Time for the UK media to provide a Miranda warning

In the United States, when the police arrest a suspect, they have to read them the Miranda Warning.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

With the doorstepping[i] of Chuka Umunna’s girlfriend’s grandmother, it is time for the press to provide a Miranda warning.[ii] Despite the Leveson Inquiry, the press remain unbowed and uninhibited in their behavior towards sources. The Inquiry showed the illegal, unethical, and immoral behavior that the press used against sources. Although the Inquiry never mentioned 102-year-old grandmothers being targeted, it is not surprising in an industry with the ethos that would find it ok to hack a missing child’s cell phone. I am not aware that David Cameron’s wife’s grandmother was doorstepped when stood to be Conservative Party leader in 2005. Perhaps she was and this is a normal part of UK politics.

Why target the grandmother?

A grandmother

A grandmother (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question to ask is why did the journalists need to interview his girlfriend’s grandmother? What insight will she have into Mr. Umunna? How is this interview in the public interest? The press justify intrusive behavior as being in the public interest as their freedom of expression is without limit.[iii] Do you, the public, agree that a politician’s girlfriend’s grandmother is an appropriate target?  I can understand Chuka being a target. I can understand his girlfriend being a target. I can even understand their parents being interviewed, but a 102-year-old grandmother? Why? ***

Only paedos want privacy: UK journalism ethos expressed

The event reminds us of Paul McMullan’s approach to privacy and sources.[iv] He argued that only paedos wanted privacy.[v] At the Leveson Inquiry, he admitted to various illegal, unethical, and immoral behavior. Yet, he enjoyed a long and successful media career. Other journalists may have recoiled from his illegal behavior, they never disavowed his ethos regarding privacy or the public interest. No one has privacy as far as journalists are concerned. They operate with the public interest. The doorstepping of a 102-year-old grandmother shows their ethos.

If you want to spare your family, give us an exclusive Mr. Umanna

The press have pursued the grandmother for simple reason that they can use the information she can provide about Mr. Umunna. Anything she might say can and will be used against him. What is insidious about this event is that the press can legitimately claim, if they talk to the grandmother, that she is a public figure. Remember, the next time the press contact you, they are not there to help you. They only want to talk to you for their purpose, which is either to sell newspapers or obtain information they can use for their purposes.[vi] What you say to them can and will be used against you. If you are related even tangentially to someone in the public domain, you are now a target. A high price for anyone entering politics, let alone the public domain.

*** Curiously, the media have been rather shy in claiming credit for having doorstepped the grandmother.

[i] Doorstepping is a practice by journalists of approaching a person for a story usually at the doorway when they least expect it such as returning home from an evening out. The goal is to catch them unawares and off guard so they are more likely to answer questions.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/doorstepping (accessed 15 May 2015)

[ii] She is lucky the journalists only wanted to talk to her. She may wish to see if her phone messages have been hacked, whether her computer has been hacked, or if her garbage has been gone through. If she is not careful, they may put her and her neighbors under surveillance to see if they can find anything they deem useful to their stories.

[iii] http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/speech/90798 (accessed 15 May 2015)  see also Robert Jay QC’s opening statement to module 3 “The only boundaries on free comment are those imposed by the criminal law, the law of defamation and broadly analogous constraints, themselves imposed in the interests of democracy and the public at large.” http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/speech/70078 (accessed 15 May 2015)

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_McMullan_%28journalist%29 (accessed 15 May 2015) Even though

[v] http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/hearing-29-november-2011/mr-paul-mcmullan#s8968 (accessed 15 May 2015)

[vi] http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/hearing-26-april-2012/mr-keith-murdoch#s68779 (accessed 15 May 2015) In particular the idea that stories are traded for favors or “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours”. http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/speech/68793 (Accessed 15 May 2015)

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in bias, demagogic, ethics, journalism, politics, public interest and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Time for the UK media to provide a Miranda warning

  1. stevennott says:

    Curiously, I’ve never had the pleasure of an experienced doorstepper.

    The one thing the press and I seem to have in common is that we don’t get on too well together.

    I’ve embarrassed many and even though I may have stirred up a hornets nest, the press haven’t had the balls to delve into my life in fear of me receiving more publicity for exposing them in the first place. Funny that.

    I have to say though, I’ve received my fair share of a ‘digital style doorstepping’ from those who haven’t got the decency or balls to speak to me face to face. These are the very same people trained in the very same industry that do the doorstepping to those vulnerable among us. The press know I’m not vulnerable and cannot get to me. Proof they prey on the weakest in society.

  2. Carl says:

    However, I call bollocks on this sweeping tirade. Not wishing to sound like the meme #notallmen, but not all journalists act this way, and not all doorsteps are without merit. I doorstepped a home tutor once, with a snapper in tow. The guy had received a caution after being caught as part of Operation Ore (the first internet paedophile investigation which tracked suspects via credit card payments to paedophile image supply websites). We had been given sound info he was teaching young children without revealing his caution to parents, and encouraging parents to send the children to his home for lessons. We requested some O level training for an 11 year old via a pushy parent. He was happy to do so. When confronted at his home, he denied it, then when we relayed the conversation he admitted it. He had been allowed to continue teaching only because the industry is not regulated and police couldn’t stop him. I couldn’t give a shit if it did or did not sell papers the next day. It did, however, uncover iniquity.

    • Thank you for reading the post and the comment. I am surprised that you consider this a tirade. Most people are unaware that they do not have to talk to the press and that the press are not there to help them. The press are there to gather information they can use and to sell the story. Sometimes it helps the source. Yet, that same information can be turned against the source when it suits the journalist’s interest. Consider that Sara Payne’s (Sarah Payne’s mother) phone was hacked by the same media company that was promoting her cause.
      As for the claim this is for all journalists, I am not sure how that follows. The post does not say that all journalist doorstep. It does say that all journalists act in the public interest. Journalism is justified in the public interest of the public’s right to know so that they can make an informed decision about public matters. Any suggested warning would have to apply to all journalists otherwise it would be ineffective.
      The example you provided is not comparable. Yet, that still does not address the issue of how the grandmother is in the public interest. I was wondering about your story as you mention you found the person from the Operation. Did the police tell you? If they told you, on what basis did they provide the information?
      The case you mention suggests that the press can act as the community’s moral enforcer without apparent legal safeguards and political oversight. Is that the role of the journalists today? When the ends justify the means, then a person can start to become the judge and the jury. In some cases, the journalists becomes an extension of the state and a self-appointed vigilante. As long as it is for the kids, it is ok. Yet, is that same effort put into changing the system, or campaigning to regulate the business? You were able to use your power and your position in a way that made you feel better, yet was that in the public interest? In this case, you will argue that it was and I would agree with the following question. Did you follow up all the cautions and convictions in Operation in this way? If not, why not? It seems rather arbitrary and could appear as self-serving. The approach is hardly a way to develop or ensure a just society that will be healthier and more resilient against such threats.
      I appreciate your stand against iniquity. Yet, that assumes you will always know what is unfair and how it is unfair. To be sure, we can always find bright line cases such as the one you described. Is every incident as clear-cut? If all iniquity is obvious why is so much of it perpetrated and defended?

  3. Carl says:

    For the sake of this reply, take it as red that it comes from a local reporter and local reporting perspective. That is a very key element. Leveson had nothing but praise for local and regional reporting, effectively saying he had no concerns about them, because they weren’t the problem…
    Yes, people don’t have to talk to the press. But they do, in their droves, everday. Many desperately want to, because they believe we may be able to help them when others can’t or won’t. Some do, because they like being the source of information (not just gossip, but eye witness accounts, experts in their field) while others don’t especially those who we are highlighting their misdemeaners (conmen, criminals, brazen hypocritical councillors).
    Most reporters on local papers do not consider “sales” while looking for, researching and writing a story. Nor to they consider political bias. For them it’s a story about their readership, for their readership. On a local paper you can’t afford political bias, because your readership is your entire community, in every colour of the political spectrum.
    “Yet, that same information can be turned against the source when it suits the journalist’s interest” – indeed. But in this case, the “turning” was an illegal act, let alone an immoral one.
    And no, I don’t feel calling up the nan was in the public interest. I would argue it was all part of a politically motivated attack on an MP who was considered a “risk” to the party which the paper supports. It was a case of ‘by any means necessary to get what we want’, which is not in the interest of the public, it was in the interest of the owner and their intentions/expectations. They want the tories on side, or rather, in their pocket, to achieve even greater financial gain, power and influence.
    Re: my case. I was informed as an aside via a police officer speaking in a non-police role. As a churchgoer () he became aware of the situation and was greatly concerned, but found it wasn’t something he could do anything about in law. It was not something which was “illegal” in law. Because there was no regulation, no regulatory body and no controls over private tutors in the UK at that time. It was a giant loophole which we exposed in a piece which ran alongside this “doorstepping”. Anyone – even a convicted paedophile – could be a private tutor and there was nothing any of the authorities could do about it.
    “The case you mention suggests that the press can act as the community’s moral enforcer without apparent legal safeguards and political oversight. Is that the role of the journalists today?”
    Well, it has often been this way. We do have legal safeguards, (back to McNae’s again!) Some folk insist we be the community’s moral enforcer when all other avenues have failed (from disputes about parking and boundaries, to anger at council decisions to concerns over loopholes in teaching children). It is a level of power and all power corrupts. You run a blog – that is a kind of power. What is there to stop you being corrupted? It’s a question worth asking yourself because I think it’s the question all journalists should ask themselves, all the time.
    Beyond that, we’re into the realm of philosophical debate. Can anyone who writes not be corrupted…?

    • Thank you or the response. I am not sure I agree with your approach.
      For the sake of this reply, take it as red that it comes from a local reporter and local reporting perspective. That is a very key element. Leveson had nothing but praise for local and regional reporting, effectively saying he had no concerns about them, because they weren’t the problem…
      I did not take that view from Leveson. I think, if anything, that Leveson had too much on his plate and the scale of issues in local or regional newspapers is of a different order than the majors. If anything, it is the local or regional papers are less effective in holding power to account and they have their own issues but less powerful people to resist their abuses and bring them to the public’s attention. Privacy abuses still occur, but without a Mosely to bring them to our attention and fight them, we remain ignorant of them. A deeper problem with local and regional papers is that they tend to become cosy and complicit with the regional powers that be. As they are spread thin, they seek an easier life than challenge and confronting the powers that be. Yes, there are incidents and stories that emerge. However, Rotherham was not broken or pursued by a local paper. It was a national journalist.
      Yes, people don’t have to talk to the press. But they do, in their droves, everday. Many desperately want to, because they believe we may be able to help them when others can’t or won’t. Some do, because they like being the source of information (not just gossip, but eye witness accounts, experts in their field) while others don’t especially those who we are highlighting their misdemeaners (conmen, criminals, brazen hypocritical councillors).
      Yes, people talk to the press. The news usually informs and people rely on it for information and to hold power to account. However, that is not the issue, that is the newspapers and media doing what is expected. Even there, though, there are problems for local and regional papers as the industry still has not figured out the best ways to work with local social media and blogs.

      Most reporters on local papers do not consider “sales” while looking for, researching and writing a story. Nor to they consider political bias. For them it’s a story about their readership, for their readership. On a local paper you can’t afford political bias, because your readership is your entire community, in every colour of the political spectrum.

      Reporters who are unaware of the bottom line or the business model within which they work soon find that the companies they work for cease to exist. All newspaper and media people understand that they are in a for profit business. Are all decisions and stories done in that light? No. However, they know that they need to sell their product.

      “Yet, that same information can be turned against the source when it suits the journalist’s interest” – indeed. But in this case, the “turning” was an illegal act, let alone an immoral one.
      And no, I don’t feel calling up the nan was in the public interest. I would argue it was all part of a politically motivated attack on an MP who was considered a “risk” to the party which the paper supports. It was a case of ‘by any means necessary to get what we want’, which is not in the interest of the public, it was in the interest of the owner and their intentions/expectations. They want the tories on side, or rather, in their pocket, to achieve even greater financial gain, power and influence.
      Should papers be involved in politically motivated attacks or stories? In an important sense, holding power to account is a political stand. This is why the press works so hard to maintain its relationship arwith the establishment be it local or national. The press rarely confronts the establishment fully and directly. Yes, it will pursue certain stories or agendas, but for the most part it works for the establishment and not the people. Does it keep the readership happy and interested? Yes. Is that the same as working in their interests? No.
      Re: my case. I was informed as an aside via a police officer speaking in a non-police role. As a churchgoer (PID removed) he became aware of the situation and was greatly concerned, but found it wasn’t something he could do anything about in law. It was not something which was “illegal” in law. Because there was no regulation, no regulatory body and no controls over private tutors in the UK at that time. It was a giant loophole which we exposed in a piece which ran alongside this “doorstepping”. Anyone – even a convicted paedophile – could be a private tutor and there was nothing any of the authorities could do about it.

      In your case, the officer broke the law. They broke the duty of confidence and they violated the data protection act, it is a section 55 offence. Both of these are criminal offences. If it was in the public interest, the officer could have done this officially rather than through the whispering campaign that corrodes the UK’s public life and political culture.
      In light of that officer’s behavior, I would be interested in your views in this case. Is this case in the public interest? Is this the appropriate relationship between the press and the police?
      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmcumeds/458/458w126.htm

      “The case you mention suggests that the press can act as the community’s moral enforcer without apparent legal safeguards and political oversight. Is that the role of the journalists today?”
      Well, it has often been this way. We do have legal safeguards, (back to McNae’s again!) Some folk insist we be the community’s moral enforcer when all other avenues have failed (from disputes about parking and boundaries, to anger at council decisions to concerns over loopholes in teaching children). It is a level of power and all power corrupts. You run a blog – that is a kind of power. What is there to stop you being corrupted? It’s a question worth asking yourself because I think it’s the question all journalists should ask themselves, all the time.

      Yes, the press can be an important societal champion. Harold Evans made his career with campaigns. Yet, there exist a myriad of ways within which power can be exercised by the public. There are a number of ombudsmen such as the Local Government Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner’s office. Also, there are political representatives who are there to act as a point of contact. The local MP has a role. If they cannot support their local constituents that can become a campaign issue that will limit their chances at re-election. However, the issue of power remains. As to my blog, I doubt that my 30 subscribers and 2 readers a day, on average, is a powerbase to rival Mr. Murdoch or you. Do you really believe that my blog provides the same audience as regional or national newspaper.
      An important caveat, even though the law considers me to be a journalist as I write a blog, is that I do not claim to write in the public interest. I write for myself. If my blog contributes to the public debate then I will be satisfied and to that extent it would be in the public interest.

      Beyond that, we’re into the realm of philosophical debate. Can anyone who writes not be corrupted…?

      Yes. It happens all the time. Most writers are not corrupted because those who seek to corrupt them do not have a chance to approach them. In any case, if they cannot be corrupted, they can be contained, or taken out of circulation. Power, rarely, if ever likes to give account for what it does and has done. I have never met a powerful person, and that includes journalists, who wanted to be held to account for their actions. They will give an account on their terms only.

      • Carl says:

        Lawrence – “I did not take that view from Leveson. I think, if anything, that Leveson had too much on his plate and the scale of issues in local or regional newspapers is of a different order than the majors.”
        Well, everyone else *did* take that from Leveson: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2012/news/local-press-exempted-from-leveson-criticisms/
        http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/lord_justice_leveson_gives_his_verdict_on_regional_press_1_1715910
        “As they are spread thin, they seek an easier life than challenge and confronting the powers that be”
        Yes, we are spread thin. We still confront the powers that be on a daily basis – local council, local businesses, local police. Just ask any press officer if they have a loving friendly always cordial relationship with their local paper. They will all say they don’t because we ask them questions they have to answer but they wish they didn’t.
        “However, Rotherham was not broken or pursued by a local paper. It was a national journalist” – indeed. While predatory paedophile William Goad’s activities, and the loophole on private tutors, failures over Operation Encompass were all done in a local paper. There are hundreds of little stories which build and build over weeks, months, years and they are done by local papers. But they get overlooked by people who only read a small sample of nationals and do not gather up all the local papers. Instead they just assumed, without reading all the papers across the UK, that the only work being done of note is in the nationals. And for your information the Rotherham journo Andrew Norfolk admitted he was given hug amounts of space and time to work almost exclusively on his story – not for four days, four weeks or four months, but for years. He said so at an awards ceremony and praised his boss for allowing him that rare amount of time. Same place he pointed out Leveson did not approve of his stories: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/andrew-norfolk-leveson-refused-include-controversial-times-child-abuse-story-good-practice-section
        “the industry still has not figured out the best ways to work with local social media and blogs” – the problem with “local social media and blogs” is much of it is half-hearted, painfully thin on facts, partisan and ignorant of media law which constrains journalists/protects the journalists/public. Invariably, it sets itself against local media, claiming it is the “voice of the people” when it is often just the voice of the author. Some social media/blogs are magnificent (I would cite Bloggerheads), but others are vindictive, partisan and bullying (Guido ‘Paul Staines’ Fawkes).
        “In your case, the officer broke the law. They broke the duty of confidence and they violated the data protection act, it is a section 55 offence. Both of these are criminal offences. If it was in the public interest, the officer could have done this officially rather than through the whispering campaign that corrodes the UK’s public life and political culture.” – okay, give me some time to pick my jaw off the floor. The loophole exists and it leaves children vulnerable to predatory paedophiles. That’s a fact. We exposed that fact and confronted a convicted (he accepted a caution for his activities) man who had continued to be in exceptionally close proximity to children, on a one-to-one basis, at his home, without informing the parents of his relevant conviction. And *your* take is it is not in the public interest to do the story and it is a “whispering campaign”. Not iniquity…
        Actually, I can’t answer that one without using swear words, so I won’t.
        “Reporters who are unaware of the bottom line or the business model within which they work soon find that the companies they work for cease to exist. All newspaper and media people understand that they are in a for profit business. Are all decisions and stories done in that light? No. However, they know that they need to sell their product.” – To a degree. But most reporters do not spend each and every story thinking “will this sell the paper?” They recognise some stories will improve the product, but it’s an arrogant reporter who believes people buy the paper for their copy and their copy alone. People buy local papers for a myriad of reasons – from the sports reporting to the classifieds. What most reporters are doing each story they bang out is “is this accurate, is it provable, have I written it well, is it interesting, have I got everything I need in, do I need another cup of tea…’
        “Yet, there exist a myriad of ways within which power can be exercised by the public. There are a number of ombudsmen such as the Local Government Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner’s office.” – in my experience (and in others) Ombudsmen/Commissioners do not always have power to make any changes, merely point out things (after being given a pretty hard shove) http://mediastandardstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/02/Did-the-PCC-fail-when-it-came-to-phone-hacking.pdf
        “The local MP has a role. If they cannot support their local constituents that can become a campaign issue that will limit their chances at re-election.” Really? MPs often come to us to help them campaign on an issue. Sometimes we go to them to get them to raise an issue. Sometimes they ignore us, sometimes they ignore their constituents. And ONCE every five years the public get the chance (hah) to change MPs…
        “As to my blog, I doubt that my 30 subscribers and 2 readers a day, on average, is a powerbase to rival Mr. Murdoch or you. Do you really believe that my blog provides the same audience as regional or national newspaper.” – I remember reading Fawkes when he had just a few hundred readers. He now outstrips most local papers and has a weekly column in the Sun on Sunday. Iain Dale started with a few hundred readers on his blog. He now has his own radio show on LBC. There are many other blogs which have gone from hardly any readers to huge audience. Inspector Gadget, Constable Chaos, Jack Monroe. Crying “I’m small” does not wash with me – it is a platform and it can grow.
        “An important caveat, even though the law considers me to be a journalist as I write a blog, is that I do not claim to write in the public interest. I write for myself” – If you truly write for yourself Lawrence, don’t press the “publish” button. You write TO BE READ. And the proof is your next line: “If my blog contributes to the public debate then I will be satisfied and to that extent it would be in the public interest.” Sez you…
        “Most writers are not corrupted because those who seek to corrupt them do not have a chance to approach them. ” – you have been approached in the interweb-world Lawrence. Every interaction has the nugget of corruption in it. You claim that’s not true, yet you also claim that local reporters get “cosy” with those in local power (like the council or local police). That’s like saying ‘look, you’re being corrupted by interacting with these people, but I’m not interacting with anyone like that, so I’m incorruptible’. I think the potential is always there – everyone can be vulnerable to it. Some embrace it, some don’t. Even you could be susceptible Lawrence… even you… (But I don’t think you will, so don’t be concerned. You have, I suspect, good moral fibre.)
        Right, must dash, I’m off to Crown court to corrupt everyone I touch, like a virus or something…

      • Several quick points to consider in reply. First, that Leveson said that regional press did not have the cultural problems like the majors does not mean that they are without problems. The point about being spread thin is that the unhealthy competition does not exist with reporters stealing stories. However, the culture problems endemic to the power of the press still exists as shown by the Eric Cullen situation and other activities within local press.
        As for confronting the powers that be, I would say that it is hit or miss rather than a constant theme. However, we each have our views. You can point to specific cases. Yet that does not mean that this is the rule. There are people who only read their local. There are others who read the regionals and the locals as well as aggregate sites to see the roundups through things like Google news alerts and other news aggregators. However, that does not change the issue that the local media are spread so thin that they cannot provide the same level of scrutiny as majors even if they wish to tell themselves that they do.

        The interaction with hyperlocal sites and blogs is the future of media. There is no way for regional press to get more resources. The challenge is to find a way to tap into these systems and find a way to sift through the dross to find the value. The noise to signal ratio will be high until tools and algorithms help to find the necessary information. When newspapers first emerged, newspapers did not exist so the disruption factor was not as much of an issue. That is the novelty of this situation is how to reconcile the two ages with the overlay of technology.
        I would have thought that we cannot be the judge, jury, and executioners in our own cases. The officer broke the law and he needs to own it. The law has an enforcement mechanism for a reason. It is there to keep us civilized not to allow vigilante justice. Did you close the loophole? Have you changed the law?
        I noticed you qualified your case by saying that he was a possible risk needs to be confronted rather than a known threat. Do you do other preventions such as around all convicted felons such as attempted murder? Do you have a regular programme where you and the police go about finding potential threats and door stepping them?
        My base is hardly going to grow. I have been doing this for a few years and if you have read the topics it hardly panders to the masses or has a ideological slant that will excite readers. I write for myself and if other people read it, I feel privileged. I do not write often enough or on topics that interest people or with insights (leaks) that would garner more than casual attention. I will keep writing because I have not else to do with my limited time. However, I doubt my subscription will grow past 100. I write two other blogs and neither has broken a 100 and I have been writing them for longer. I appreciate your faith in my talents, but I think it is misplaced.
        As for the public interest, I do not write to influence the public debate in the way that others with a platform can and do. Even the vaunted Guido Fawkes cannot compete on the national level. They are at best a niche actor who has to sacrifice much for influence. I do not seek power and I do not want power. If someone finds my writing of interest and use, that is great. I doubt that anyone near power, let alone in power, reads this site. Even if they were to, I doubt that they would agree with it let alone put any suggestions or ideas into practice.

        Thanks again for your time and your input.
        Best,

        Lawrence

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