and Kelly.
Do this and the press could achieve two things. It could prove to critics of the system of press self-regulation that it is – contrary to popular perception – able to hold the press to account. And, it could help to renew public confidence. Based on a YouGov poll commissioned for our report and published in February, 70% of the public believe there are ‘far too many instances of people’s privacy being invaded by newspaper journalists’. Davies’ revelations will only confirm this impression. An independent investigation could both demonstrate whether this impression is misguided, and provide a basis from which action can be taken.

Written by Martin Moore

July 9th, 2009 at 3:16 pm

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Tony Blair's accountability – follow up

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Following my blog back in June (‘Who is Blair accountable to now?‘) I’ve since learnt (thanks to a piece passed on to me from the Financial Times), that:

- Tony Blair has ‘hired an entire floor of Jerusalem’s historic Colony Hotel for a year at a reported cost of $1.2m’

- The ex-PM currently has about a dozen staff, plus drivers

[from Sue Cameron, FT, 2-10-07)

Who is paying Mr Blair, his staff and all his costs? The quartet apparently. Which of the quartet and how much remains a mystery.

Written by Martin Moore

October 26th, 2007 at 12:17 pm

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