Strange piece from Guido yesterday. Ordinarily, I’m a fan. Despite his reputation for bumptiousness and arrogance, I generally find his judgement to be precise (and he has some impressive scalps (not all of them Labour) swinging from his blogger’s belt). But I don’t ‘get’ what he clearly wants the rest of us to see here.
For instance, he accuses the Guardian editor of, erm, not going through the Met’s Press Bureau in breaking its #Hackgate stories; which is odd coming from a blogger who has in the past powerfully debunked the buddy buddy system of the lobby. But the strangest assertion is this:
“Guardian issued a lofty and updated guide to ethical standards for intruding into private matters, such as a police investigation.”
Surely you don’t have to be reporting on the slippery vagaries of Northern Irish politics to understand that examination of the Met’s failure to investigate the Mulcaire papers is a matter of public interest?
There is only one question worth asking here regarding the Guardian’s role: did money change hands? So far there’s not the faintest hint in Guido’s reporting that it did.
In the UK journalists do not enjoy special status. There are few, if any, explicit constitutional protections. If they break the law, they can go to jail: if the will exists to bring about and win a prosecution. It matters not whether they work for Murdoch or the Scott Trust.
But it is clear from this story that the Metropolitan police have been cutting a lot of British journalists a hell of a lot of slack regarding some blatantly unethical practices.
Clive Goodman was unfortunate enough to be caught hacking the phone of a Royal Prince and had the book thrown at him for something he believed he had had his employer’s sanction.
If we have suddenly (magically) shifted into a new zero tolerance paradigm then Guardian journos in particular ought to be very careful. Not only because a lot of powerful folk are now gunning for them, but, paradoxically with the Met now in arrest-anything-that-moves mode, it is perfectly feasible for a journalist to ethically pursue a story of substantial public interest, and find the full rigour the law coming down upon them in consequence.
In the circumstances, refusing to be managed by the Met’s press office and choosing instead to work their own independent contacts inside the organisation (as any good investigative blogger, like Guido himself, might) looks more like good sense than an excuse for slapping even a metaphorical ‘wanted’ poster on the editor.
That’s the trouble with these damned ‘circular firing squads’. You never know who’s going to get hit next.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty