Guido: Met’s failure to investigate #Hackgate is a ‘private matter’…

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

  • Guido is right to highlight the Guardian’s hypcorisy given its guide to ethical standards.

    Let’s be clear, the information being leaked from Operation Weeting was not being used to break information that would not have been released. The Guardian simply wanted to be first to report a story. There is no public interest defence for what they have been doing because publishing confidential information about arrests that are ‘yet to be made’ has the capacity to pervert the course of justice.

    The question of whether money changed hands is an important one, but it is not the only one.

    There are also questions about whether and how the Guardian approached the officer who has been arrested, and how they appealed to him to leak information from the investigation. We need to be told if personal relationships and connections were abused leading to a misplaced sense of obligation on the officer to leak information. Some may see it as a ridiculous conspiracy theory, but this matter would take on a new dimension if there were links between the officer and journalist via involvement with organisations such as Common Purpose.

    Like it or not the matter of rank hypocrisy is valid in this case. How can the Guardian make a big issue of a police officer on the Milly Dowler investigation leaking information to a journalist, yet solicit leaked information from Operation Weeting in the same way and for no reason other than being ahead of other news media that were waiting for press releases about arrests and the progress of the investigation?

    As you say Mick, it is perfectly feasible for a journalist to ethically pursue a story of substantial public interest. But it would be fallacious to suggest announcing the Greg Miskiw or John Desborough arrests, for example, qualify as such. The Guardian’s actions were entirely self serving.

    The Guardian were refusing to wait for the information from the press office for no more noble an objective than beating others news media to the punch. And until we have more details and understand the relationships between the Guardian journos and the arrested officer, we cannot say if he was an ‘independent contact’. No one should lose sight of the fact the officer had a legal and moral obligation not to put the Weeting investigation at risk of being undermined. Leaking information to the Guardian risked perverting the course of justice.

    That was the reason I made an issue of this on my blog and on Twitter, and raised the matter directly with the Metropolitan Police. Happily action has finally been taken.

  • I think Mr Fealtys piece is excellent.
    There is of course a debate to be had about Public Interest and interesting the Public. But in the current mood no journalist should rely on that distinction being understood in a court of justice and/or court of public opinion.
    Is hacking, blagging, bribing or leaking……only wrong and illegal if there is no “Public Interest”. Cases cant be judged individually and anyway who makes the Judgement?.

    To use a sporting example, football is a contact sport. Stuff happens, pushing and shoving in the penalty area. We complain that theres too much but would not want to see a referee punish every single offence. It would make the game unwatchable.
    But the blame should go to those who have mis-used penalty box fouling.

    Likewise Journalism………and its dealings with police, politicians, business, sport……is a contact sport. Journalists and we the Public they serve….. NEED a bit of information that ay not have come via strictly ethical or lleagal means……the private investigator, the blogger, the disgruntled civil servant, the legitimate whistleblower, the ambitious careerist backbencher, the assistant groundsman at a Premiership football club, the policeman with a score to settle, or old fashioned chequebook journalism.

    The problem is that Journalism is now limited. We have all relied on a certain ambiguity. The excesses of which we are now aware will deal with the Ambiguity and not necessarily in a way that we may like.
    But it is no good blaming the Courts, the Legislators, or even the Public Mood which craved stories about XFactor contestants and has turned against the Media over Milly Dowler.
    I think Journalism has to look to itself.
    Not just the bad journalists.
    Not just those who happily endorsed the “rogue reporter” theory.
    (and frankly “rogue reporter” was just as eagerly siezed upon by politicians, police and respectable journalists hoping that it would all go away).
    And indeed that MIGHT have been the best option. There was I think the realisation that Goodman/Mulcair was a shot across the bows……….and that the Media was already cleaning up its act.
    Maybe its one of those “apalling vistas” where the road we now MUST be on is even worse than the road that we were on.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I can’t take this seriously. He’s spent two years solidly spinning the “nothing to see here, move on” line, now he’s furiously trying to find a non-NI angle. Anyone would think he was angling for a job.

    “Ordinarily, I’m a fan.”

    No kidding.

  • Surely Operation Weeting leaked to the Guardian to stop the investigation being squashed by senior ranks influenced by the David Cameron and News International.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, if you have evidence for such, maybe David.

  • Might I propose a more straightforward explanation of the Fawkes scenario?

    Once upon a time it was Paul Staines, with his unadulterated muck-raking, his libertarian viewpoint, and a remarkable ability to relate to his “window-lickers” — though with a hotline to Tory HQ.

    More recently it has been Harry Cole, the former “Tory Bear”, with a far more partisan line.