HACKGATE DAY 115: Tabloid tumescence as EUCHR throws out Mosley case.

Holly Watt….glorified importuning?

You always know where you are with the EU Court of Human Rights: it always gets it wrong. If ever there was a case showing the need for a law to stop publication of gratuitous and hypocritical kiss-and-tell for money, this was it. But the EUCHR found against the F1 Motor Racing boss.

Sky News could barely contain itself. It was, wrote Nicola Boden, ‘a rare victory in the face of a welter of super-injunctions that have raised fears of a British privacy law by the back door. The press are battling with judges in the UK over the publication of revelations about public figures’ private lives….’.  They certainly are Nicola, and in the case of your lot, with very good reason.

But as the Slog has posted many times before, Hackgate and the issues it raises about privacy go miles beyond Newscorp….and many miles further still beyond Fleet Street. At the Daily Mail some years back – and at the Telegraph more recently – there has been circumstantial evidence that perhaps hacking had been involved in gaining the data for ‘stories’ – aka, poking the tabloid nose into irrelevant peccadilloes of people’s private lives.

So perhaps it is no surprise, then, that in the Daily Telegraph blog columns today, Mary Riddell welcomes this bonkers  finding against Max Mosley. Her piece – even its title is the thoughtless cliche, “Three cheers for the European Court of Human Rights’ – is the sort of biased and narrow-minded bollocks that emerges from those media who simply want unfettered license to write what they want. In this respect, their arguments are every bit as risible and infantile as those of our friends in the investment banking sector.

But it’s not been undiluted fun for the Torygraph today: at long last, the Press Complaints Commission this morning issued a  ruling that it should’ve made months ago: it upholds a complaint lodged last year by the LibDem president, Tim Farron MP, over the paper’s use of subterfuge in stinging Vince Cable, ruling that the stories the Telegraph published as a result did not justify the methods it employed.

At the time, I instinctively felt there was something dishonest and sleazy about the way two young female reporters – one of whom, Holly Watt, is up for Investigative Journalist of the Year – befriended and even flirted with Cable to get him to admit he would love to stuff Rupert Murdoch: wouldn’t we all. Neither seems remotely bothered by the fact that events since have shown Vinny Livewire was absolutely right in his judgment that Newscorp is not a fit and proper organisation to be given control of the BBC’s main televisual competitor. (He was also on the money with his description of bankers as ‘spivs‘, but that’s not important here).

As for Ms Riddell herself, she too appears to have only minimal awareness of the individual liberty issues at stake here. So earlier today, I left this very restrained verdict on her comment threads:

‘I’m sorry Mary, as a blogger I fear draconian privacy laws more than most, but I completely fail to follow your triumphalism regarding this verdict.

Where is the harm in a newspaper being obliged to ring up the subject of a revelation….if one also has laws to stop these ridiculous super-injunctions? What happens now if the super-injunction’s teeth are removed by Parliament (hurrah!) but then because of this CHR ruling, every Dirty Digger in the world can print salacious revelations of no genuine public interest whatsoever?

The first lesson I learned as a journalist was ‘Ring them for a reaction’. They may choose not to take the call, but that’s their lookout. Often I send an email anyway: sometimes you know Mary, the beggars are wrong. Hacks? Wrong? Shurely not.

I venture to suggest that your reaction is being coloured by being a journalist yourself….and perhaps not liking the son of an unpleasant Nazi?

Either way, the NotW piece was another Coulsonesque classic in being (1) Inaccurate (2) prurient (3) hypocritical and (4) utterly irrelevant to Mosley’s ability to do the job: thus, in total, a shameful invasion of privacy.

The Fourth Estate cannot control itself, and there are gargoyles at Westminster just gagging to do it for you. If  such a thing comes to pass, you will only have yourselves to blame.’

What I could’ve done, of course, was suggest something of an agenda here. But then had I done so (as a previous Telegraph thread  The Slog posted in relation to Royal hacking demonstrated admirably) the comment would’ve been censored. I am bound to note that, for a sector constantly being holier than thou about getting at the truth, there are very few newspapers left in Britain that can live with it in their own pages.

Ultimately, there are two very simple points at the core of privacy issues for the media: first, does what you are investigating suggest hypocrisy versus a public stance, demonstrate illegality, or show a potential adverse effect on the victim’s ability to do a job? If it doesn’t, then it’s nothing to do with you. And second, does/did the victim know about your use of covert technology and/or your imminent intention to publish? And if the answer to that is ‘no’, then you have no right to publish.

There is a need to balance an individual’s right to keep harmless preferences private on the one hand, and a newspaper’s right to unmask the baddies on the other. As for Newscorp’s right to publish bullshit about Max Mosley, or Holly Watt’s desire to play footsie in order to get a dysfunctional story out of Vince Cable, I am unmoved by their protests. Those who do not know how to behave must suffer the consequences: be they civil servants awarding themselves unwarranted pension emoluments, MPs fiddling their expenses, bankers paying themselves fat wedges at the public expense, or editors approving clearly illegal information gathering. All must be equal before the law. All must face the consequences.