Monday, 5 March 2012

Corruption. The Agenda to Demonise News International

Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace at the Leveson Inquiry
THERE is an increasing tendency to demonise News International titles for offences which rival titles have been equally guilty of.

For evidence of this, we need look no further than the Daily Mirror.

In his written statement supplied to the Leveson Inquiry, its editor Richard Wallace freely admits paying public officials for stories.

More specifically, prison and hospital staff.

Cross examined on the matter by counsel, he double confirms this.

It was a bold and honest admission.

And yet at no time has he or his reporters suffered the indignity of an early morning knock on the door from a cavalcade of police.

Thankfully, their floorboards haven't been ripped up. No one with a seriously ill wife has suffered the painful sight of seeing her ordered out of bed so police could search beneath her mattress.

Their reputations haven't been ruined. They are not facing jail like their colleagues on the Sun.

And nor should they be.

Why is it that Rebekah Brooks' select committee mention that police had been paid in the past is being played on a loop? And yet the Mirror group's bold admission that they have paid public officials, on oath and in writing, should be ignored? Both are illegal under the terms of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

Is it because the agenda being set by policicians and the media is to demonise News International?

Are the police choosing to ignore this admission and focus only on News International because it won't find Trinity Mirror as accommodating and as willing to betray their own staff? If this is the case, then News International has only itself to blame.

Or would a full assault on the rest of Fleet St, or at least the Mirror titles, have the unpalatable air of a Stalinist purge of the press and all its treasured freedoms?

In both cases, the demonisation of News International is the convenient solution. And that is what appears to be happening.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating any Mirror journalists should have their collars felt.

On Newsnight last Monday, I said the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act is far too heavy a sledgehammer to crack this nut.

Some of our industry's finest professionals are facing three years in jail for carrying out what police will discover was an industry wide practice.

They are not widening their investigation to other titles because they realise it would grow like topsy, involve hundreds more officers and require years to complete. It would be mission impossible.

Even faced with Wallace's public confession, Operation Elvedon continues to take the easy route and turn a blind eye to offences carried out by other newspapers. But justice must be seen to be fair and even handed.

The easy route is the one so shamefully opened by the obsequious Management and Standards Committee at News International. Not because the MSC thinks it is the right thing to do. But to offer mitigation to the FBI as it investigates offences by News Corp in the US under the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act.

So to prevent the corruption infecting News Corp assets in the US, the MSC is busily heaping the corpses of its most loyal servants onto a funeral pyre.

And the police are naturally happy to accept their staff's heads on a plate. Who can blame them?
But there is a danger that Elvedon will begin not only to look heavy handed but also extremely unbalanced in its focus.

Millions of pounds are being spent on exclusively investigating News International. Vital police resources are being channelled away from solving crime which the public would much prefer police to focus their energies on.

There is an alternative.

There could be a temporary amnesty offered to all newspaper staff providing information to the police about breaches of the Prevention of Corruption Act. This amnesty, if temporary, would encourage those who have breached it, to step forward and grasp the opportunity before it runs out.

The police could hand over this evidence to the Leveson Inquiry who would then have the most complete picture available to it about the most controversial practices on Fleet Street.

Providing editors are as frank and honest as Richard Wallace and newspapers give the necessary guarantees to their staff that their jobs will not be jeopardised, I suspect there would be a genuine opening of the Pandora's box.

And the information fed into the Leveson Inquiry would form a valuable impetus for industry reform rather than a tool to demonise and ruin a handful of journalists for doing their editor's bidding.



Richard Wallace's statement and cross-examination.

In his witness statement signed on August 5, 2011 and submitted to the inquiry, Wallace states in paragraph 68:

"To the best of my knowledge, I have never made, authorised or been privy to any payments
to members of the police or those with access to the police, or received payments in kind
from them for stories or information. I am not aware of the Daily Mirror having done so.
This applies also to employees of mobile phone companies and those with access to the
police and mobile phone companies. However, on occasion we have paid public sector
employees (connected with the health and prison services) for information about prisoners
or prison conditions, or conditions in health facilities. There is no set protocol and decisions are made on the merits of each story. I would not be involved directly in the nuts
and bolts of those payments. I only become involved to the extent that my authorisation is
required.
"

Questioned by David Barr, counsel to the inquiry on January 16, Wallace goes on to admit his newspaper has paid workers from the prison and health services.

Q You move then in your witness statement to deal with the payment of external sources and you say that you're not aware of any payments to the police, but on occasion you have paid public sector employees connected with the health and prison services for information about prisoners or prison conditions. There is, in the bundle, an article about the crossbow cannibal --
A. Yes.
Q. -- as your newspaper styled him, Stephen Griffiths, being urged to make a death bed confession. There is a lot of detail in that story which appears to have come from within the prison hospital unit.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Is that an example in which you paid to obtain information from the prison service or from prison service health workers?
A. I don't recall if we paid for any information that contributed to that story.
Q. If that's not a particular example, can we take it from your witness statement that on occasions people working for the prison service have been paid for information?
A. Yes.
Q. Is this confidential information?
A. Yes, probably.
Q. Do you think that that raises the same ethical issues as paying police officers for information or not?
A. No, because by and large I believe there is a public interest in -- if somebody is -- from the hospital is saying, "We have patients lying in the corridor, there's general chaos and here's some pictures, but I'd like some money for that", then you know, I'm quite happy with that because I think there's a strong public interest.
Q. So from a Data Protection Act point of view, you think the answer is that it's in the public interest?
A. Yes.

(It is interesting that Mr Barr questions Wallace on the legality of this from, 'a Data Protection Act point of view'. Had he done so from a, 'Prevention of Corruption Act point of view', it would have been far more relevant as there is no public interest defence allowable.)

* This article has now been followed by the Press Gazette here:

http://blogs.pressgazette.co.uk/wire/8726

And Guido Fawkes here:

http://order-order.com/

(For the avoidance of doubt, I am not calling upon the police to investigate my colleagues on the Mirror. I am suggesting that News International is being demonised for political motives and suggesting an amnesty as the most practical way forward for those being investigated by Operation Elvedon.).

12 comments:

  1. The biggest "crime" being committed here is the waste of millions of pounds of our money on both Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden and on the egomaniacal circus that is the Leveson Inquiry. Of course there should be an amnesty for journalists - on issues of both phone hacking and payments to officials - and the Leveson should be scrapped now, before those fees hit the stratosphere. If the government wants to "inquire" into the ethics, culture and practices of the press it should ask a group of intellectual unpaid volunteers to do it (there are plenty of retired academics and business executives with time on their hands). And whilst I'm about it, please can the media stop calling the "subjects" of phone hacking "victims" - that is an insult to all those who have been true victims of violent crime and war atrocity. Can one really be a "victim" if one doesn't even know one has been? And do the subjects of possible phone hacking really deserve six-figure compensation from NI simply for having the odd phone message listened to?

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    1. Totally agree with the above. How does anyone think the papers get their information if someone somewhere isn't getting rewarded in some way. Same applies to the police and their 'informers'. Same applies in all walks of life from the top down. In no way I agree with phone hacking but the only winners here are the lawyers.
      Total waste of money and whatever happenes there will always be a reward for imformation or favour.

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  2. Neville, another good post but I think your plea to 'carry on as you were' with the amnesty idea is completely unpalatable. If Akers' claim of 'trade craft' was employed to disguise payments to cops, then it's a no-brainer that staff knew full well what they were doing was as bent as the proverbial...
    I do agree NI is being made a sacrificial lamb and all papers have their skeletons (just look at Motorman), it is the continued obfuscation and lies by the company when faced with compelling evidence that has landed it so firmly in the schtuk.
    And it is disingenuous to claim the public is not interested in the scandal. MPs went to jail for fiddling their expenses. Anything less for the most egregious of hacking proponents and brown paper bag stuffed with tenners brigade would be nothing short of a dereliction. Every profession or trade needs its day of reckoning and we must face ours.

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  3. What happens if all 'Bung-Takers' either Police or Public Sector Employees come forward and were offered an amesty for their whistle blowing? This would of course widen the area of investigation into print, broadcating and internet media. This in turn would involve more police investigators and push the costs up to impossible amounts.

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  4. An excellent and timely post. We were talking about this last week and someone actually referred to the 'Leveson Inquiry into News International'. This convinces me that the political and media stitch-up of NI has been so successful and so complete that I don't believe there's is a cat in hell's chance of the 'whole truth' being told and the dominant UK news organisation (the BBC with its 70% reach) being in the slightest bit interested in undermining the postion that it has taken.

    The other intriguing piece of Wallace's evidence was his denial of phone hacking, or at least his body language was as the camera lingered on him after he had responded. You may not have seen this, some broadcasters, naturally, edited this out of their bulletins.

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  5. There could be a temporary amnesty offered to all police officers and other public officials providing information to the police about breaches of the Prevention of Corruption Act by journalists. This amnesty, if temporary, would encourage those who have breached it, to step forward and grasp the opportunity before it runs out.

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  6. So the Mirror Group can come out and admit to paying police etc and nothing happens? David Leigh of The Guardian admits to phone hacking and nothing happens. This is an assault on News International plain and simple. I can’t help wonder if it’s due to The Sun siding with Cameron at the last election which has prompted this…
    I apologise for misspelling ‘inquiry’ in my last post!

    Rene Butler

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  7. Anyone who thinks the other press Mirror, BBC, Guardian etc are going to get away with their dodgy methods think again.

    OK NI is in serious trouble, however it won't be long before the other media gets a taste of its medicine too, and it will come. Anyone with half a brain can see the political nature of this enquiry and the vested interests of the BBC, Mirror and Guardian.

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  8. Your defence of journalists is understandable, and not without merit in certain cases. I think that where it falls down, and the proposal of an amnesty too, is where we are looking at bribing (or threatening) the police - at the highest level - for information that should never be disclosed. Police corruption is quite a different thing to journalistic malpractice. There is even evidence, in my opinion, of NI effectively agreeing with the police how the investigation should proceed. This coupled with the systematic attempts to hide the scope of what had gone on within NI, the Met and extending even, it seems, to local and central government - really takes the "crime" to a new level.

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  9. Tu Quoque is a fallacious form of argument

    wikipedia

    In any case, it is a far more efficient for the law to make an example of the most high-profile offenders, and to go after them first, especially if they have admitted to bribing the police, and not just bribing the average public sector worker.

    It is a far worse problem for a society to have corrupt police than it is any of the other public institutions, for the obvious reason that none of the other corruption can be prosecuted if the police themselves are corrupt.

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  10. Might have to update this article Neville. It's not you doing the deep throat bit is it Neville?

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    Replies
    1. No. My position on giving evidence against my former colleagues in return for immunity from prosecution is well known.

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