Stephen Franks blogs his thoughts on the media own goal currently in progress with the investigations and committee deliberations surrounding the leaking of the Kitteridge report.
[T]he short-sighted journalists baying for privilege from investigation even incidentally will have strengthened the trends and the climate that will some day justify shutting them out of their most vital public function – that is searching out, by fair means or foul, and making public, the embarrassing and significant information that Parliament’s denizens would most wish to keep secret.
In other words, by inventing new categories of privacy intrusion, this time to make sacred the email traffic data of Ministers who do not want it known, and their own, they bring forward the day when it will be a sufficient justification to exclude them, or to criminalise their publication of unwelcome disclosures, simply because they are not officially supposed to have the information, or have failed to apply formally through the proper channels. That seems to be the gist of the accusations against Mr Henry, Mr Thorn and others) on the basis that the release of information was not wanted by its subjects. People who live by discovering and publishing truths that the subjects would rather keep secret or ‘manage’, score a massive own goal in the long term by asserting essentially that privacy is a sufficient reason to block disclosure.
I am aware of the rationalisation and fine rhetoric seeking constitutional protection of privilege for journalists. Their arguments should not extend to protecting them from the kind of disclosure that they themselves rely upon. It would be outrageous for MPs to assert that journalists be forbidden from reporting on who is seen to visit MP offices. Sure, an electronic record of visits is more convenient than staking out doors and offices. But the swipe card records are just a technologically efficient form of observation. Any of Ms Vance’s fellow journalists should have been free to report on her visits to Minister Dunne’s office around the critical time that the Kitteridge Report was leaked, if they had seen them.
I do not argue that they should necessarily have had automatic access to the swipe card records, but it is not at all obvious that even such transparency is any more remarkable than the OIA disclosure now imposed on most written public officer communication. Read more »