Police questioning needed

Alexander Pannett 6.45am

The shock of the phone hacking scandal has twisted into a new Hydra’s head with the revelation that Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Met police, had hired Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor known as “The Wolfman”, as a PR consultant in 2009.  This was at a time of much public acclaim for the police to re-open inquiries into the alleged hacking.  Sir Paul’s resignation yesterday will not be enough to silence the serious questions that have been raised over the Met’s recent conduct.

This scandal is only the latest in a catalogue of mishaps that arose under Sir Paul Stephenson’s stewardship that saw the police become far too cosy with the both the previous Labour administration and the media.  The police were very happy to bite for their political masters when allegations of Home Office leaks saw Damien Green, the then Shadow Immigration Minister, arrested and his offices in the Houses of Parliament searched.  At the time, it was unprecedented for an MP to be arrested and his office searched by police in connection with a leak inquiry.

 The police were also strong advocates of the insidious attempt by Labour to extend detention to ninety days for terrorist suspects.  Andy Hayman, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, wrote to the Home Secretary in 2005 to express his view that 90 days was required.  At the time it was even alleged that the police and Labour were working closely together as senior Chief Constables wished to keep their jobs after plans to cut the number of Constabularies in the United Kingdom from 43 down to around 9.

Now that the Faustian pact between the media, Labour and the police has been exposed, it is highly disturbing to consider that such momentous assualts on British liberty and Parliamentary democracy may not have been driven by concern for the safety of British citizens but by the need to satisfy a tabloid populist agenda.  Like the three blind witches of Macbeth, these three culprits had but one eye to see the world and unfortunately that eye belonged to Murdoch.

The Murdoch press has been allowed to shape the lexicon of law and order.  It has corrupted and encouraged the police to forget that they serve the people.  Laws gain their authority not from obedience but from the recognition of that authority by the people.  If the agents of the law are not transparent or accountable, then how can the people recognise what they stand for.  From dubious kettling tactics to the nefarious shooting of an innocent on a tube, it is time the police re-affirmed both its independence and its obligation to uphold the liberties and democratic values that underpin our society.  The police must clean out its tainted parts and put more emphasis on observance of the law rather than its Kafkaesque enforcement.

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Blogging vs. Journalism

Neil Dobson 4.32pm

 As Rupert Murdoch’s municipal news fortress remains under siege at the hands of the army of the easily righteous, there is no shortage of volunteers ready to offer up their critiques of his organisation and of the wider state of journalism in this country. Issues surrounding the transparency, decency and depth of writing in our press will no doubt be debated long after the current battle lines have been redrawn, even if Murdoch is to be left lying in the rubble of his former stronghold like some Priamic dolt, sacrificed on the altar of his own family’s follies.

The wrongs and wrongs of News International’s conduct are both well known and barely open to debate, but one of the more interesting elements coming out of the myriad of panel shows’ waxing lyrical has been the relative importance of mainstream news media in our near and immediate future. One widely permeating view appears to be that news media and traditional journalism are about to be usurped by new media and its concomitant chum, blogging. Even if such a view is overstated by traditionalists in an attempt to avoid the inevitable inquiry as to how huge news conglomerates wield undue political power, the notion still throws up some interesting questions.

The mild ludicrousness of criticising the meaningful role of such blogging in a blog is hardly lost on me, but much like a blinkered horse trying to romp home in the National, I shall carry on in spite of my apparent handicap.

One of the assumed benefits of blogging is the perception that it offers access of commentary to all; a seeming panacea to the concerns raised by the Murdoch news monopoly. There is also an implied assumption that the independence of such bloggers can avoid the inherent bias of journalists who earn their salt for newspapers with specific political leanings and are beholden to tyrannical owners and shareholder pressure.

Firstly, whilst it is true that anyone with a pc and some bandwith can publish a blog, the number of people who read it is a different matter. One likes to think that in such a free form system cream naturally rises, but one look at Justin Bieber’s hit count should dispel that notion. The fact is that with any new media format there is a limited period of time where total output is relatively small and almost anyone can have their views picked up and popularised with relative ease. However, as with all new industries, as they mature, the barriers to success – if not entry – increase rapidly and the already established paragons tend to prosper.

Secondly, whilst in one sense bloggers may have total ‘independence’, a passing glance at the unparalleled vitriol found in blogs and message boards alike should give us pause. What value do we really get from an independence which tends towards unchecked hyperbole and rampant subjectivism? We may have concerns about the organisations for which they work, but there’s little doubt that the majority of journalists are driven by a general desire to write and report, rather than the single issue polemic which inspires so many bloggers to log on in the cold dark hours of the night and add to the virtual canon.

In short, News International might fall, the nature of news conglomerates and their sway in politics may need review, but the notion that the future of our free press lies in the hands of the world’s bloggers rather than a robust, transparent and, I’ll say it, relatively well paid, news media is simply wrong-headed. If the idea was a horse, I’d be erecting a tent and reaching for my shotgun.

And if you think this article is a load of old hoof, you shouldn’t be surprised – go buy a proper newspaper.

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PMQs Review: Cameron addresses the scandal

Jack Blackburn 3.10pm

By all accounts, David Cameron was visibly rattled at PMQs today, and photographs show that the last week has aged him somewhat. His personal connections to the “Chipping Norton Set”, and his hiring of Andy Coulson as his Director of Communications have dragged him deeper into this scandal than he would have liked. Ed Miliband, who, as Nik Darlington pointed out in his Total Politics column, has no such connections “Mainly through his own fault of being uninteresting”, and he is attempting to capitalise on this.

Today, David Cameron was again challenged about his personal connections at PMQs, and he responded well to these low-grade attacks. He strikingly distanced himself from Coulson, and again said that his close friend Rebekah Brooks’ resignation, if offered, should have been accepted. It has taken him a while, but he has finally put his colours to the mast.

The fact is that whilst the Prime Minister may have been politically unwise in hiring Coulson, the man remained able and intelligent and was capable of doing well in that job. Coulson was asked about his connection to these nefarious activities by Cameron, and he denied all knowledge. It was a matter of trust. That trust having been misplaced does not remove a Bambi-esque element from the PM’s version of events. But it is to be reiterated that he certainly did no wrong personally and has been lied to more directly than any member of the public.

Cameron highlighted this in his response: “Let me say once more, if I was lied to, if the police was lied to, if the Select Committee was lied to, it would be a matter of deep regret and a matter for criminal prosecution.”

Ultimately, Coulson is a sideshow in all of this. He is merely the symptom, not the underlying cause. He should be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted with the full force of the law, but as far as Parliament and the Government goes, they have to investigate the scandal as a whole, and not the subplots.

Ed Miliband is pursuing these subplots and it shows a lack of real leadership. Ed has had a good week, but if he thinks he has become the voice of the people, he has another thing coming.

In a late twist, Murdoch has withdrawn the bid for BskyB, thus ridding this afternoon’s parliamentary debate of all potency. Given that the motion is now outdated, Parliament will now have to simply concur with News International’s actions.

So, as the day wears on, we have a Prime Minister who has finally taken the plunge and is seemingly rising from a low point and a Leader of the Opposition whose only moment of success is drawing to a close, and may once again be without any wind in his sails. The summer has come at a good moment for Dave, but one feels that Ed is longing for autumn.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

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