Sat 23 October 2021

Exclusive to print for a month, Peter Oborne shares his observations of the political media class. For the latest diary subscribe to the August Digital Edition

In a Huff

SIR ROBBIE GIBB, BORIS JOHNSON’S stooge on the BBC Board, says that the Government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if Jess Brammar, former editor of the Huffington Post website, is appointed as a news editor at the corporation. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announces that “free media is fundamental to the preservation of democracy and human rights”, adding that “journalists defend our freedoms and we must defend theirs”. 

Like so much that goes on in the Johnson Government, Raab’s remarks are cynical and fake. Far from defending free media, Raab was actually responsible for the first pile-on against Brammar, when the Huffington Post accurately reported that the Foreign Secretary had told his staff that Britain planned to strike trade deals with countries which violate human rights. In a disreputable attack, Raab’s Foreign Office said that Brammar’s Huffington Post had “deliberately and selectively clipped“ a recording of Raab’s speech “to distort the Foreign Secretary’s comments”. Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg then amplified this by saying that the Foreign Secretary’s comments were “shockingly distorted by low-quality journalism”. 

I have contacted both the Foreign Office and Rees-Mogg, asking them to provide evidence that Raab’s words had been ‘distorted’. Neither could do so. Rees-Mogg’s assault on Brammar’s Huffington Post is especially low grade because it was made under parliamentary privilege.

The Government’s feud with Brammar dates back to last year when one of her reporters was personally criticised by Treasury and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch on Twitter on the grounds that she was ‘creepy and bizarre” after she asked difficult questions. Brammar honorably stood up for her reporter, but she’s paying the price – her card had been marked, and now comes this sinister intervention from Sir Robbie Gibb. 

It is essential that the BBC stands firm. It is also time that Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg personally apologised to Jess Brammar and the Huffington Post

You would expect newspapers to have defended Brammar. You’d be wrong. The Telegraph reported the story under the headline ‘BBC Considers Left-Wing Anti-Brexit Journalist For Top News Job’. Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes website gleefully quoted a “Government source” as saying that “Brammar has been running a borderline fake news lefty clickbait website for years. Remarkable that someone like this would even enter consideration”. None of this should be a surprise. The main danger to a free press in Britain comes from the media itself – which sees its job as supporting established power structures and attacking or marginalising dissident voices. 

Blind Eye

CONSIDER LAST WEEK’S SILENCE about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who published so many grim details about atrocities committed by the United States and allies in the course of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. Assange rots in Belmarsh prison, in south-east London, as the US demands his extradition.

Last week, a crucial witness in the US’ case, a former WikiLeaks volunteer named Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, confessed to fabricat­ing key accusati­ons in the indictment against Assange. Not a single British newspaper even reported this moment of pivotal importance in the biggest case involving free speech this century. 

If Assange is deported to America, the consequences for investigative journalism will be calamitous. Yet, the British mainstream media couldn’t care less. The Economist supports his extradition. It is especially shaming that the Guardian, which played such an important role in reporting the early WikiLeaks revelations, has not reported the latest development. 

This is the same British newspaper industry which screamed blue murder about Lord Leveson’s attempt to clean up the press. The Telegraph warned over Leveson that “three centuries of press freedom will be consigned to the dustbin of history, with investigative journalism almost impossible and shackles imposed on our much-loved local press”. Yet, the Telegraph is one which adopts the cheap Government talking point about Jess Brammar and treats the Assange case as a state secret. Those protestations over Leveson were false.

Selective Scrutiny

TEN YEARS AGO, I presented a series of films for Channel 4 exposing the omerta that governed Fleet Street during the phone-hacking affair. Newspapers systematically failed to report on mounting evidence of criminality at News International and elsewhere. This Fleet Street cult has returned. 

Contrast the treatment of former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. Both have left their wives. But while Hancock was exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny and all the humiliation and intrusion that goes with it, Gove has been treated with a respect and discretion reminiscent of the 1936 abdication crisis. 

According to former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie, the newspaper “has known for months” that Gove was leaving his wife but “chose not to publish it as the Cabinet minister was a MoM (mate of Murdoch)”. Meanwhile, Gove’s wife Sarah Vine works for Associated Newspapers.

Many will approve of the discrete way that Gove’s private life has been treated. But why Gove and not Hancock? Mackenzie says that he has been given special treatment because he is a high-ranking member of the media-political class, which has emerged as the modern British aristocracy: government by journalists for journalists.

Legend of Lingard

MY WONDERFUL AND EXTRAORDINARY FRIEND Lingard Goulding, tells me that he has finally given up cricket. He was still keeping wicket in Australian club cricket at the age of 78, in between coaching assignments. I am almost certain Lingard would have been Ireland’s first choice keeper in the 1960s, had he not taken up Formula 2 racing. Later, he became an inspirational headmaster at Headfort School in County Meath, Ireland. His mother Valerie ran clandestine messages between the Duchess of Windsor (of whom she always spoke highly) and the British Government. She then became an Irish Senator and, at one point, an outside possibility for President of the Republic. Lingard is back in County Meath, writes like a dream, and – now that he’s laid down his gloves – I hope he writes his memoirs.


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