Dead Men Left

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Galloway: still innocent

You're not singing any more (etc.)

The wannabe neo-cons out there are quite irked about this. After months and months of carping and sniping at the BBC about Andrew Gilligan and the corporation's supposed anti-war bias, they've suddenly become very concerned about press freedom:

The matter of law was not whether the allegations in the Telegraph were true, the Telegraph admitted they had no way of proving they were true only that there was some evidence supporting them.

The matter of law was whether the Telegraph could publish on a defence of public interest. The judge has decided they could not and drawn the law very narrowly.

This means in the future newspapers must be confident they can prove as true anything they publish about senior politicians, and in cases where that is impossible (i.e. where it involves foreign countries, countries that have ceased to exist, legal or medical confidence, overwhelming cost) they cannot publish.

Not a peep of these concerns - as far as I can tell - troubled any of the pro-war "left" during the Hutton Inquiry. (Corrections invited.) Lord Hutton mounted a far more vigorous attack on the principle of qualified privilege than Mr Justice Eady has. The BBC's defence of Gilligan's (eminently reasonable) three-second phrase on the government's lies over Iraq, spoken once by Gilligan at an early hour on a weekday morning, was that the space to report reasonable suppositions was needed to preserve press freedom, and was a freedom long held in law.

Hutton mercilessly attacked them for this. The Telegraph's sin was far, far greater: the headline "Saddam's Little Helper", the insinuations repeated over page after page, the lack of opportunity for Galloway to respond, and so on.

The Telegraph blew a microscopic scrap of ill-assorted, unreliable evidence which they have subsequently been unable to defend into a full-blown character assasination. The BBC took a widely-held supposition in the intelligence services and turned it into a microscopic soundbite on the graveyard shift of a radio news programme. Given all this, the judge was quite right to rest his legal case on the gross imbalance of the reporting, going far beyond a fair representation of an unfounded supposition.

Lenin, meanwhile, picks up on Johann Hari's alternative to reporting indefensible evidence as full-blown truth, which is simply to make stuff up.

(Wild, crazy prediction time: Galloway to win the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow for Respect at the next general election.)