Villains of the year: Boris, Brand, Met Police and Newcastle United make Press Gazette's top ten

With police forces using anti-terror laws to find journalistic sources, tens of journalists facing trial and PRs seemingly trying harder than ever to control the news agenda, 2014 was one of the biggest years in Press Gazette's 50-year history. 

Although we no longer have a print edition, our website has had its best year for traffic ever, peaking in July with just short of 250,000 unique users.

This means, of course, it's been a bad year for the publicity of certain individuals and organisations.

Here, Press Gazette's top ten villains of the year are named and shamed:

10 – Russell Brand

Putting comedian Russell Brand's views on politics to one side, he has this month demonstrated a lack of respect to two journalists.

Within the space of a few days, he branded Channel 4 News's Paraic O’Brien a "snide" (video below) and threw curry paste at Daily Mail reporter Neil Sears before tweeting his mobile phone number to his 8.7m followers.

In the same week, The Sun labelled Brand a hypocrite and he in turn threatened to sue the title for the second time in a year.

9 – Paul Davidson

The musical tribute below explains why former Newsquest chief executive makes this list despite leaving his post in the spring.

8 – Newcastle United

Newcastle United (pictured below, Reuters) finally this month ended a 14-month ban on local newspapers that covered a fan protest against owner Mike Ashley in October 2013.

But the club is in no danger of losing its place at the top of Press Gazette's bad PR league is safe.

A ban remains in place against Telegraph journalists – the second imposed in two years – after north-east football correspondent Luke Edwards reported in September that owner Ashley was open to offers for the club.

The club has issued two statements in response to Telegraph stories, describing them as "wholly inaccurate and written with the intention of unsettling the Club, players and its supporters".

The second statement, which can be found here, has been described by a leading media lawyer as "potentially defamatory and would be libelous if the club cannot substantiate the statement".

Christopher Hutchings, of Hamlins, said: "While the club is within its rights to exclude journalists and papers that themselves print allegations about Newcastle, it may not be wise for it to make counter-accusations about the integrity of the journalists."

Edwards was also among three national newspaper journalists who condemned the club over the suggestion of a "media partnership", guaranteeing exclusive content, with The Sun.

7 – Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror, BBC, Newsquest and others

  • This year, Trinity Mirror has closed seven regional newspapers with the loss of 50 jobs, and a number of others have lost their positions as part of plans to make newsrooms "digital-first"
  • The Telegraph has also cut a number of jobs throughout the year, including decimating its editorial staff in the autumn and axing the Mandrake diary column
  • Some would say the BBC is overstaffed in certain areas – in the PR department, for instance. But the corporation's proposal to end the contracts of all Panorama staff reporters – along with around 400 other journalists – in the summer was condemned by many. John Sweeney told Press Gazette that working with reporters not on contract would make it easier for "management" to undermine controversial stories
  • Newsquest has cut tens of regional jobs across the country this year, many as part of plans to move sub-editing of newspapers from across the UK to Wales
  • An dishonourable mention here should go to the employers who have collectively made more than 100 photographers (Press Gazette estimate) redundant over the last year.

7 – Mastercard

Mastercard caused outrage among journalists when its PR company appeared to ask journalists to guarantee coverage of their client as the price of attending the Brit Awards. 

Before providing two journalists from the Telegraph with accreditation to attend the event House PR asked them to agree to a number of requests about the coverage they will give it.

They had even gone as far as to draft Twitter messages which they would like the journalists to send out – and asked that they include a mention of the marketing campaign #PricelessSurprises and @MasterCardUK.

6  – Boris Johnson

The London mayor is generally a popular figure in the media – helped by incidents such as the below – but he has faced criticism for his handling of various scandals involving the Metropolitan Police this year, which he has oversight responsibilities for.

For instance, he appeared slow to realise the significance of the Met secretly obtained The Sun's phone records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, initially defending the force before admitting he hadn't studied the case "in great detail". He later criticised the Met when speaking at a press ball.

He has also been called on to look at other issues involving the Met and journalists, including a source being issued with a "Prevention of Harassment" order for speaking to The Mail on Sunday.

Former Conservative MP Louise Mensch wrote in her Sun column on 14 December: "The Mayor wants to be seen as a future Prime Minister.

"Dealing firmly with police bullying of whistleblowers and a free press should be a priority.

"Because whether it’s MPs’ or MEPs’ expenses, or for that matter corrupt police, a free Press is the last defence ordinary people have."

5 – Theresa May

After much promise in response to the RIPA scandal, the Home Secretary delivered disappointment with this month's draft code of practice for the act.

The draft states that police should continue to access journalists' phone records without any outside approval and said journalistic records are not privileged.

The new code merely requires police forces to make a note of the fact they have accessed a journalists’ phone records.

The consultation was promised by May in October to address concerns raised about the police accessing the phone records of journalists who were not under suspicion of breaking the law.

4 – Ministry of Defence

In September, the Ministry of Defence circulated guidance to staff imposing strict rules on contact with journalists, even in a social setting.

The rules state that when a member of the armed forces has any contact with a journalist they must immediately notify press officers.

This applies even if a member of armed forces staff meets a journalist socially, or through their family.

3 – ACPO

In September, the Association of Chief Police Officers circulated guidance to all UK police forces scuppering Press Gazette Freedom of Information Act requests about forces' use of RIPA to find journalistic sources.

In essence, ACPO told forces: You should be able to reject this FoI (asking for information stretching back over ten years) on cost grounds. But if not, say disclosure would harm the interests of "national security".

This information (below) was found after an FoI was sent to forces asking for internal discussions on Press Gazette's original request.

 

2 – Cleveland, Essex, Suffolk and Thames Valley police forces

Three of these forces have admitting to using RIPA to find journalistic sources, and the fourth – Cleveland – has done so "erroneously".

Essex Police (initially reported as Kent Police because the forces share certain resources) used RIPA to obtain the phone records of two journalists working for The Mail on Sunday as part of its investigation into Constance Briscoe, a source of the Chris Huhne speeding points story.

Suffolk Police this year admitted to using the act to secretly grab the phone records of Ipswich Star journalist Mark Bulstrode in 2006. This investigation was conducted after Bulstrode went to the press office with the knowledge that a historic case was being re-opened. The Star did not publish a story after Bulstrode was told it could compromise police work, but the force still sought out his source.

Thames Valley Police admitted to using RIPA to bug a car and record a conversation between Milton Keynes Citizen journalist Sally Murrer and her source.

Cleveland Police "erroneously" disclosed an FoI document to Press Gazette suggesting it had used the act to find a journalistic source within the last three years. It refused to comment and asked Press Gazette to delete and disregard the information.

1 – The Metropolitan Police

This year, the Met Police sparked the RIPA scandal by admitting to secretly accessing the phone records of The Sun to find the source of its Plebgate story, dished out two controversial "Prevention of Harassment" orders, has been found to have kept the phone records of more than 1,700 News UK employees for seven months after being mistakenly given them by Vodafone and kept intrusive information on journalists not suspected of breaking the law on an extremist database.

Despite being widely condemned for these actions, even beyond the journalism industry, the Met has admitted to no wrongdoing.

Instead, when asked about the extremist database by Andrew Marr last month, commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe (right, Reuters) appeared to be more sorry that the information had been disclosed by the force.

"We've shot ourselves in the foot a bit by some of the information we've put into the public domain," he said.

Comments

1 thought on “Villains of the year: Boris, Brand, Met Police and Newcastle United make Press Gazette's top ten”

  1. Police Scotland’s ‘Counter Corruption Unit’ is also currently under investigation for such tactics. Possible prosecutions are being discussed.

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