Former Independent editor Amol Rajan was recently appointed the BBC’s Media Editor. And last night came his first contribution to the Corporation’s flagship Ten O’Clock News - an item on press regulation, and the controversy over Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Many viewers may have found the report informative and even persuasive, but what it demonstrated most was Rajan’s residual cowardice.
Amol Rajan ((c) BBC)
For those who may think that is too strong a word to use about a news item with which one takes issue, a little background is in order. Rajan was in charge at the Indy when that paper investigated the, shall we say, unconventional lifestyle choices of former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. Veteran reporter James Cusick had the story of Whitto’s dalliance with a known sex worker ready to roll - and there was more.
The main angle of the prospective Indy report would have been that several other newspapers had been offered the story of Whitto and the dominatrix, but all had either passed on the chance, or had begun to investigate, only to see their work spiked. Whitto was, at the time, also stalling on Section 40 - the same measure on which Rajan was reporting last night. What happened to the Indy’s own investigation is now well known.
Rajan attended a Society of Editors meeting at which Whitto spoke. Also present was the Mail titles’ editor-in-chief, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre. After he returned from this gathering, by complete coincidence you understand, Rajan had the Whittingdale story pulled. It was a moment of utter and complete cowardice.
Now he is at it again: the Ten O’Clock News report included not an interview with any of the victims of press abuse, but instead with Max Mosley, and then only a brief chat where Mosley reiterated his contention that the law as it stands suits the rich, but for ordinary people to get redress for press misbehaviour is next to impossible. Moreover, my information is that Rajan did not ask campaigning group Hacked Off to set up an interview with one or more victims of press abuse. That is a serious omission.
But there was time for a rather longer segment focusing on Ian Murray, the editor of the Daily Echo, an ostensibly local paper based in Hampshire. Here, Murray trowelled on the paper’s history, giving the clear impression that it was both a local paper, and under threat. What Murray did not tell, and what Rajan managed not to mention, is that the Daily Echo is not some vulnerable local brand, but part of a national newspaper group.
The Daily Echo is part of Newsquest - this can be found by scrolling down to the foot of the website front page. The anti-Section 40 message is the same there as it is at the York Press, as it is at the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. There may be no corporate direction given on the Newsquest website, but the message has clearly gone out. Amol Rajan had the chance to call out Newsquest, but as with the Whittingdale story, he chickened out.
Amol Rajan taking his cowardice in the face of the press establishment to another media outlet would not normally arouse criticism - it would at least show consistency - but this is the BBC we are talking about. That makes his cowardice a matter for deep concern. The Corporation’s media editor should report without fear or favour. This is not good enough.