Monday, 29 October 2007

Independent or what?

Stephen Glover in the Independent has another take on the departure of Observer editor Roger Alton and, perhaps more interestingly, criticism of the Indy itself for apparently reprinting a Foreign Office briefing note on Europe as a story.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Purnell caught out

The Sunday Telegraph seems to have Culture Secretary James Purnell bang to rights over the faked foto.

Straw the Madam

In the Observer, Henry Porter is sceptical about Brown's proposals to increase our rights and freedoms.
Putting Jack Straw in charge of the consultation process on a bill of rights is like turning over a campaign against prostitution to the head of an escort agency. Such a man can only see a bill of rights as political tool and a way of further entrenching the powers of government and the executive.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The opposite of journalism

It's interesting to see the way rival newspapers have covered Nick Davies' allegation that the Observer's former political editor Kamal Ahmed helped write the Februay 2003 (really) dodgy dossier. See the Standard website.

The Sunday Times includes the claim in a story by its arts editor, "War Stirs Left's backstabbers", while the Independent also tells the story as a feud between the pro-war Observer and the (slightly) anti-war Guardian.

I've known about these claims for a while and, while I don't really know if they are true, my experience of Ahmed is that he was one of the journalists most open to being fed a story during the Campbell era. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he returned the favour.

An unattributed denial

Patrick Wintour shows what great contacts he still has with former members of the old regime. Reporting John Yates' claims that No 10 failed to co-operate with his cash for honours enquiry, Wintour tells us:
A senior No 10 political official at the time rebutted Mr Yates' comments last night saying: "This claim is preposterous. Throughout Number 10 civil servants, special advisers and Labour party staff cooperated at every stage of this inquiry. There are no grounds for Yates to make this statement."
That clears that up then. Wintour offers us an anonymous denial with no proof.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Blair not dead yet

As the Mail serialises another book on Blair by Blairite sycophant Anthony Seldon, it seems Blairites haven't entirely gone away. Mail on Sunday political editor Simon Walters allows a Brownite a chance at an unattributed "free pop" that nevertheless seems to sum up where the Blairites are coming from:
"Mr Blair's people cannot accept that they have lost power," said one. "These stories are a crude attempt to settle scores with no regard to the effect it has on the Government."
The Telegraph latches on the story without bothering to credit the Mail. It has a non-story within the non-story:

[Seldon] says that Mr Brown may have been involved in ensuring that Jack Dromey, a senior trade unionist and treasurer of the Labour party, complained publicly about the cash-for-honours affair – which caused Mr Blair huge political damage.

Dr Seldon writes: “A story reached Blair a few days later of a plan to remove him from office by effectively bankrupting the party and encouraging donors to say they would only be prepared to give money to get it back into the black if Brown was leader.”

“Blair himself never accused Brown of complicity but did tell him how outrageous he thought the timing of Dromey’s comments was. 'Well nothing to with me,” was reportedly Brown’s reply. 'Then again,’ sighs one No 10 aide, 'it’s never anything to do with him, is it?”

Meanwhile undead Blairite John Rentoul gives us more unsubstantiated drivel:
Within minutes of Sir Menzies Campbell's resignation on Monday, the question had moved on to the choice of Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne as his replacement, and how either would affect the balance of advantage between Labour and the Conservatives. It was the wrong question. The significance of Sir Menzies's sudden departure is that it tells us this: David Cameron already has the edge.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Bending the truth

It was said in court today that the Met police manipulated the composite picture they used to show how similar Jean Charles de Menezes looked to the attempted July 21 suicide bomber Hussain Osman.

The Met's spin on the case has always been that it was a case of mistaken identity. The BBC continues to help them out with this:
Brazilian Mr de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head on a train at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July 2005, after being wrongly identified as Osman.
But the court has already heard that de Menezes was never identified as Osman:
"By comparing the photo of Jean Charles with a photo of Hussain Osman, you may understand why some of the officers at least thought Jean Charles might be Osman," said Ms Montgomery. "None of them said he was definitely Osman."

Friday, 12 October 2007

Pasquill and Straw in the dock

Foreign Office official Derek Pasquill was in court yesterday, charged with six alleged offences of embarrassing the government under the Official Secrets Act. Richard Norton-Taylor covers the story in the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Martin Bright has a real go at Jack Straw, over this and other issues.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Index on FOIA

Unfinished business, my article for Index on Censorship, about the dossier and the Freedom of Information Act, is now online.

Blowing the whistle

There has been limited press coverage over the decision to charge Derek Pasquill, said to be the source of various stories by Martin Bright, first in the Observer and then in the New Statesman, under the Official Secrets Act.

Interestingly, both the Times and the Guardian (online) reported it as a news story (today and yesterday respectively), although Pasquill was charged on 27 September and this was cited in an Observer piece on Sunday by Henry Porter.

The New Statesman's editor John Kampfner made a strong statement on the NS website, calling the episode "an abuse of state power".

Monday, 8 October 2007

Can I help you?

The BBC reports that:
Complaints about Labour's use of automated phone calls are being looked into by the information commissioner.

The method - dubbed "robocalling" in the US - greets people with a recorded message asking them to press a number to indicate their preferred party.

And that:

The Lib Dems say the calls are illegal and want the commissioner to be more "assertive" in investigating them.

Anyone who wants the commissioner to be more assertive about anything is going to be disappointed.

Out of a spin

As the inquest continues into the non-story that was the non-election, the Guardian's story from Patrick Wintour and others provides some fascinating insights into how people in the government would like to spin things.

For me, the most interesting bit of the story is that:
Some cabinet members privately regard Mr Brown's visit to Baghdad last week as a presentational disaster, which gave the impression the prime minister was playing politics with British troops.
I think it is quite legitimate to write about what ministers are saying "privately" if that is different from what the official line.

By contrast, it's not clear whose views are contained in this next bit,
Ed Balls, another member of the Brown inner circle, also shifted against a poll in the wake of evidence that the Tory promise to cut inheritance tax had, for the moment, made the Conservatives look like the party of aspiration and change.
Why is this qualified, "for the moment"? It does seem fairly clear that Labour wants to admit that the inheritance tax proposal went down well, believing that they can neutralise it, either by attacking its credibility or by doing something similar. But whose view is being set out here? It starts as an apparently factual statement that Balls changed his mind but then appears to mutate into something that sets out his spin on the short-term nature of the Tories' gains.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

It was the spin wot dunnit

Most people now agree that Gordon Brown's trip to Iraq and the (false) claim that a further 1000 troops are to come come backfired badly. Brown appears to be so used to rehashing the same announcement that he walked into this one. It was hysterically funny watching and listening to MoD minister Bob Ainsworth trying not to admit that some of the troops are already home.

In the Times , Camilla Cavendish (yes, I think she is a real person) puts a very Tory spin on Brown's speech but I think in some ways she's right. It's very cheap to say:
36 hours later almost every journalist I spoke to had privately come to see it as barren and dishonest.
But then she does make a good point that:
cramming the media together in these conference centres always ups the chances of similar headlines
I would suggest that the collective view of the press pack shouldn't really matter, but of course it does.

Monday, 1 October 2007

They don't get it

The BBC is still reporting that the police officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes mistook him for a suicide bomber. In fact,
"By comparing the photo of Jean Charles with a photo of Hussain Osman, you may understand why some of the officers at least thought Jean Charles might be Osman," said Ms Montgomery. "None of them said he was definitely Osman."
The Guardian still doesn't get it:
An Old Bailey jury was told that the 27-year-old, who had been mistaken for a suicide bomber, was gunned down by two police officers in a "shocking and catastrophic error" that could have been avoided.

More contradictions on de Menezes

The Guardian is also getting confused about de Menezes. It says:
An Old Bailey jury was told how the 27-year-old, who had been mistaken for a suicide bomber, was gunned down by two police officers as a result of a "shocking and catastrophic error" that could have been avoided.
But in fact:
"Some of the officers watching him thought he might be a suspected suicide bomber who lived in the same block, others did not," said Ms Montgomery.
So "might be" is as close as anyone is said to have come to identifying de Menezes as a suspected suicide bomber (from the day before). Both the BBC and the Guardian are on very dodgy legal ground here.

shum mistake

The BBC continues to report that the police who shot Jean Charles de Menezes "mistook him for a suicide bomber". This highly ambiguous phrase repeatedly appears in media coverage of the case and is the likely reason why the police who shot de Menezes were not prosecuted for something more serious than breaching his health and safety.

The phrase carries the implication that the police thought at the time that de Menezes was about to carry out a suicide attack, in spite of the fact that he clearly wasn't and they clearly couldn't have done. It is unlikely that a jury would convict police who killed someone who was about to let off a bomb. It is more likely that a jury would convict police who killed someone who tried to let off a bomb yesterday but we will have to wait for the evidence in the trial to see whether the police make any kind of identification, mistaken or otherwise.

A tory story

In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Will Woodward show how to tell a Tory story from a Labour point of view. The headline is "Labour attacks Cameron on 'unaffordable' tax cuts", but most of the story is about the Tories and the possibility of an autumn election. Your have to read down to paragraph 14 (I think) to find anything to justify the headline and intro.

This Times cartoon sums up the phoney war over a possible autumn election.