David Cameron, Human Rights and the Daily Mail

There is a reason that I tend to focus on the Daily Mail – when I know they are not alone in wallowing in terrible journalism – and the reason is that the Daily Mail seems to wield significant political influence. This morning David Cameron said the following on the Andrew Marr show:

Prime Minister David Cameron said he agreed with Mrs May that the [Human Rights] act should be scrapped and replaced with a British Bill of Rights.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that because of the coalition it would take longer to review this than he would like.

He also said he wanted to change the “chilling culture” created by the act.

He cited an example of a prison van being driven nearly 100 miles to be used to transport a prisoner 200 yards “when he was perfectly happy to walk”.

“The Human Rights Act doesn’t say that’s what you have to do. It’s the sort of chilling effect of people thinking ‘I will be found guilty under it’.

This is a story that I have already covered last week, and it has since had an interesting update that confirms my original theory that this was definitely not a human rights issue. It is very interesting indeed that David Cameron is using this example as evidence that Britain needs to opt out of the Human Rights Act, because had he read the article more closely he might have noticed that something else was in fact to blame:

Glyn Travis, of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: ‘This is a prime example of how the privatised system is a constant drain on public resources.

‘In the past police would have been able to walk him to the station themselves but now because of the contracts with private companies they are not able to do so’.

Of course, privatisation is a favourite past time of the Conservatives ever since Margeret Thatcher introduced economic shock doctrine into the UK back in the 1980s. Perhaps this is what we have to look forward to when the NHS is slowly auctioned off to private companies in aid of ‘competition’ and the supposed efficiency magically generated by the ‘free’ market – you know, the system that has led to the generally terrible and still state-subsidised ‘private’ railway system we all ‘enjoy’ in the UK.

Still, rather than actually investigate just why the prisoner was driven such a short distance instead of walking – the fact that a private contract exists to deliver the service of prisoner transport, hence why the police felt they could not walk him or drive him; it is no longer their job – it was obvious the Daily Mail would blame ‘human rights’ as the real reason. Just as inevitable would be that at some point this story would enter the public discourse thanks to a politician – in this case the Prime Minister – who then uses this populist, simplistic bullshit to try and force through a policy change.

Is it any wonder political apathy is rampant in the UK when this is the level of public discourse, this is the intelligence level of our Prime Minister – basing policy on some made-up crap they saw in the Daily Mail?

It is also interesting to put one final chunk of the Mail article here:

A police spokesman said: ‘It may be possible for officers to assist with prisoner transport, as we work in partnership with the contractor.

‘However, every situation will need to be decided on its merits.’

So, here we have clearly conflicting statements being issued by the Police and the Prison Officers’ Association. The Prison Officers’ Association seem to believe that the Police cannot transport prisoners because of the private contract in place, whilst a Police spokesman believes that it ‘may be possible to assist with prisoner transport’. So, this situation could have occured for many reasons:

  • Police wrongly thinking that prisoner transport must be carried out by the Private Contractor
  • The private contractor could have made this seem the case and insisted on driving the prisoner the short distance because it was profitable to do so
  • The prison service / local courts could have believed that the contractor must be used at all times to transport suspects

Whatever the truth may be, what is certain is that this had nothing to do with the Human Rights act. As for David Cameron, he demonstrates once again that he is utterly unfit to lead the country. But he isn’t alone, most of our political class aren’t as long as they keep buying into the media agenda and in particular the agenda set by the Daily Mail (see the £250m set aside for weekly bin collections as a prime example of Daily Mail campaign becoming government policy).

Many thanks to Liz Church for pointing this out in the comments.

David Cameron admits he was badly wrong about the PCC

Im May this year David Cameron – appearing on Radio 4’s Today Programme – defended the concept of press self-regulation and in particular he made sure he directed some praise towards the PCC. He said:

“I sense that there’s still more to be done to recognise that actually the Press Complaints Commission has come on a lot in recent years, and we should be working with that organisation to make sure that people get the protection that they need…. while still having a free and vibrant press.”

As Roy Greenslade noted at the time:

He added: “We don’t want statutory regulation of the press.” And, pushed further on the whether there was a need for a specific privacy law, he reiterated his support for the PCC.

Greenslade suggested that ‘it may be the only time’ that a prime minister had gone ‘in to bat for the PCC’. Perhaps his defence isn’t that surprising given that he had appointed Andy Coulson (director of NOTW from 2003 to 2007) as his director of communications and the PCC – along with the Metropolitan Police – had so convincingly failed to investigate the role of Coulson or properly challenge his denials of having any knowledge about what his journalists go up to during his time as editor. If Cameron criticised the PCC or gave the impression that it was failing to tackle the endemic problem of phone hacking then it might have opened up the can of worms that is only now being scooped out thanks to the Guardian.

As Greenslade noted, Cameron’s defence of the PCC was completely out-of-step ‘with the negative views on the PCC in recent reports by the media, culture and sport select committee, chaired by Tory MP John Whittingdale’. Furthermore, Cameron’s defence came at a time in which the PPC had ‘been under consistent fire’.

Suddenly, after the dramatic and ongoing revelations about the News of the World, Cameron has changed his tune, according to the BBC today:

He said the scandal showed the PCC was “ineffective and lacking in rigour” and there was a need for a new watchdog.


Mr Cameron said a second inquiry would look at the ethics and culture of the press and he also said the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) would be scrapped, adding: “I believe we need a new system entirely”.

If the News of the World revelations were really shocking – i.e. we hadn’t known for a significant period of time that phone hacking was a standard journalistic tool employed by many more newspapers than just the NOTW – then you could perhaps understand Cameron’s sudden change of heart.

But it’s not. His backtracking has only come about because his hand has been forced by the NOTW overstepping the line in terms of what the public find acceptable. What needs to be remembered is that hacking the phone of Milly Dowler is no more illegal than hacking the phone of any given celebrity. Isn’t it odd that it took moral outrage to force the police and the government to finally acknowledge that an illegal act should be properly and fully investigated irrespective of whom it is used against (although I would of course make clear that the public interest defence should always remain strong to protect genuine journalism).

One final point that must be made – and driven home – at this juncture is about censorship. Many people – including the hopelessly simple Jon Gaunt on BBC Question Time last night – equate regulation with censorship. When Hugh Grant argued that the Press Complaints Commission and along with it the notion of self-regulation for the media should be scrapped and replaced with a properly enforced regulator, Gaunt screamed that this simply meant Grant wanted to censor the press.

This is an moronic argument. There is a vast difference between ensuring that the press does not lie to its readers, libel or defame the innocent or break the law by hacking, blagging or otherwise pursuing individuals when there is no justifiable cause and censorship. There is a vast difference between breaking the law to pursue a corrupt politician or a corporate scandal when such actions are clearly in the public interest and hacking the phone of a missing girl.

Calling for proper regulation should never be confused with censorship, and the freedom enjoyed by the press should never be allowed to be abused by that press. With great freedom and power comes great responsibility and it is now proven – beyond all reasonable doubt – that self-regulation cannot enforce responsible journalism.

It is time for change. It is time for every newspaper lie – be it about immigration, the reporting of science, the European Union, gypsies, gays, single mums, those on benefits, the disabled or any other target group – to be properly challenged and for the press to finally have to take accuracy seriously.