We should all be worried about the Sun journos' arrest

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 13 February 2012 in Diary
A free press is a sacred right. Dan Hodges wants to know why we aren't more concerned about the arrest of five members of that supposedly free press here in the UK

This morning I logged onto the website of the internationally renowned human rights campaign group Amnesty International UK. They have an entire section devoted to “Censorship and Free Speech”. It is headed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 
and to seek, receive and impart information through any media 
and regardless of frontiers”. They had several articles focusing on the suppression of the press in countries ranging from Zimbabwe to Russia, Syria to Saudi Arabia. But strangely, a series of dawn raids on over two dozen journalists of the UK’s largest selling daily newspaper, and the formal arrest of five of them, did not appear to warrant a mention.

I then tried the website of that other well respected British human rights campaign group, Liberty. They also have an entire section on “Free Speech and Protest”. It is headed by the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free”. But again, the arrest of five members of that supposedly free press here in the UK was not worthy of comment.

Finally, I phoned the out of hours press numbers of both organisations, but received only voicemail messages. A word of warning. Under no account allow your human rights to be violated outside of office hours.

Eventually I received a call from Amnesty. Had they, or were they planning, to make any statement on The Sun arrests? “I don’t know actually,” was the response. “Let me check and get back to you.” “I’ll find out” was the response I finally received from Liberty’s press officer.

Thanks. Could you both hurry? Because the country you’re based in is slowly, but surely, going insane.

On Saturday the British state began arresting journalists allegedly for making payments of a corrupt nature to the police and Crown employees but no one knows precisely what, if any, information those who were arrested had obtained. No charge has yet been laid and those arrested have been released on bail. But surely it would be unfair to assume that over the years, amongst the celebrity tittle-tattle, there was no stuff relating to botched or skewed police investigations or police corruption, incompetence in supplying troops in warzones, etc. These are all issues that have regularly been covered by The Sun, and every other newspaper, on the basis of information obtained from police and other sources who break confidences.

It’s important to stress that these arrests were not for hacking or blagging, but for journalists allegedly making corrupt payments – but at this stage the details are unclear. Actually, if Trevor Kavanagh’s piece in today’s Sun is accurate, journalists have been also been questioned over whether they bought police officers lunch, or even drinks.

Journalistic investigations that have benefited from inside information from the police include exposing the flaws in the initial Stephen Lawrence inquiry, and those which helped to overturn the erroneous conviction of the Guildford four and the Birmingham six.

Imagine for a second if, during the campaign to free those wrongly convicted, or to expose the grotesque failings of the Lawrence investigation, the newspapers supporting those campaigns had been raided, and the journalists working on those campaigns dragged in for questioning on how they obtained their information. There would have, rightly, been a national outcry. And, surely, organisations like Amnesty and Liberty would have been leading the charge.

But not today. Today, with one or two honorable exceptions, the liberal establishment is silent. A free press is a sacred right. So long as we, the liberal intelligentsia, approve of what those papers are writing.

On Saturday I expressed my concern at the arrests on Twitter. The response was staggering. If police officers want to pass on information in the public interest they should do so without payment, I was told. Well, yes, in an ideal world they should. But we don’t live in an ideal world, which is why we need investigative journalism in the first place. And if that journalism is dependent on those whose motives are pure as the driven snow then we’re going to be reading some very thin newspapers.

A second argument was that receiving payments was itself corrupt, and therefore the practice encouraged, rather than exposed, wrong-doing. So on that basis it would be wrong to pay a police officer to provide evidence of his colleagues taking pay-offs from drug-dealers, because that payment in itself would be immoral. With the practical result we would have lots of unhappy journalists but lots more very happy coke dealers.

The final argument was one of high principle. “They’ve broken the law. It’s as simple as that.” OK, let’s bang them up then. And presumably we should also then send the cops round to Yvette Cooper, Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin, David Willets, Vernon Coaker, Boris Johnson, Alastair Darling, Andy Burnham and Harriet Harman, all of whom have admitted smoking illegal substances.

The Leveson inquiry long ago passed beyond parody. But the ongoing police investigations are no laughing matter. The liberal left will laugh, of course; “Look at the Tory press getting its comeuppance”. But one day soon, that laughing will stop. Because anyone who thinks this is going to end with papers and organisations hostile to the progressive cause need their heads examining. Make no mistake. It won’t be long before the knock comes at our door. And when they do, there’ll be nobody standing in their way.

Just before I finished this piece Amnesty International finally got back. “Sorry,” they said, “this isn’t one for us”. OK. So if not you, who?

Tags: Free press, Free Speech, News International, The sun

Share this page


Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.