Thursday, July 21, 2011

Offer an amnesty to all journalists involved in past hacking. Clear the air

Wahey. The fragrant Princess Leia, (aka Louise Mensch MP, on the Select Committee that grilled Murdoch) ReTweets and approves the Green Party aim that hacking hacks should be offered an amnesty. She says :

":  We will get to truth quicker if journos given an amnesty window to fess up all hacking deeds. <~ GREAT idea". 

This is one of a few initiatives that Green Party Conference agreed in September 09.

The proposal is that journalists on any newspaper - indeed, any UK journalist - should be offered a window to come forward and confess any illegal hacking activities that they have been party to, without running the risk of criminal prosecution. After the window is closed, any journalist convicted of phone hacking will feel the full penalty of the law.

The idea here is of course to get the full truth, without having to drag reluctant witnesses to the several inquiries that have already been set up, and once there, to drag the truth from their unwilling lips. This would make the process of getting information long drawn out and therefore expensive.

George Osborne (who recommended Coulson to Cameron) could well come in and close the inquiries down on the grounds that the economy cannot afford them. An amnesty will stop George doing this.

So give them an amnesty, and let them sing like canaries. Clearly there is a widespread culture in our press of phone hacking. Motorman found that the Mail, Mirror and the People were all ahead of the NoTW in the hacking stakes. Even Women's Own does it. (go to p9).

Better that they all fess up and sing, rather than clam up and ask to have their solicitor hold their hand.

This amnesty is soundly based on Mandela's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It will supply a wealth of information, much of which is likely to point to the complicity of senior management and executives. This will work against the executives' game, which is as ever, to dump the blame on lowly operatives.

So, the amnesty idea has a lot going for it. What are the demerits?

One tweeter said what about extending it to the bankers? Maybe, maybe not. Let's focus on the matter in hand, not charge off in all directions at once.

Another tweeter wants them all to go to jail. The punitive response. I responded to him : Jail was too good for 'em, they should all be flogged. [irony alert]

It is ironic that primitive News of the World responses are operative in some who are opposed to what the NoW did.

He replied that I am acting like a friend of journalists. If only he knew. There are at least 35 posts on this blog that are critical of journalists and the media. I have no reason to love or protect our media, having been Speaker for the Green Party in the 90s, and experienced the distortions that they regularly applied to us. 

A third objection is that it will not address the problem of journos not wanting to speak out because of the effect on their careers. This is a variant of the never-mind-the-dog-poo-what-about-the-litter? general objection to everything. We cannot make everything good. But a legal amnesty (especially if the carrot of amnesty is followed up by the stick of prosecution for journos who do not use the amnesty) will still motivate. The likelihood is that so many will come forward that there will be safety in numbers. There will be no comeback on truth tellers, because the high and mighty who ordered or pressed them to hack will either be in jail or sitting under a foetid pile of disgrace.

The amnesty proposal is the best way forward.

I will write to my MP.


Mark said...

Brilliant idea.

We are often hugely cynical when public inquiries are launched, but Mr Cameron did say that Lord Leveson's would be "as robust as possible, one that can get to the truth fastest and get to work the quickest, and one that commands the full confidence of the public".

An amnesty would be a powerful and imaginative way of backing up these fine sentiments.

john said...

What about their sources? Not sure how I'd feel about the journalists walking away having betrayed their 'partners' in crime.

DocRichard said...

Hi John
D'you mean the private investigators who did the work for the journalists?

I see your point. The heart of the proposal is pragmatic - to facilitate the journos who were swimming in a culture of hacking to come clean, to be cooperative rather than retentive witnesses. The amnesty has to be restricted (as others have questioned, re: managers and executives.)

Private investigators run their own risks. They know the law, and the risks they take, and will happily (I guess) accept responsibility for their actions (since they are mainly ex-policemen).

Their sentences can be less if they act as cooperative witnesses. This is the reasonable principle that Ken Clarke tried to bring in recently, only to be shouted down by the right wing press.

It all comes down to balancing pragmatism and punishment. We may feel punitive to the journos. But with so many in the dock, pragmatism wins out over just punishment.