Saturday 24 August 2013

O brave new 'PM' that has such people in't

My first encounter with the David Miranda story came when I drove home from work listening to PM on Monday night. The programme led with the story and how it reported it is worth describing in some detail.

What struck me at the time of hearing was the initial sketching-in of the background to the story from Eddie Mair, which came across (to me) as presenting Glenn Greenwald (star Guardian journalist, David Miranda's especial friend) in a flattering light, recounting all his recent scoops and their earth-shaking impact without even so much as a hint that their accuracy has been hotly disputed. As someone who follows CiF Watch I've got a less-than-flattering opinion of Mr Greenwald's journalism (or 'journalism'), so I am undoubtedly biased against him; still, Eddie's presentation here left something be desired I think. It sounded too much like the reading-out of a list of a hero's acknowledged triumphs.

This segment was followed by Eddie's presentation of the Guardian's version of what had happened to David Miranda the previous day, complete with quotes from the newspaper and clips of Glenn Greenwald.

After a very brief mention of what the government was saying in response (and by "very brief" I do mean "very brief" - just seven seconds), we heard from Labour's Tom Watson denouncing the intelligence services for trying to intimidate Glenn Greenwald as well as (ironically, given his own role in the bringing down of The News of the World and in advancing the cause of the Hacked Off campaign) for their "attack on journalism".

Then came Widney Brown of Amnesty International, who joined the chorus of disapproval and said "there was no probable cause whatsoever" to justify David Miranda's detention and that it was an attempt to intimidate Glenn Greenwald and "an attack on the media" - much as Tom Watson had said.

Then came Labour's Keith Vaz, saying that he wanted answers from the police, as Mr Miranda wasn't "directly involved", merely the "partner" of someone directly involved [though we now know there was more to it than that].

Then Eddie read out an extract from an article by Simon Jenkins of the Guardian strongly denouncing the detention as "obscene" and an act of "state terrorism".

As a sample of opinions that certainly does seem considerably more partial than impartial, doesn't it?

Next came an extract from an interview with The World at One from David Anderson QC, the government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

This was one of two interviews on that day's The World at One. The other was not sampled by PM - an interview with Dr David Lowe of Liverpool John Moores University. Dr Lowe is a law expert and, during the course of his fairly short interview, gave the police the green light over their use of the anti-terrorist legislation here. Why didn't PM play a clip from this interview?

Back to Dr Anderson...

We heard the bit where he was questioning the current legislation. We didn't , however, get to re-hear the bit where he said, "I think you've also got to acknowledge this is a useful power. It does catch terrorists. It does disrupt terrorists and it's very important that in some form it should continue to exist."  That would have made an excellent counter-balancing clip, but it never came.

Eddie introduced the clip of Mr Anderson with the words, "He says he wants the Home Office and Scotland Yard to explain why terrorism laws were being used to detain the partner of a journalist", which appears to be a case of Eddie putting words into Mr Anderson's mouth. The somewhat loaded phrase "the partner of a journalist" (echoing the complaints being made above about Mr Miranda being something of an innocent abroad, suffering merely for being a family member of a journalist) was not said by David Anderson during that interview. It was Eddie's own form of words apparently, seeming to echo the opening paragraph of a report in the Guardian based on the WATO interview:
"Britain's anti-terrorist legislation watchdog has called on the Home Office and Metropolitan police to explain why anti-terror laws were used to detain the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for nine hours at Heathrow airport."
Next up was Danny Shaw, the BBC's home affairs correspondent, discussing Section 7 -  the law in question, who described the relevant legislation. Most of Eddie's questions followed the Guardian's line with remarkable fidelity:
"Danny, is it correct to say that police have more powers to question people at an airport or a port that at, say, your local police station?"
"So, just to be clear, they don't have to even suspect that this person has links to terrorism. The law allows them, if they want to, to just pull someone in, hold them for nine hours, not give them a lawyer and make it clear if they don't cooperate it's a criminal offence. They have....that's what's enshrined in law?"
"And is it possible to say - it's a very difficult area - how effective the law has been? What would its supporters say this section has done for us?"
Next came an interview with, of all people, the British-taxpayer-funded Ecuadorian Embassy-dwelling Wikihacker-in-Chief, St Julian of Assange. The interview was conducted by the BBC's Chris Vallance. St Julian attacked the detention of David Miranda as "a disgrace", "an attack on journalism" and "a breach of the rule of law". 

Finally came an interview with former government independent reviewer of terrorism legislation (David Anderson's predecessor) Lib Dem Lord Carlile, who said much the same as Mr Anderson. Eddie asked him about Section 7, including this leading-sounding question:
"We don't know, you can't say and I certainly can't say what happened in this case and what the motivations were, and those investigations will go on as you suggest, but given that we've established that the authorities don't even need to suspect someone of being involved in terrorism before they can use this law, I mean if..if the authorities wanted to intimidate or harass journalists Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act is the perfect vehicle, isn't it?"
This edition of PM was clearly one-sided, approaching the Miranda story almost entirely from the pro-Guardian side of the argument. The other side was not to be heard - which is not how it should be, according to BBC guidelines. 


  1. Actually David Lowe thought the detention was illegal though he had faith in the good intentions of the government. Check the Huff post.

    1. Isn't it British legal blogger David Allen Green who says that the detention was unlawful in that Huff Post piece?

      David Lowe then appears in the paragraph after that saying that the government acted in good faith.

      On 'The World at One' he described the 9-hour detention of David Miranda as "proportionate" and said that security officers operating Schedule 7 behaved "reasonably".


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