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Telegraph writer attacks ‘spooky’ Lib Dem ‘posse’ for critical comments

Cristina Odone, writing on Telegraph.co.uk, faced a commenter backlash when she wrote an article labelling Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris, “Dr Death”.

Along with many perturbed commenters, Evan Harris challenged Odone’s factual evidence.

Odone’s next step? To write a comment piece claiming she was “spooked” by the reaction, arguing “there’s no room in the Lib-Labs’ intolerant culture for discussion”.

Many commenters, however, give a disclaimer that they are not Liberal Democrat.

We recommend reading both pieces and sets of comments in full to judge the affair for yourself.

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Reuters Great Debate: Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg – a social media interview

July 13th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Journalism.co.uk is taking part in a Reuters event today – an interview with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, where all questions put to the MP have been solicited through and posted to social media sites.

Video questions for the leader have been left on 12seconds, while tweets tagged #askclegg are also being picked up. A new system for monitoring Twitter conversations, Newsdeck, is also being trialled – which we’ll be reporting back on.

The interview should kick off from 1pm (BST) – with a livestream below:

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Event: Reuters hosts social media Q&A with Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg – take part!

On Monday (July 13) Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will take part in a public question and answer session with a difference.

Clegg will respond to questions solicited via a range of social media sites in a livestreamed event – something that the politician himself has described as changing ‘the way we do politics’.

The event is the latest in a series of sessions subjecting high-profile figures in the world of politics and business to social media scrutiny – but previous participants, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Bob Zoellick, used the q&a session as a follow-up to a speech. Clegg will just be responding to questions from the public and online audience.

Journalism.co.uk is going to co-host part of the proceedings – it’s a great opportunity for us to see how Reuters runs these events and why and how they are opening it up/distributing it in this way.

How to get involved:
According to Reuters, nothing is off limits. If you want to put a question to Clegg before or during the event, you can:

Clegg has posed some questions of his own on 12 Seconds; or perhaps you’d like to challenge his statements on the war in Afghanistan?

How to follow the event:
There will be a live video stream of the event on the Journalism.co.uk Editors’ blog and on the Reuter’s hosting page. You can also follow some of the event on the Reuters New Editors Twitter channel.

Journalism.co.uk will attempt to aggregate some of the tweets around the event as well as featuring coverage on @journalism_live.

Any other suggestions of how you’d like us to cover it – please chip in.

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Were these MPs’ expenses stories misleading? The screen grabs

As reported on the main site ["Telegraph 'didn't tell any lies but was selective in its facts' - says Lib Dem Voice site editor"] several MPs, or others on their behalf, have voiced various concerns in regards to claims about their expenses in the Daily Telegraph, and subsequently reproduced in other stories by other media organisations.

Here are the screen grabs of the Telegraph and other news organisations’ headlines, in the order featured in the article, with links to the complaints. If you wish to add any examples, your own thoughts or information about the questions raised, please leave them in the comments below, or email Judith at journalism.co.uk. As stated in the original article, a spokesman from the Telegraph said: “The Daily Telegraph does not discuss individual cases.”

Update: the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has confirmed that it has not received any complaints from MPs over stories about expenses to date. Generally, third parties cannot complain on the first party’s behalf.

1. Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire
Issues raised on Quaequam blog by James Graham [he discloses that he is a friend of Swinson's] and other Liberal Democrat blogs, e.g. Mark Reckons.

Swinson denies claiming for eyeliner or other cosmetics and dusters but said they were included on the same receipt as items she did claim for.

  • Telegraph.co.uk May 21, 2009. The online version reproduced below; the print version of the headline read: ‘Tooth flosser, eyeliner and 29p dusters for the makeover queen’

swinson1

bbcswinson

mailswinson


2. Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives and the Isles of Scilly
Issues raised on the Liberal Democrat Voice website in a piece by Alix Mortimer and also by George in media interviews: the MP claims that he owns a third of the flat in question, it is for his use, and is only used by his daughter occasionally.

andrewgeorge

3. Alan Reid, Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll & Bute
In the same piece (see above) on the Liberal Democrat Voice website, Mortimer claims that unfair criticisms were made of Reid’s B&B expenses: she argues that the size of his Scottish constituency, and the number of islands within it, more than justifies the money spent. Other pro-Lib Dem bloggers, Andrew Reeves and Stephen Glenn make similar points.

alanreid

4. Andrew Turner, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight
The VentnorBlog reproduces Turner’s response to the Telegraph the day before publication. It shows that Turner denied claiming for life coaching for his girlfriend, stating that it was for another member of staff in his office. Turner also responds to the allegations on his site. Issues raised on OUuseful.info.

andrewturner1

5. Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham
Gloucestershiretoday.co.uk has published an article reporting that the Telegraph apologised to Horwood for stating that he had claimed mortgage interest in parliamentary expenses.

martinhorwood

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It’s old-fashioned journalism from the bunker and there’s more to come, says Telegraph

June 9th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

So who wants the films rights to MPs’ expenses? It’s on a far less grave subject, but maybe it will be like the 9/11 films; the aftermath still permeating society, when the scripts are sold and production started. The next general election may not even have happened. Gordon Brown could still be Prime Minister. Just.

Or perhaps (Sir? ‘Lord’ is less likely given the target) Will Lewis’ memoirs will have been on sale for a while first, before the 21st century’s equivalent of ‘All the President’s Men’ is released, to allow the dust to settle.

Whichever way, this archetypal British plot is the stuff of a (Working Title, maybe) director’s dream; even if the journalism itself is markedly not Watergate, as most hardened investigative hacks and other journalists at rival titles are quick to point out. The gate of significance in this story is the one at the end of the second home’s garden path. No Deep Throat, just Deep Pockets.

A small group of privileged Telegraph journalists has been embedded from early till late in what’s apparently known as ‘the bunker’ – a room separate from the main newsroom, away from the ‘hub and spokes’, away from the Twitterfall graphic projected on the wall – sifting through the details of thousands upon thousands of supermarket, DIY store and restaurant receipts and other documents.

It’s got all the ingredients for the heroic hack flick: the furtive deal with the middle man and the original whistleblower, for an undisclosed sum (no doubt to be revealed in Lewis’ or possibly Ben Brogan’s memoirs), at one point rumoured to be £300,000.

While this whole expose – the ‘Expenses Files’ as the Telegraph first called it – is most definitely built on a film-like fantasy, it is grounded in career-breaking political change, and last night’s audience at the Frontline Club for a debate on the paper’s handling of the stories, got a little insight into the process; a rare chance, as the paper has mainly been very quiet on just how it’s done it.

The ‘consequences were massively in the public interest,’ argued the Telegraph’s assistant editor, Andrew Pierce, who popped up on BBC Breakfast news this morning as well. “It was brilliant, brilliant old fashioned journalism (…) at its finest.

“It’s so exciting – you were aware you had stuff, it was going to change things, and boy it has…

“Of course it’s been terrific for the circulation – we’re a newspaper and we’re there to make sales.”

According to Pierce, 240 broadsheet pages covering the story have been published so far.

“So far we’ve published one correction: we got a house mixed up. I’d say in terms of journalism that ain’t a bad ratio.”

That was disputed by one member of last night’s panel, Stephen Tall, editor-at-large for the Liberal Democrat Voice website; he’s unlikely to get a cameo as it would rather spoil the plot.

Tall’s complaint was that three stories on Liberal Democrats have been misrepresented in separate stories and received insufficient apology; something Journalism.co.uk will follow up on elsewhere, once we’ve moved on from this romanticised big screen analogy.

Back to the glory: Pierce described how journalists from around the world had been to peek at the unfolding scene of action – they’ve had camera crews from Turkey, Thailand and China, in for visits, he said.

There’s a ‘sense of astonishment’, he added. ‘They thought quaint old Britain’, the mother of all democracies, ‘was squeaky clean.’

The story, Pierce claimed, ‘has reverberated all the way around the world’. “We actually are going to get this sorted out. Were MPs really able to set their own pay levels? Their own expenses levels? And it was all tax free.”

‘Old-fashioned journalism lives on’ has become the war cry of the Telegraph and its champions, in defence of the manner in which it acquired and dealt with the data.

For raw blogging it is not. Any CAR is kept secret in-house. Sharing the process? Pah! This is as far away from a Jarvian vision of journalism built-in-beta as you can imagine. While other news operations – the Telegraph’s own included – increasingly open up the inner workings (former Telegraph editor Martin Newland’s team at The National in Abu Dhabi tweeted live from a significant meeting yesterday morning) not a social media peep comes from the bunker till the paper arrives back from the printers.

There might be little teasers on the site with which to taunt their rivals, but for the full meaty, pictorial evidence it’s paper first, online second. Rivals, Pierce said, have to ‘wait for the second edition before they rip it off’.

Nobody has it confirmed how much they officially coughed up for the story – ‘we don’t use the words bought or paid,’ said Pierce. Though last night’s host, Guardian blogger and journalism professor Roy Greenslade, twice slipped in a speculative reference to £75,000, Pierce refused to be drawn.

“Fleet Street has existed for years on leaks,” said Pierce, as justification. “We will stick to our guns (…) and not discuss whether money changed hands.”

Enter the hard done by heroine of the piece: Heather Brooke. Much lauded and widely respected freedom of information campaigner, she and other journalists – one from the Sunday Telegraph (Ben Leapman); one from the Times (Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas) – did the mind-numbingly boring hours of Freedom of Information requests and tedious legal battles over several years, only to lose the scoop to a chequebook.

Will she get a part in the government-destroyed-by-dodgy-expenses film? If Independent editor, Roger Alton, was casting she certainly would. In fact, she deserves a damehood, he declared last night.

A member of the audience asked whether Alton would have paid for the information himself if he had had the chance. Unlike his last foray to the Frontline, the Independent editor knew he was being filmed this time. A pause for ethical reflection before he answered, then:

“We’ve barely got enough money to cover a football match for Queens Park Rangers. Take a wild guess! Any journalist would cut off their left arm and pickle it in balsamic vinegar!”

That’s a yes then, we presume.

Apparently, Sun editor Rebekah Wade turned it down after being told there wasn’t much chance of a Jacqui Smith style porn revelation or a cabinet resignation. “She asked ‘would this bring down a cabinet minster?’ And she was told it wouldn’t,” claimed Pierce. How wrong the data tout(s) were about their own stuff.

More embarrassing for the Telegraph, though Pierce said he knew nothing of it, was Brooke’s revelation that the Sunday Telegraph had refused to back their man financially, a case which Brooke, Leapman and Ungoed-Thomas finally won in the High Court – the judge ordered disclosure of all receipts and claims of the 14 MPs in original requests, along with the addresses of their second homes.

Update: Ben Leapman responds on Jon Slattery’s blog here: “I never asked my employer to pay for a lawyer because I took the view that journalists ought, in principle, be able to go to FoI tribunals themselves without the barrier of having to pay. I also took the view, probably rather arrogantly, that in this emerging field of law I was perfectly capable of putting the arguments directly without a lawyer.” Leapman was represented by solicitor advocate Simon McKay ‘very ably for no fee’ in the High Court, he writes.

Publication of all MPs’ expense claims are now forthcoming, after redaction (‘a posh word for tippexing out,’ said Pierce.) In July 2008, ‘parliament went against the court by exempting some information – MPs’ addresses – from disclosure,’ the Guardian reported.

Now, for a name for our blockbuster. ‘The Month Before Redaction‘? ‘Bunker on Buckingham Palace Road‘? ‘646 Expense Forms and a Re-shuffle‘? I can predict a more likely tag line at least, the now all too familiar: ‘They said they acted within the rules’.

The ending to this expenses epic is not yet known, but there won’t be many happy endings in Parliament. Pierce promises more stories, with no firm end date, but unsurprisingly, didn’t give any hint of what lies ahead. Could an even bigger scoop be on its way? Who’s left?

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A triumph for journalism? MPs’ expenses debate at the Frontline Club 7.30pm GMT

If you can’t make it in person, follow the MPs’ expenses debate at London’s Frontline Club at 7.30pm GMT here (Monday June 8):


Have the stories been a triumph of journalism or the chequebook? Guardian blogger and journalism professor Roy Greenslade chairs the discussion. From the Frontline Blog:

“With each new tranche of revelations about MPs’ expenses the Daily Telegraph has continued to put on sales and gained kudos for its good old fashioned journalistic scoop. With a story that has shaken Westminster to its foundations the Daily Telegraph has been able to set the news agenda, releasing its revelations ahead of the 10pm news bulletins. The daily diet of scoops is said to have boosted newspaper sales by tens of thousands and web traffic has also increased and no doubt will, in financial terms at least, justify the cost of obtaining the information. But what does the expenses scandal tell us about journalism today?

“On the panel we have Andrew Pierce, assistant editor at The Daily Telegraph, Stephen Tall, editor at large with the Liberal Democrat Voice, the journalist Heather Brooke, author of ‘Your Right to Know’ and Frontline favourte Roger Alton, the editor of The Independent.”

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Media Guardian: BBC rejects claims that £10m staff flight bill is frivolous

September 3rd, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick

The BBC has rejected Liberal Democrat accusations that it was frivolous in spending over £10m on flights last year.

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