MPs and ‘media assassins’: an update on the phone hacking saga

Adam Price, former Plaid Cymru MP and a member of the culture committee which previously investigated phone hacking allegations, spoke to Channel 4 recently about why the culture committee did not force Rebekah Brooks to give evidence, using the Seargent-At-Arms or “nuclear option”, as he refers to it.

We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us – which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that’s part of the reason we didn’t do it… in retrospect I think that’s regrettable. It’s important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn’t. Politicians aren’t above the law but neither are journalists, including Rupert Murdoch’s bovver boys with biros.

In a statement to Channel 4 News, the committee chairman John Whittingdale said there was “no suggestion” the news organisation would target members’ private lives.

When it was suggested by Labour members to force Rebekah Brooks to attend, I recall a conversation with Adam Price in which the repercussions for members’ personal lives were mentioned. But that had no bearing on my own decision to oppose bringing in the Serjeant at Arms. Nor do I have any reason to think there was any suggestion that News International would target our private lives.

West Bromwich MP Tom Watson, who spoke at last Thursday’s Commons debate in support of a motion for the standards and privileges committee to investigate fresh allegations of phone-hacking, told the House that politicians are “afraid” of standing up to media “assassins”.

Watson said this weekend that he regretted his part in a story in the Sun suggesting Kate Adie should be sacked in 2001. In an interview on Radio 4, he said he was was “ashamed” of his role in the story, which quoted him as saying Adie should “seriously consider her position”.

I have done things that I regret with journalists. I’ll tell you the worst (…) I stood up a Sun story that Kate Adie had jeopardised our troops in Iran/Iraq with her reporting because I was asked to do so and I felt very guilty about it afterwards. I didn’t tell lies. I was asked by the Sun did I think her report imperilled the safety of our troops. It was a judgment call – I think I used the words ‘she should consider her position’ which was weasel words from a politician that I feel ashamed of.

So I’m part of the problem as well, I am holding my hands up. But nevertheless there is a problem and we need to get to the bottom of it. People whose phones were hacked need to know. We have a toxic media culture that we cannot allow to continue.

Adie was cleared of blame by the BBC and she later accepted damages for libel from the newspaper.

Also speaking on Radio 4, former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Sir Christopher Meyer said that MPs have an “love-hate” relationship with the media.

If we are going to talk about people being in cahoots with journalists, look no further than the House of Commons. This is why the thing has got so convoluted. It is because MPs enjoy an intimate, often toxic, love-hate relationship with journalism. They need journalists in order to leak and to brief; they hate journalists when they start looking into their affairs.

(…) They live together in a deadly embrace and I really have to ask the question whether MPs shouldn’t actually recuse themselves from passing judgment on journalism simply because the interests are so conflicted.

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  1. Pingback: Phone-hacking on Dispatches: a good documentary but not enough new evidence | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

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