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    Monday, 3 September 2007

    Catch-up (July): the regulation of the journalistic process

    July saw a number of instances of 'regulation' of the process of (investigative) journalism. First, it emerged that a senior BBC editor was to be questioned by police with regard to the forging of GPs' letters to an IVF fertility clinic. This move can have come as no surprise as both criminal and tortious action has been mooted for some time (1,2). The BBC still seems to consider, however, that the public interest in its journalism should outweigh the harm alleged in both contexts.

    Secondly, two journalists on the Daily Mirror were arrested by police on account of their having attempted to place a faked bomb (or 'tracking device', depending on which account one reads) on a Channel Tunnel train (1). Their action comprised a purported attempt - characteristic of the Mirror and its competitors - to 'assist' authorities in identifying limitations of security regimes, while meantime gaining 'win-win' copy. The Mirror lambasted the heavy-handed use of terrorism powers to arrest the pair given that they were engaged on "a legitimate and justified journalistic exercise" and fretted about the future of investigative journalism (1,2), but ultimately professed itself "happy to see that the security procedures have now improved". Greenslade has posted - somewhat scathingly- on this theme, and elicited plenty of interesting comment from others.

    Thirdly, in a story carried by the BBC-baiting Mail on Sunday, BBC News was accused of 'entrapping' a Bulgarian man who had allegedly offered to traffick children to the UK in return for payment (1). BBC News at Ten had carried a story in which it purported to expose the child trafficker and the existence of a wider network (see here). Responding to the story on the BBC Online Editors' Blog, Head of TV News Peter Horrocks lambasted the police chief quoted for seeking to downplay the significance of the story and for issuing a series of falsehoods in order to achieve this. He emphasised that the investigation had been carried out in strict adherence to the BBC editorial guidelines. The excoriation of the newspaper's failure to stand up its story was all the more effective for its silent execution.

    Fourthly, a former employee of the Met police who pleaded guilty to a charge of wilful misconduct in a judicial or public office having leaked a report on terrorism to a Sunday Times journalist, was sentenced to an eight-month term in prison.

    Finally, the House of Lords refused to hear an appeal from the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of the long-lived Ashcroft protection of sources case (1,2).

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