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?
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.
i 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)