Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Literally Anyone Can Commit Crimes. Get Over It.

I watched with more than a little amusement, the media storm over the extradition of Christopher Tappin. Perhaps amusement is the wrong word: he's a local guy, his wife is lovely and I feel for her. I cannot imagine how awful it would be were one of my family members arrested and dragged to foreign soil away from the safety of our own justice system.

And this isn't just any justice system either: it's the US, boo hiss... Orange jumpsuits, gang rapes, Shawshank and Louis Theroux.

Except oh wait this isn't what has happened. 

There are several arguments to be made against extradition of Christopher Tappin. First, he committed the crime in Britain and thus should be tried in Britain. Except this doesn't quite work. Global crime requires global policing and as much as some may resent the fact that the US has taken this mantle, it was essentially forced upon them post 1945 and more recently by successive global governments demanding their attention to internal problems. The USA is far from the only body that extradites the citizens of other nation states, the European Union also does this. It would be long and complicated to enter into the various EU-wide policing bodies however invaluable their contribution to policing of organised crime, but it is noticeable that much of the tabloid debate about extradition has failed to mention this.

For his part, Tappin believes that he is a victim of entrapment and if this is the case it is a serious charge. The FBI has used stings in the past and of course our definition of entrapment differs from their own, but the British media has not actually seen any evidence of this. Nor, they complain, have we seen much evidence at all. Because this is a criminal trial. Where they aren't going to release the evidence of the case before it goes to trial. Because I repeat, this is a criminal trial.

So the non-story rattles on. It has, as we have seen the perfect public comment bait: anti-Americanism. And now, with UK extradition policy in the spotlight, another perfect little angle.

That is, an evil brown man cannot be deported, but a nice middle-class white guy can. To America no less (boo-hiss).

I don't need to tell you that these are different cases though. Right? Right? I mean it's not like you can conflate them just with each other in a headline.

"Preacher of Hate has more rights than me." Daily Mirror. 


Which brings us to my final point. The newspapers in this case haven't actually had to find this story. Tappin supplied it himself. He wore a blazer and cravat on his plane trip stateside to "teach the Americans some class" and has been promoting his own story ad infinitem for the last few weeks. That this won't help him at all Stateside is moot point, he has the perfect media storm: a story that appeals to the tabloiders and readers of the Guardian, despite the fact that it has no merit whatsoever.

Old white guys in golf-clubs commit crimes too and if it emerges that he has sold batteries to the Iranian nuclear program knowingly, then he should go to jail for a very long time and good on the US for prosecuting this case. And if he has not, well that is unfortunate, but justice rolls on and we are generally safer for it.

Finally, a not on constitutional issues. The USA rarely allows her own citizens to be extradited which is one of the things that inspires a lot of ire amongst citizens of other nations. The USA is a constitutional democracy where congress and the courts must ratify international agreements so that a small limited executive cannot sign away the rights of her people without the consent of those same people. If we want to see more sovereignty, more control and more democracy, perhaps it is there that we should look.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Little Late- But these are my arbitrary opinions on the Leveson.

A little like a new computer, the Leveson enquiry was out of date before it even started. I read with interest that Paul Dacre would like to see a the introduction of a ‘kite-mark’ system for journalists. However, surely any such move, aimed only at “members of print news gathering organisations or magazines” is a move aimed at justifying the existence of such organisations rather than attempting to fix any ethical wrongdoing? 

Actual Daily Mail headline probably. 

By the time the News of the World finished last year, its circulation had fallen to 2.7m copies, easily the most popular of the sunday papers and as such, an excellent example of the changing way in which we now consume news. 
There is absolutely no doubt that media organisations have used underhand methods to break stories before, perhaps even more so in the pre-internet days when breaking a story quickly could give your paper up to a full day’s advantage over your competitors. Today the competition is even more fierce, with hundreds of thousands of online blogs and news outlets existing to circulate content. Of course ‘content’  is the key word here. Often what is produced is nothing more than comment or rumour which is then seized upon and parroted ad-infinitum by the other blogs, by the dailies and by news organisations globally until often the source of the story completely disappears. 
This situation surely gives some sort of credence to Paul Dacre’s argument. Whatever one might think of the Daily Mail, at least his idea of a ‘kite-mark’ brand for journalism allows a future for real ‘reporting’. After all, despite the existence of hundreds of thousands of news organisations globally, most people are still relatively loyal to a few established brands. It is telling that MailOnline and the BBC are still the most popular deliverers of news in the UK. 
Yet to claim that outlets such as Mail, Guardian or even the BBC are entirely or even primarily ‘reporting driven’ is a fallacy. Moreover, who gets to regulate what constitutes good reporting? Dacre has suggested that this kite mark be self-regulating but is that not, like many independent bodies, essentially the same as cronyism? Where would this ‘self-regulated kite mark’ leave upstarts like The Huffington Post? The newspapers would like a mark of journalistic quality to guarantee them privileged access to police reports and so on. They also want the government out of the business of regulating the press. Yet this is surely contradictory. By allowing a fatuously self-regulated group official access to privileged information, the government will be involved whether they like it or not and if there is one thing we really do not need, it is the government, especially spooky Labour shadow cabinet ministers suggesting that bad journalists should be ‘struck off’. 
There has not been a single suggestion for how the press should conduct itself in this enquiry that has not come with a whiff of desperate nostalgia. They are fighting less for some debatable notion of press ethics than they are for their own lives. There are no laws that could have prevented last years scandal that are not already in the books. If anything, we could do with less rules, especially in regards to UK libel law. 
Wouldn't mind seeing a bit of this. 

What we are seeing as a shift of power. Whilst it is true that most people still use formal news organisations, they were far from the first to report on the Arab spring, the financial crisis and so many other stories. They act as a useful filter for information, a quality control, but here their position is as precarious as ever. If they do not provide us with what they want, they will swiftly decline to be replaced by something new. In some ways that is all the regulation we need. That is until you look and see what sort of news is most popular. But to fight our new world is to be like King Canute fighting the incoming tide. Useless.