Friday, January 30, 2004

Hutton's restrictions on press freedom

It is heartening to see that the Hutton inquiry report, initially described as a great vindication for the poodle, is turning into the beginning of the end for him. Hutton was so ham-handed in his attempts at wafting perfume all over Blair and his government that the vast majority of the British public is now fully aware of what a lying whitewash (or here) the report was, and that there is therefore something very important which the Powers That Be felt it necessary to hide. If Hutton was just a smidgen smarter, he could have crafted a report which essentially absolved Blair of blame while making some anodyne suggestions for improvements to the BBC and the intelligence agencies, and everyone would have gone back to sleep. As it is, Hutton comes off as a ham-handed old codger with an irrational hatred of journalism and freedom of the press, and an overpowering love for the institutions of power (you can see that the poodle got just what he might expect from a man of Hutton's background). The BBC management has collapsed like a cheap suitcase, but the journalists at the BBC have not, and are suitably angered at this obvious attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Britain. The people of Britain rightly see their interests being represented by a press free to investigate the abuses of those in power, and do not want to see Hutton's attempts to extend the concept of lese majesty to any journalism that might possibly impugn the integrity of a politician. Here are the most frightening words in Hutton's report (my emphasis):

"The communication by the media of information (including information obtained by investigative reporters) on matters of public interest and importance is a vital part of life in a democratic society. However the right to communicate such information is subject to the qualification (which itself exists for the benefit of a democratic society) that false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media. Where a reporter is intending to broadcast or publish information impugning the integrity of others the management of his broadcasting company or newspaper should ensure that a system is in place whereby his editor or editors give careful consideration to the wording of the report and to whether it is right in all the circumstances to broadcast or publish it. The allegations that Mr Gilligan was intending to broadcast in respect of the Government and the preparation of the dossier were very grave allegations in relation to a subject of great importance and I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective in that Mr Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report at 6.07am without editors having seen a script of what he was going to say and having considered whether it should be approved."

Note how he slides from talking of untrue statements to those which are just impugning, and effectively creates a version of 'libel chill' over the day to day operation of the media, who are now required to set up some sort of vetting agency to determine whether any criticism of politicians should be published or broadcast, without reference to whether the criticism is true or not (meaning that Hutton is suggesting that they might want to entertain the idea of not publishing criticisms of politicians, even if such criticisms are true). As a practical matter, this requirement means that the media will be scared off from any criticism of politicians, and won't even bother to set up the complicated mechanism that Hutton would require for them to be safe from censure or worse. Not only does Hutton thus effectively end freedom of the press in Britain, his report also forms part of the ongoing plan of the Powers That Be to weaken and destroy the BBC, so that its functions can be taken up by thugs more in tune with the establishment, like, say, Rupert Murdoch. Hutton's report is a direct attack on the very structure of democracy in Britain, and is practically a fascist document. The British have every right to support the BBC and to cast a wary eye on Hutton and characters like Blair, who Hutton seems so suspiciously hell bent to support. When the poodle soon goes off to the vet to be put down, he will be able to look back and blame a lot of his troubles on Hutton's inability to craft a report that doesn't look like a totalitarian joke.