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Thursday, October 10, 2013 

The feral press part 2.

Earlier in the week, Chris made a few good points about how us sad sacks tend to exaggerate the influence of the media in general.  It's an argument I'm more inclined to agree with than I was in the past, but I do think that over the longer-term biases against benefit claimants, asylum seekers and immigrants in general have had an impact that has contributed to the policies we're now seeing.  Of special concern is there's evidence that in some instances, the government and media have openly colluded with each other in such campaigns, as Peter Oborne revealed David Blunkett had with the Sun back in 2003.

It's more than reasonable then in light of the events of the last couple of days to wonder if the coalition has informally done a similar deal with the right-wing press over their sudden rage at the Guardian's revelations about GCHQ.  First we had the speech from Andrew Parker that gave them the laughable line that terrorists were being handed gifts via the Snowden files, accompanied by briefings that went even further.  Yesterday these were backed by the spokesman for the prime minister, who said he agreed entirely with Parker's choice of language, while today both Clegg and Cameron have come out and said the Graun is in effect helping terrorists.  The Mail and others meanwhile have further upped the ante by saying the paper "helps Britain's enemies" or is downright traitorous.

Quite apart from how this makes clear just how little it takes for the Mail to view someone or an institution as either hating Britain or guilty of treachery, it provides a quite wonderful contrast with last week.  Then we had the likes of Michael Gove defending the Daily Mail's right to tell lies about a dead man, which if said of someone alive would almost certainly have brought a libel suit, while other Tory politicians cautioned everyone to be mindful of the freedom of the press, as though criticism of the Mail equated to wanting to restrict its right to embarrass itself.  7 days later and we don't just have politicians attacking a newspaper on the grounds that its actions might have helped someone somewhere who wishes us harm, we have other sections of the press joining in, without so much as a thought to publish and be damned, as they have so often argued for in the past.

Criticising the Guardian on the basis that it hasn't properly thought through what its revelations could lead to is one thing.  To bring treachery, helping terrorists or putting lives at risk into it is quite another.  It's as though we've never been through these kind of controversies before: every single time the security services and government have shrieked about national security and lives being put at risk, and every single time they either fail to produce a single piece of evidence to back up their claims or they quietly drop them.  The prosecution against Chelsea Manning failed to provide one example of someone coming to harm due to the release of the files she leaked, and that was despite Wikileaks putting up the raw files for download, against the wishes of the media organisations they had worked with.  The claim by the prosecution counsel quoted in the Telegraph that agents have had to move due to the Snowden files isn't just ridiculous, it's an insult to our intelligence.

Despite having repeated the Guardian's articles, if we're to believe the Mail, Times and Telegraph, they now don't think the public have the right to know exactly what their intelligence agencies are up to.  They shouldn't have been told they were attempting to "master the internet", tapping into fibre optic cables and sucking up every single piece of data they can, that they're trying to break internet encryption, with all the potential consequences that could have, that they've been working hand in glove with the biggest internet companies behind the scenes, despite the denials of both in the past, and that all of this has been deemed lawful on the basis of a certificate a minister signs every six months, to focus on just the most notable things we've learned.  Indeed, according to the Mail all this has helped our enemies, while others quoted with approval suggest the paper should be prosecuted.

As John Kampfner points out, in the past the Mail has been (rightly) outraged over certain abuses by the security services.  That this time round it's taken the side of the government can't just be explained by anger at the Graun not agreeing with them on press regulation; it's that this is a government of a blue rather than a red hue.  It might not like Cameron much, but last week emphasised how it can expect nothing from a Labour government under Ed Miliband.  That their part in this campaign against the Graun betrays their readers' right to know seemingly doesn't matter, but then again, it never has in the past either.

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