Farron triggers PCC probe into Telegraph’s Lib Dem MPs undercover sting

The BBC reports:

The press watchdog is investigating the Daily Telegraph’s use of undercover reporters to record Lib Dem ministers’ thoughts on the coalition government. It reported comments made by Business Secretary Vince Cable in a meeting with people he thought were constituents.

Lib Dem President Tim Farron asked the Press Complaints Commission to investigate. The PCC said 200 people contacted them over the story. The Telegraph said it was satisfied it acted within the PCC’s rules. …

A PCC spokesman said: “We have now received a letter from the Liberal Democrats asking us formally to investigate. We will do so under clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.”

It’s an interesting move by Tim.

On the one hand, it takes the fight to the Telegraph, a paper which long ago forfeited any claim to news credibility after its risible smear-splash against Nick Clegg for alleged ‘secret donations’, a flimsy story which collapsed within hours. The latest sting operation targeting Lib Dem MPs’ surgeries was all of a piece with their consistent hostility to the Coalition, and in particular the liberal contingent within it.

On the other hand it keeps alive a news story which undoubtedly did much damage to the reputation of Vince Cable, even if no other Lib Dem MP was entrapped into saying anything that would cause more than mild embarrassment.

Of course, former Lib Dem MP David Howarth would argue that the PCC should be the least of the Telegraph’s worries, and that it’s the police which should be investigating the Telegraph.

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  • I wouldn’t get too worked up in anticipation of a victory against the DT.

    Anyone who wishes to study this seriously has to read Clause 10 of the PCC Editors’ Code in conjunction with the following:

    The public interest

    There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

    1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
    i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
    ii) Protecting public health and safety.
    iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

    2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
    3. Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.

    4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

    5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

    I would say that Cable is caught under the serious impropriety charge and indeed it appears Cameron thought the same as he transferred the Sky issue to another department and Minister.

    I also think it is very much in the public interest that they are told that a senior government minister believes he has the power to bring down the Government of the Day especially in such turbulent economic times and the possible damage which could be caused to our economy through destabilisation of such an act.

    The talk of nuclear weapons may also be deemed by the DT or even the PCC to point to a possible unbalance that the public should be aware of because of the position of importance held.

    As regards the others, quite simply there is a range of disclosures and I feel most are in the public interest although a couple might be marginal. However, they will probably all be covered by: Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation. Please note that it is not required that the individual ‘outed’ has to have given the impression publicly that all was well with the coalition. It is enough that the party did so and I think that definition will extend to include Clegg as leader.

    I would also point out that all of them were Ministers and not ordinary MPs so it is important if their private thoughts on the Coalition differed from their public utterances. Obviously anyone who had previously publicly stated what the DT carried could possibly win a PCC adjudication although the coverage of their original public statement would be taken into account in determining whether it was in reality in the public domain.

    Anyway, I think these Ministers will struggle to show that they had previously publicly voiced the concerns that they did in private to DT reporters.

    I therefore reckon that the move will fail, it will all be raked up again and we’ll need to listen endlessly to Vince and the giggling duo and I really feel sorry for his wife on this one as I saw her speaking on telly and she seems a lovely woman.

    Most PPC cases are dropped anyway and I wonder if this will go the same way – I’m a bit surprised that the LibDems could only rustle-up 200 people to complain right enough.

  • There were no letters of complaint published in the newspaper itself despite many being written, according to Private Eye.
    So the Telegraph’s dedicated readers don’t have to remove their blinkers anytime soon and bankers can sleep easy in the shadows now Vince has been neutered.

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