THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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July 2011

Our enemies are circling

Phone hacking scandal: enemies of free press are circling - Telegraph.

Andrew Gilligan, on the Daily Telegraph website, nails the very point I have been pursuing here:

...hateful as the behaviour of some journalists has been, we may now face something even worse. For many in power, or previously in power, the News of the World's crimes are a God-given opening to diminish one of the greatest checks on that power: the media...
...The "journalistic culture" Campbell has spent the past 10 years complaining about is not newspapers that have invaded people's privacy – but newspapers that have been too unkind to important public servants such as himself.

A carefully-timed campaign this week launched missiles of elderly data at the public with shiny new warheads in the shape of the Milly Dowler/military widows revelations. I would love to know how long those warheads were stockpiled before launch. The aim of this attack was clearly to destroy News International's chances of challenging the BBC News political line. On that, the dust has yet to settle. I fear the collateral damage to press freedom and to political accountability will soon become clear.

Rupert Murdoch is a business genius?

When the News of the World (closure of) is the news |

As Rob comments on the linked story over at Samizdata:

Great opportunity to cut staffing costs and still have a Sunday paper, while keeping all the advertisers. How would Murdoch have sacked all those people without a squeal from the left without this convenient problem?

The quaint British model of having a separate staff and overhead to publish differently-branded Sunday versions of a newspaper is costly and of no particular benefit to the proprietors. Will any of the other owners be able to get the Labour Party, BBC and trade unions to applaud job-destroying restructuring? I doubt it.

I am sure Mr Murdoch doesn't welcome this situation, but he's already found one way to take advantage of it. I take my hat off to him even as I ponder what his next "win" might be. How else is one to interpret his throwing Andy Coulson to the wolves but as a rattle of the sabre in David Cameron's direction?

General elections boost viewing and circulation figures for news media no end. Hmm.

Politically impartial television?

BBC News - Question Time - Join the Question Time audience.

Follow the link to see what it takes to join the Question Time (#bbcqt) audience. Interesting questionnaire, eh? Maybe I should apply to be in the next London audience, suppress my principles and fill in the form dishonestly? What do you think? Which boxes should I tick (and what questions should I pretend I am going to ask) in order to get the chance to express a free market viewpoint behind enemy lines?

In a well-populated sewer

David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends – Telegraph Blogs.

If, as Peter Oborne asserts, David Cameron is "in the sewer" because of his relationship with Murdoch's minions, then he is not alone. That metaphorical sewer must be as capacious as the metaphorical closet from which so many millions of homosexuals have emerged in recent decades.

Before Cameron was Rupert and Rebekah's buddy, they had others. As The Independent's diarist commented last January (defending the non-criminal naivety of Gordon Brown);

Gordon attended the wedding which allowed Rebekah Wade to re-style herself as Mrs Brooks, while Mr Tony famously arrived at a Christmas party, at Elisabeth Murdoch's home, on that same Rebekah's arm.

The organised hypocrisy that is the Labour Party continues on its corrupt and vicious way.

The gentlemen of the press are the natural enemies of politicians. Some of them having misbehaved, all of them (not least those at The Telegraph who exposed Westminster's corrupt expenses culture) can now expect a vicious settling of scores. I don't care much about the benighted hacks themselves. I care still less about the political fallout, as each side of the House attempts to fix the other with guilt by association. A plague on all their houses. My only concern about this affair is that it provides perfect breeding conditions for bad laws that undermine press freedom and our right as citizens to know.

As obscure backbenchers, too insignificant to have been allowed at the News International trough, preen vengefully in synthetic moral outrage, please just remember this. Your telephone calls and emails are monitored at will and with no recourse on your part by the very entity they will offer as the solution to such misbehaviour.

Some members of the press have let you down, no question. However freedom of the press remains your ally in the endless struggle against your most dangerous enemy; the British state.

German politicians make war on truth

Europe declares war on rating agencies - Telegraph.

Do Wolfgang Schauble and Heiner Flassbeck understand what they are saying? They want to "break", "dissolve" or "ban from rating countries" the independent agencies investors rely upon to rate investment risk.

Is this what Chancellor Merkel meant when she asserted the primacy of politics over economics?

If independent sources of information are suppressed, you arrogant fools, investors will not simply assume that your assessments of risk are correct. They will find other reliable data or they will assume the worst. Frankly, a politician furiously demanding the suppression of independent data sources is the best evidence yet that the EU bail-outs will not work.

Independent rating agencies, though they have erred (as all humans - with the apparent self-exception of German politicians - must) add to the overall value of financial assets by making risks more transparent and allowing comparison of rival investments on a consistent basis. Risks which are obscure must be priced on a worst case basis, diminishing value.

Germany's politicians are out of order here, and dangerously so. Not least when they indulge in such racial epithets as "anglo-saxon" to attack their perceived enemies. As a group, German politicians are ill-advised to raise the spectre of national stereotype.

h/t Samizdata, which makes the chilling point, in this context, that so far from being doomsayers, the rating agencies have a track record of undue optimism. Think about that, Wolfgang, as you bark your deluded orders to your imagined army.

Cameron's over-inquiring mind

Cameron backs phone hacking probe | Reuters.

As m'learned friend Wiggy (aka @_millymoo) explains, there are numerous offences to be investigated in the context of unauthorised access to another's mobile phone account. Those should now be investigated by the police and prosecuted vigorously by the Crown Prosecution Service.

A 'public inquiry' or even (God help us) 'inquiries', as mooted by the Prime Minister, will just provide opportunities for politicians to score points off each other. It will further infantilise a debate that is already being conducted, not least by Milliband Minor at PMQs today, at the level of an afternoon TV chat show.

Worst of all, the distinguished member of 'the Great and the Good" who chairs the inquiry will feel the need to immortalise him/herself by coming up with "deliverables" to be implemented by government. The most likely deliverables are bad laws that will interfere with press freedom.

Pace Mr Milliband it's no mere 'technicality' that a political inquiry can do nothing useful (to the extent any of them ever do) until police investigations - and any court cases resulting from them - are over. But as Wiggy points out;

The Met obviously cannot investigate itself, and any inquiry has to question why the [previous] investigations were so poor; whether (as has been alleged) officers were being paid for information by News of the World, and whether there is any nexus between the two.

So rather than launch a pointless, expensive public inquiry, why doesn't the PM suggest to the Home Secretary that the Chief Constable of another force, unsullied by these suspicions of bribery, takes over the criminal investigation? That could then lead promptly to the only 'public inquiry' that really matters; a criminal trial or trials.

It is time for justice, not political circus. All the names being bandied about are innocent until they are proven guilty. However, it seems clear that a largeish group of individuals, including some journalists, at least one editor, a private investigator and an unknown number of policemen are long overdue in the dock to account for their behaviours. There is more at stake here now than journalistic ethics.

Michael White says something sensible; Shock!

Phone-hacking scandal: Not even the News of the World is all bad | Michael White | Politics |

Michael White agrees with me on something, it seems. As his paper is, with the BBC, conducting the trial by media prosecution of News International, this is a particular surprise. He writes, loftily;

...the tabloids serve a useful purpose in exposing wrongdoing, sometimes in ways that hapless and high-minded broadsheets, let alone lofty broadcasters, wouldn't know how to start.

I realise it's annoying, but it's true. Would the Financial Times, an admirable newspaper in so many ways, have been able to expose bookmaker-inspired corruption inside the Pakistani cricket team, as the Screws did? No, I don't think so.

Do they behave disgracefully? Yes, although it's hardly a secret and it is hypocritical for all sorts of people to pretend that the treatment of Milly Dowler's family has knocked the scales from their eyes. "We had no idea that sort of thing went on." Oh yes you did. And you carried on buying their newspapers and chuckling over the contents...

Quite. Of course, being Michael White, he then reverts to talking trash.

The tragedy is that marketisation of the media since the 80s – part of a wider marketisation of the economy – combined with the new, highly invasive technologies proved too intoxicating a mix for some.

It's clear that the News International culture – certainly at the Sun and the NoW – allowed some to ignore the law or assume they could break it with no public interest defence to justify their excesses.

Firstly, you insulting little man, most business people manage to compete and survive without "ignoring the law". So can newspapermen. Secondly, being private businesses of - in many cases - great age, our news media are in no need of 'marketisation.' Apart, of course, from the BBC and The Guardian itself. The latter lacks the readership and revenues to survive unaided in a free market. Were it not for the fact that the state consistently (and revealingly) advertises for employees in Britain's most left-wing national newspaper, The Guardian would be deader than the deadest of dead ducks. If not deader.

When David Cameron finally gets around to disintermediating government recruitment by setting up a simple website, not only will he cut government spending. He will also put Michael White and his leftist rag truly back in the market. It can't be too soon for me. God knows no-one needs an education in the life-giving effects of competition more than White and his cadre of posh leftie buffoons.

Join us in Stony Stratford

Stub Out The Stony Stratford Smoking Ban.

I used to visit Stony Stratford for a drink from time to time when I worked in Milton Keynes (of which New Town it forms an ancient part). Its old coaching inns, on the route from London to Ireland, saw the exchange of many travellers' tall tales. Their names, The Cock and The Bull, gave us (so locals claim) the "cock and bull story."

The latest news from Stony is unfortunately not cock and bull, at least in that sense. A power-crazed local councillor wants it to be the first town in Britain to ban smoking in its streets and public spaces. Dissatisfied with driving smokers out of doors (against the will of the owners of the doors) to pursue their legal vice, he wants them confined to their homes.


With the support of local business people, libertarian blogger Dick Puddlecote plans a protest in the town at 12.30pm on July 16th, three days before the illiberal zealot in question argues his case to the local council. I shall take the opportunity to give Vittoria (whose engine rarely gets beyond idling now I live in London) a run to an old haunt. I may even spin her around a few of the under-utilised roundabouts in Milton Keynes that locals joke represent the marks of the town planners' coffee-rings on the original drawings.

I hope you will consider joining me and that, if you tweet or blog, you will encourage your followers and readers to do likewise. If you are a Facebooker, you can follow the main link, register your intention to be there and then invite all your Facebook friends. After all, it's probably well past time you met some of them in meatspace (again?) If you are not on Facebook, you can contact Dick directly at his blog (just click the 'contact' button beneath the masthead to email him).

I have never been a cigarette smoker, but I cannot abide the continuing demonisation of fellow-citizens pursuing a legal activity. If you feel the same, smoker or not, please consider making the effort.

h/t Pete Jackson for the logo

Journalistic ethics

News of the World: bereaved relatives of 7/7 victims 'had phones hacked' - Telegraph.

I was tempted to leave the space beneath my heading blank, save for the link, but that would hardly have been fair. It's wrong except in jest (and this is no laughing matter) to condemn a whole group at one stroke. That's true whether the group comprises bankers, lawyers, journalists or even politicians. I will not descend to Andrew Marr's level.

There are ethical journalists. Of course there are. Some of them are even ethical at the occasional cost of their political loyalties. I am sure for example that Carl Bernstein would have been just as dogged in pursuit of a Democrat President. And that Pravda on the Potomac's publisher, Katharine Graham, would have been just as supportive of his work. Give me some time and I will give you a British example. While I am thinking, please feel free to suggest names in the comments.

When next I read or hear a journalist's denunciation of the ethics of the City of London however, I shall remember this story. I understand and share the indignation being expressed across the nation, but lack enthusiasm for the measures proposed. I fear that, as always, the wrong 'uns have spoiled it for the rest of us and that that the outcome of this affair will serve dark forces. For example, as I write, Ed Milliband at PMQs is in full cry, not for journalistic probity, but for political revenge and political advantage. It's not as disgusting as what the News of the World did, but his exploitation of public concern for his own advantage is still pretty sickening. And this is just the beginning.

Those calling for a  boycott of the News of the World don't read it. Those who read it, won't care; at least not until the story acquires a salacious slant - preferably involving a naughty vicar and a sexy bacon-slicer from the Co-op. Those calling for the a boycott of News International in its entirety have, I suspect, an agenda that has little to do with journalistic ethics. Tony Blair's best mate Rupert Murdoch has it in his own hands to cleanse his tabloid stables and he is well hard enough to do it quickly and well. Having followed his career for many years, I imagine he is waiting only to be sure that when he strikes, he does not need to strike again, thus dragging the story out. As a newspaper man of many decades standing, he has nothing to learn from Alistair Campbell about killing an embarrassing story. There are plenty of journalists to replace anyone he chooses to fire and his enemies are already so numerous that he need not fear to add a few embittered ex-employees to their number.

Crimes have been committed here, as have civil wrongs. There must be prosecutions and I am sure there will be civil suits. Those who are liable (whether personally or vicariously) should be held to criminal and financial account. But I sincerely hope there will be no new laws to limit the freedom of the press and no wasteful public enquiries. What was done was already illegal. The "something" that everyone is baying "must be done" is already provided by law. A public enquiry (which the PM sadly seemed to concede today) will be yet another waste of public funds. Now is one of those recurring times to remember that laws are evils in themselves. New ones should only be made when they are lesser evils.

As to the ethical question, of course journalists should have standards. Of course they should be prepared to stand by them, even at the risk of not being able to pay their mortgages. I make no excuses for the conduct of the News of the World's journalists and editors in this case. I merely observe (as is equally true of The Guardian's readers who are defending a self-confessed liar because he lied to make their heroes look good) that the morals of a newspaper are those of its readers. You simply don't sell newspapers by telling your readers what they don't want to hear. Of the professional media outlets, only the BBC, compulsorily funded even by those who despise it, has the privilege to set its own line.

Britain's yellow press is as it is because of Britain's moral bankruptcy. We should look to ourselves, and the choices we make each day - both as to the newspapers we read and the television programmes we view - and then acknowledge these bastard journalists as our offspring.