ICE blogs

June 27, 2014

Justice has been done, actually!

Filed under: Uncategorized, Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines — news_editor @ 1:16 pm

Media legal expert Barry Turner reflects on the Hackgate verdicts

The verdicts in the hacking trial have already started to create a stir in the ‘street of shame’ and condemnation, counter-condemnation and innuendo are appearing in varying degrees in the corporate press. Before we consider the level of seriousness we should attach to any of the Fleet Street gossip, sniping and triumphalism it is important to remember one thing. The defendants were tried in a public court where they were entitled to a full and costly defence, they were tried by their peers sitting on a jury and it was by that time-honoured and fair system of justice that they were found either guilty or not guilty.

There are now two major issues both of a legal nature worthy of serious consideration: firstly, the trial judge has heavily criticised Prime Minister David Cameron for his comments about Andy Coulson (the former News of the World editor and communications chief at No. 10 Downing Street found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones) while the jury were still deliberating on two of the counts he was tried on. This is nothing short of contempt of court and the publication of his purely partisan comments should be referred to the Attorney General. Cameron is perhaps lucky that the jurors had been unable to reach a verdict on these counts rather than his intervention making such a verdict unsafe.

Secondly, the comments of Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of the Sun, represent a different kind of contempt for both our system of justice and for the high quality journalism that first brought these cases to light. Kavanagh has openly decried the Crown Prosecution Service for bringing the charges and compares the case to that of the failed celebrity sex cases of recent months. This is rather an odd comparison and indicates a scant knowledge of the law which seems to have afflicted rather too many of News International’s editors.

Significant evidence existed about the phone hacking and it was perfectly proper for the CPS to bring charges against those now acquitted. The evidential and public interest tests were more than adequately met and to suggest that the press has been subjected to a witch-hunt is absurd. Where crimes are allegedly committed and evidence is available, then it is in the public interest to prosecute in an open court.

The post mortem on these verdicts is likely to last weeks. Many are unhappy that several of the defendants were acquitted especially after their vilification by the media since the scandal erupted. The lawyers for the principal defendant frequently complained about this and suggested she was unable to get a fair trial. Yet it is a clear vindication of our criminal justice system that they were wrong about that. Rebekah Brooks, former Sun editor and chief executive of News International, was on trial for what she was alleged to have done, not for what she might be in the eyes of many. The jury were not convinced by the evidence against her and she is rightly acquitted.

We are approaching the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the jury system in English law. It is a system that is often criticised and often wrongly judged itself. It is, nevertheless, a system in which the accused is innocent until proven guilty to the highest standards of evidence. It is a system where the accused may face their accuser, where they may test the evidence of the prosecution to breaking point and it is one where ordinary people using ordinary judgment decide on guilt. Not governments, not presidents, not the army and certainly not the press.

Where the prosecution cannot come up to the very high standard of proof it is right to say that the defendant is not guilty. That should not, however, be the basis for the rather ludicrous position adopted by some in the media that because a trial fails it should not have been brought in the first place.

Parts of Fleet Street can now spend the next few weeks on the one hand gloating over the acquittals and carping on about heavy-handed policing and prosecutions and on the other hand suggesting (ever so subtly ) that the verdicts may be wrong. If they can spare a few moments away from their smug satisfaction or their ‘righteous indignation’ they may want to consider the verdicts in an Egyptian court just two days earlier. Then, two al-Jazeera journalists were jailed – one for seven years, the other for ten years – for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Such verdicts might make British journalists focus on what the word justice actually means.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in Media Law at Lincoln School of Journalism and the Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism at
Nottingham Trent University

August 17, 2013

Ethical Spaces: What Leveson Missed

The 10th anniversary conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics, to be held at the Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1OJ, on 25 October 2013, will explore some of the many crucial ethical issues which went missing during the Leveson Inquiry.

One of the keynotes is to be given by Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney and a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg. His paper is titled ‘Reporting conflict: The critical, realist approach’.

A selection of papers given at the conference will be published in a special conference issue of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics.

• Cost of attendance: £65; students £10. For more information contact Dr Fiona Thompson, Director, The Institute of Communication Ethics, 69 Glenview Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 4AR; email f.thompson287@gmail.com.

Corporate media accused over Private Manning

Edward Wasserman, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, has criticised the corporate media for failing to call for the release of the WikiLeaks whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning.

He says: ‘Bradley Manning was a great source. His information was solid and truthful. There was no fabrication, there was no subterfuge. The world’s best news organisations believed the material was of immense public value. So now he goes to jail, perhaps for life, and the media stand in silence? No mainstream news organisation, even those that benefited directly from his leaks, has had the effrontery to demand he be freed.’

The ferocity of the Obama administration’s attack on Manning and WikiLeaks had been ‘withering’. According to Wasserman, since the government pressed ahead with charges of ‘aiding the enemy’, Manning technically faced the death penalty. This was the first time in 150 years that anybody had been charged with aiding the enemy for leaking information to the press for general publication. On 30 July, Manning was convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations – but cleared of the most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge.

Wasserman continued: ‘The world’s most powerful news media agreed, and turned Manning’s leaks into riveting stories. The WikiLeaks material was vetted and worked over, and ultimately used extensively by the Guardian of London, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais. The materials continue to reverberate and, as recently as March 2013, the Guardian and the BBC spent 15 months on developing a sensational story about sectarian death squads in Iraq. It was prompted by reports Manning provided in which shocked US soldiers described seeing Iraqi detainees who’d been tortured by their countrymen.

‘So if they did right and the world benefited, did Manning do wrong? On what grounds can they say – as former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger have – that they would help defend WikiLeaks boss Assange if the US charges him, while they won’t lift a finger to protest Manning’s incarceration?’

Yet, on 1 August 2013, after Manning was found guilty of 20 counts relating to the transmission of state secrets, the Guardian’s editorial spoke out strongly in his support. It said the conviction was not fair ‘because American law in this area is not fair’ – not allowing a public interest defence. The editorial ended condemning ‘the brutal punishment of one fragile young man’.

• See http://www.mediaethicsmagazine.com/index.php/browse-back-issues/145-spring-2013/3998874-242-wasserman-preview-waiving-private-manning.

Initiative for media pluralism

The European Initiative for Media Pluralism (EIMP) has drawn together around 100 civil society organisations, media, and professional bodies to call for legislative actions to protect media pluralism in Europe.

UK supporters include the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, the National Union of Journalists and the TUC. Organisations in eight other European countries support the EIMP so far: Bulgaria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania. Granville Williams, UK Coordinator, stressed that campaign was calling for:

* effective legislation to avoid concentration of ownership in the media and advertisement sectors;
* guaranteed independence of media supervisory bodies from political power and influence;
* definition of conflict of interests to avoid media moguls occupying high political office;
* clearer European monitoring systems to check up regularly the health and independence of the media in member states.

Williams said: ‘Editorial content will remain independent from legislation. The campaign only asks the European Commission to take legislative action concerning mainly media ownership.’

The campaign is aiming to collect the 1 million signatures needed for actions to be taken by the European Commission. For more information contact Granville Williams at freepress@cpbf.org.uk .

Union backs ‘No more Page 3′ campaign

Filed under: Uncategorized, Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 8:04 pm

UNISON, the UK’s largest union, has added its support to the ‘No More Page 3′ campaign - with a flashmob invasion of its recent annual conference in Liverpool. Dancers, dressed in campaign t-shirts, surprised 2,000 delegates with a flashmob performance of the campaign’s dance. To the tune of YMCA, 30 dancers called on the conference to support the campaign to rid the best-selling tabloid Sun of its sexist pictures of women.

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said: ‘We’re proud to support this campaign to end an out-of-date objectification of women. Rupert Murdoch’s claim that working class people don’t care about Page 3 is not only patronising, it is wrong. Through unions, working class people have led the way in battling sexism and campaigning for equality.’

Lisa Clarke, from No More Page 3, who led the flashmob, said: ‘It is so important that people stand up and say “no” to the sexism rife in today’s media. We believe that the objectification of women and the reduction of 50 per cent of the population to nothing but a pair of breasts has a detrimental effect on everyone. One of the places people are often exposed to these images is in the workplace, even though equality legislation outlaws similar content on posters or calendars at work. When this is in a national newspaper, it is far more difficult to object to or speak out about it and be taken seriously. People are now finally speaking out and it’s going to be very hard to ignore 1.3 million public sector workers isn’t it?’

• See http://nomorepage3.org/news/press-release-from-unison/.

Questions go missing on mysterious death of journalist

Richard Lance Keeble highlights the Obama administration’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers - and suggests serious questions have gone missing over the mysterious death of an investigative journalist

Michael Hastings was a brilliant American investigative journalist. It is important that you know about his life and death. He was the Rolling Stones’ reporter whose 2010 feature on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal revealed the US Commander in Afghanistan and his officials mocking President Obama. Soon after publication of the exposé, Gen. McCrystal was forced to hand in his resignation.

On 18 June 2013, Hastings died in a mysterious car accident in Los Angeles. Let us consider the facts. An eyewitness at the scene, Jose, said Hastings’ car was travelling very fast and he heard a couple of explosions shortly before it crashed. The explosion was so intense that it took the LA County assistant coroner, Ed Winter, two days to identify the burned-beyond-recognition body of Hastings.

Later it emerged that Hastings had approached WikiLeaks attorney Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before his death claiming the FBI was investigating him. In his book The operators: The wild and terrifying inside story of America’s war in Afghanistan, Hastings reported that a former McChrystal staff member had made a death threat. ‘We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write,’ the unnamed staffer said. Hastings replied: ‘Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.’

Could the electronics in Hastings’ new Mercedes have been remotely tampered with? Significantly, the former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism, Richard Clarke, told the Huffington Post that a single-vehicle crash was ‘consistent with a car cyber attack. There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers — including the United States — know how to remotely seize control of a car’.

Equally worrying is the failure of the corporate media to follow-up any of these serious questions about Hastings’ death. It comes as the Obama administration continues its unprecedented assault on whistleblowers. Seven have been charged under the Espionage Act (1917) for alleged mishandling of classified information – and that’s more than under all past presidencies combined. For instance, Thomas Drake revealed to the press that the National Security Agency spent $1.2 billion on a contract for a data collection programme called Trailblazer when work could have been done in-house for $3 million. The NSA’s response? Drake’s home was raided at gunpoint and he was forced out of his job (although all 10 charges against him were dropped).

In January 2013, former CIA officer John C. Kiriakou who, in 2007, acknowledged that US agents were involved in torture, was jailed for 30 months (see http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/28/ciaw-j28.html). WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning was tortured while in custody and faced a lifetime in jail after being convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations on 30 July 2013 (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/28/bradley-manning-treatment-custody-wikileaks). And former CIA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden is being hounded by the US state for revealing secrets about mass US surveillance operations.

Yet favoured prominent US journalists (such as Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame) regularly report state secrets. Their careers are, in no way, damaged – the reverse, in fact. As Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who led the coverage of the NSA spying revelations by Edward Snowden, commented: ‘Bob Woodward has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publicising classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published’ (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/10/manning-prosecution-press-freedom-woodward).
Moreover Paul Joseph Watson reports: ‘More recently, Ibragim Todashev, friend of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnev, was shot in the head six times by the FBI, who initially claimed Todashev was armed but later had to admit this was a lie. Speculation has raged that Todashev was assassinated because he had knowledge about the Boston bombings which the Feds didn’t want to see the light of public scrutiny.’

So what can we learn from all of this? Let’s not be afraid to admit that conspiracies exist. There are certainly some very weird conspiracy theories out there but, at the same time, there are a lot of conspiracies that need exposing. As the secret state expands and the power and influence of the intelligence services extends into the depths of our private lives, more serious analysis of conspiracies will be needed – both by the academy and the media.

The final lessons: remember to consult the alternative media (such as those listed below) for important, critical perspectives – and crucial information missed by the mainstream. And always question the official view – as over the mysterious death of Michael Hastings.

Notes
See http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-09/elusive-details-michael-hastings-death
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-runaway-general-20100622?print=true
http://www.infowars.com/evidence-indicates-michael-hastings-was-assassinated/

May 6, 2013

After Leveson: What role for citizen journalism?

‘After Leveson: Is citizen journalism the answer?’ is the title of a major conference on Saturday, 8 June, at the London College of Communication, Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6SB.

Hosted by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.Com, the event aims to build on the success of their ‘Media and the riots’ conference that brought young people and journalists face to face. The Leveson Inquiry accepted the conference report as evidence.

Top bloggers, campaigners for greater press regulation, including Hacked Off, those opposed to it, citizen journalists, scholars, students and members of the public will be at the one-day conference.

Marc Wadsworth, editor of the citizen journalism website, The-Latest.com, commented: ‘In the wake of the outcry from Fleet Street’s finest about them not wanting to be regulated by law, the debate has turned to online news and comment. Will bloggers, and sites like ours, face draconian fines if lawyers are set loose on them? Or, should they be excluded from new regulation?

‘After the 2011 summer riots, some police and politicians, aware that young people share a lot of news using social media, urged the closing down of internet services including Twitter and Blackberry Messenger, during times of civil unrest. Yet the post-Leveson Inquiry debate seems to have by-passed discussion that the way forward may not be with “big media”, whose circulations are tumbling, but with alternative reporting by the people for the people in the shape of citizen journalism.’

- For more details about the conference see http://after-leveson-cj.eventbrite.co.uk.

Defamation: A step in the right direction

Filed under: Uncategorized, Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, media policy — news_editor @ 8:12 am

Barry Turner, specialist in media law at the University of Lincoln, welcomes the new restrictions placed on corporations in bringing libel actions

After three years of debate, dispute and plain old delay the Defamation Bill is passed. The UK will now see some welcome changes to a law which has brought sharp criticism of English jurisprudence and even resulted in the US refusing to enforce defamation judgments handed down by our courts.

In fact, much of the old law remains intact, including some that has been at the centre of criticism for years. The burden of proof in defamation cases will still be shouldered by the defendant, except in one or two areas, and the costs of defamation actions will remain a serious threat to the majority of those facing action by a claimant.

One area of the changes that is, however, welcome is the restriction placed on corporations in bringing libel actions. This is an area of defamation law long in disrepute and one that has been seriously abused by large corporations to stifle legitimate criticism for years.

The non-natural legal personage, as a corporation is known, has long been treated as having the rights of a claimant or defendant in litigation in the UK courts. Most of this is supported by good sense and legal reasoning. A corporation needs to be able to conduct business deals, to own property and to enter contracts just as an individual might. But debates have raged for many years about how to differentiate between a company from an individual when it comes to seeking legal redress.

Defamation law is about protecting reputations and, as much as it has been severely criticised, there has never been a legal system in any society that did not value personal reputation and give it the protection of law. Individuals have reputations and have a right to have them protected. Corporations also have reputations - but are they the same as those enjoyed by people?

The reputation of an individual is difficult to measure; we use many abstract concepts to ‘value’ a person: skill, professionalism, humour, good nature, kindness and other virtues. The reputation of a person is perceived by that person in terms of feelings or, when defamed, hurt feelings. Companies, however, are not sentient: they cannot possess virtues as a person can and have no feelings to be damaged.

Corporate managers have argued for a long time that a corporation has a reputation just as much as an individual does. They have argued that corporate goodwill is a balance sheet asset that can be damaged by defamatory comments. Profits, too, may be injured just as a person’s feeling might be so, the argument goes, corporations should be treated no differently than individuals defamed.

The legislators have disagreed and when the new Defamation Act comes into force a corporation will be treated differently to an individual in defamation law. As the law currently stands an individual does not have to prove damage to sue in libel. A potentially damaging statement is enough, providing it fulfills the necessary legal requirements of libel.

Corporations have for many years now used libel law to stifle criticism of their affairs and this had led to some remarkable abuses of the law to silence legitimate criticism. Seminal cases such as McDonald’s Corporation v Steel and Morris and British Chiropractice Association v Singh have shown how corporate bodies can use their might to halt inconvenient stories about their activities.

With the passing of the Bill corporations no longer enjoy the same legal rights as individuals. A corporation must now demonstrate that it has suffered actual quantifiable damage. This makes perfect sense. A corporation can measure its reputation on its balance sheet. While a person cannot say, for instance, their kindness is worth £10,000 and their sense of humour £5,000, a corporation can and will value its ‘reputation’ in cash.

It is quite correct, then, that in future a corporation cannot say they have been defamed unless it can quantify it. If a corporation wants to bring an action to stifle criticism in future it must show its loss. Declaring a loss, even one allegedly caused by an outside third party, is difficult for any corporation. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any corporation writing down an asset value on its balance sheet simply to bring a libel action.

March 20, 2013

Little confidence new system of regulation will work: CPBF

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has issued the following statement following the recent announcement of a new system for regulating the press

The legal basis for a new system of press regulation gives the national press a chance to commit themselves to a means of properly policing their own behaviour. The CPBF does not have great confidence that they will take this opportunity seriously.

The way it was introduced, by a series of surprise moves in parliament, appears to have thrown the editors into disarray. They are now trying to decide whether to co-operate or to revert to type and refuse.

The new regulator itself is being set up by the office of the Press Complaints Commission. If the bigger, right-wing papers decide to boycott it there will be utter chaos. The editors should remember that it is the conduct of the press, and the press alone, that has brought down this crisis upon their heads. And it is by their conduct and theirs alone that any new system will be judged, not by parliamentary legalities.

The CPBF is pleased that the political parties have taken the issue seriously and persuaded the government to set up the structure. But we will believe there has been a real improvement in self-regulation when we see the first front-page apology or the first million-pound fine, as trumpeted by David Cameron.

It would be even better if there were never any more false, deceitful or cruel stories that might lead to such penalties, but the CPBF has even less confidence in the likelihood of that.

December 8, 2012

Assange: ‘WikiLeaks to continue - despite attacks’

In his most extended interview in months, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has spoken to the progressive US radio show, Democracy Now! from inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been holed up for nearly six months. Assange vowed WikiLeaks would persevere despite attacks against it.

The European Commission recently announced that the credit card company Visa did not break the European Union’s antitrust rules by blocking donations to WikiLeaks. Assange commented: ‘Since the blockade was erected in December 2010, WikiLeaks has lost 95 percent of the donations that were attempted to be transferred to us over that period…Our rightful and natural growth, our ability to publish as much as we would like, our ability to defend ourselves and our sources, has been diminished by that blockade.’

Assange also speaks about his new book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the future of the internet. ‘The mass surveillance and mass interception that is occurring to all of us now who use the internet is also a mass transfer of power from individuals into extremely sophisticated state and private intelligence organisations and their cronies,’ he says. Assange also discusses the United States’ targeting of WikiLeaks.

‘The Pentagon is maintaining a line that WikiLeaks inherently, as an institution that tells military and government whistleblowers to step forward with information, is a crime. They allege we are criminal, moving forward,’ Assange says. ‘Now, the new interpretation of the Espionage Act that the Pentagon is trying to hammer in to the legal system, and which the Department of Justice is complicit in, would mean the end of national security journalism in the United States.’

• For the interview, see http://www.zcommunications.org/on-wikileaks-bradley-manning-cypherpunks-surveillance-state-by-julian-assange

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