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Friday 13 December 2013

Does Fraser Nelson Understand Contempt?

The Daily Mail is unimpressed with Young Dave this morning, thundering “Nigella judge rebukes David Cameron for declaring public support for #TeamNigella - and orders jury to IGNORE it ... Jury in fraud trial of Lawson and Saatchi's PAs told ‘dismiss’ PM's views ... listen only to what they ‘hear in this room’”. There can be only one conclusion from reading the headings.
Fraser Nelson

A similar impression is given by the deeply subversive Guardian: “David Cameron rebuked for backing Team Nigella as fraud trial rolls on ... judge criticises PM's ‘massive fan’ comments”. Yes, Cameron is to blame here. Except he isn’t: what he may have said during a car journey from Downing Street to a service area on the M40 is not going to cause anyone a problem.

Because that is where he said it, to Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who wanted to interview the PM for the magazine’s Christmas issue, and due to Cameron’s schedule, found that his sole opportunity was to catch a word en route from Westminster to somewhere near Beaconsfield. Politicians can’t know whether trials will have ended by the time their words are published.

One might expect editors to know this. It’s not as if Nelson hasn’t traversed the odd legal minefield during his tenure at the Speccy: the copy delivered by Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips dried up very suddenly after one of her rants precipitated a libel action which cost well into five figures and left both editor and publisher Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil incensed.

And the trial involving two of Nigella Lawson’s former aides is still in progress, but that didn’t stop Nelson: “I ask a question I feel sure he’ll dodge: about the trial of two of Charles Saatchi’s former housemaids and the revelation that his ex-wife, Nigella Lawson, used cocaine. Her fans have rushed to her defence: ‘Team Nigella’ is used as a hashtag on Twitter and even sprayed on city walls. So when I ask ‘Are you on Team Nigella?’ I expect him to stay out of it. Instead, he offers a direct answer”.
And that ain't too clever, either

The interview preview is clearly laid out under a number of discrete headings. It is clearly not a rush job. As editor, Fraser Nelson should know the basics of any law that might be broken by publication. And contempt of court is a hot issue right now, after the start of the Phone Hacking trial.

So why did he merely carry on and drop Cameron in the crap? Fraser Nelson is one of the few centre-right journalists I respect, despite some of his odder opinions, but the impression is given that someone is not engaging brain before going ahead and publishing anyway, which may concern Neil, whose experience of the editor’s chair goes back a long way, and whose reputation is also on the line.

One refresher course in the basics of the contempt law needed here, methinks.

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