Leader 16-05-03

Knee-jerk injunctions are not the solution

With the identity of “Stakeknife” now published, further details have emerged of how far the Government went to prevent journalists from revealing any details of the methods used by the army’s undercover Forces Research Unit.

As The Guardian reports, in the past four years, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has made himself fully familiar with the injunction process.

In 1999 he prevented The Sunday Times from printing revelations from FRU officer Martin Ingram. The following August it was The People’s turn following its story about FRU involvement in another murder to protect Stakeknife.

The Sunday Herald – which last week became one of the first papers to name Stakeknife – was next in 2001. Another injunction in April of that year prevented Ulster Television from completing a documentary on the FRU. Another injunction of astonishing breadth sent to all media prevented a former agent from identifying “any person alleged to be or have been engaged in intelligence gathering activities by or on behalf of the MoD”.

In many of these cases, the newspapers were not even allowed to report the fact that an injunction was in place.

The importance of protecting the lives of officers and agents doing legitimate security work shouldn’t be underestimated. But the knee-jerk injunction is no answer.

Despair over ‘buggeration’

‘It is difficult sometimes not to despair that there is a deliberate ‘buggeration factor’ built by No10 into the government’s relations with the lobby.”

PA political editor Jon Smith’s evidence to the Phillis “spin committee” sums up perfectly what many of Westminster’s political correspondents feel about the increasingly blurred distinction between government information officers and party spinners.

Evening newspapers and broadcasters have particularly suffered at the decision to move lobby briefings away from Downing Street. Many no longer even attend, so poor is the service they receive, and so disgusted are they by New Labour cheerleaders briefing on matters which should be the responsibility of departmental press officers.

Let’s hope Phillis can see through the spin and blast away the buggeration.

Campaigning Cosmo

Who says glossy women’s magazines can’t make a real difference? Cosmopolitan is one of those titles better known to some for its advice on orgasms and Manolo Blahnik outlets than for its campaigning journalism. But its determination to launch the country’s first national 24-hour telephone hotline to support victims of rape proves there can be grit behind the gloss.

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