The BBC has been skirting around the press regulation debate to some extent, certainly not giving it the coverage many in the mainstream press have, but credit today to Andrew Neil for debating the issues of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act with campaigner Max Mosley, although The Great Man was not always inclined to take Mosley’s answers on board on the subject of the press’ unwillingness to join a recognised press regulator.
Something else to chew over
And it was hardly necessary to try and link the funds from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust to Mosley’s late father to produce a smear by association of independent press regulator IMPRESS. As Mosley pointed out, it is not possible, given the way that IMPRESS and the Trust giving over the funds to it are structured, for him to exercise any influence upon it (in any case, he is a card carrying Labour member).
But it was when Neil briefly went after IMPRESS’ head man Jonathan Heawood that he made what looks like an error of judgment. Heawood, he asserted, had Tweeted or Re-Tweeted 50 attacks on the Daily Mail in a one month period. I’m told this was early November to early December last year. Where he got his list, and how “attack” was defined is unclear, but one intervention merely compounded my suspicion.
That was a post from the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog triumphantly announcing “Guido’s IMPRESS File On The Sunday Politics”. The author of that post was Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, who has form not just for dishonesty, but also for drawing attention to himself when he would have been best advised not to have done so. So let me put Wickham and Neil straight.
You didn't get the information from HIM ... did you?
The Tweet (just the one was displayed) which Neil claimed put the judgment of one IMPRESS Code Committee member in question was an expression of opinion. Moreover, the Code Committee does not deal with the actual task of fielding complaints. If every passing of opinion Neil did via Twitter were considered a test of his character, he would not be best pleased, and in that I would agree with him. He’s entitled to his opinion.
And on the subject of the “50 attacks on the Daily Mail”, I have been through Jonathan Heawood’s Twitter feed for the period 5 November to 5 December, taken every Tweet and RT that specifically mentioned the Mail, and then considered all those where there is any adverse comment. My conclusion is that the term “attack” would have to have been very broadly defined to get a number into double figures, let alone fifty.
Also, it has to be made clear that (a) expressing disquiet about the Mail’s attacks - for instance on the judiciary - is not an attack, (b) empathy for the Stop Funding Hate campaign is not an attack, (c) some of those RTs were Neil’s fellow BBC contributors like Nick Robinson and James O’Brien, both of whom are allowed to mention the Mail and pass opinions on its content, (d) jocular comment about Paul Dacre is not an attack, and (e) correcting the Mail’s misconception that EU equals ECHR is not an attack.
Of the 58 mentions in Heawood’s Twitter feed in that period, I can’t find one that can be nailed on as an attack on the paper. And if he got his information from Alex Wickham, then when the complaint comes in, all I have to say to Andrew Neil is … GOOD LUCK.