Good to see the Guardian facing up to its responsibilities

I hold no brief for Neil Hamilton, the reviled ex-Tory MP who was ousted from Tatton, Cheshire, by the BBC’s man in a white suit, Martin Bell. He made the cardinal error of allowing a conflict to appear to arise between his private interests and public duties, as the Government’s code of behaviour, Questions of Procedure for Ministers, puts it.

I hold no brief for Neil Hamilton, the reviled ex-Tory MP who was

ousted from Tatton, Cheshire, by the BBC’s man in a white suit, Martin

Bell. He made the cardinal error of allowing a conflict to appear to

arise between his private interests and public duties, as the

Government’s code of behaviour, Questions of Procedure for Ministers,

puts it.



But the poor chap deserves some sympathy when the Guardian’s paperback

Sleaze, noting a change in his relations with his accuser, Mr Al Fayed,

of Harrods after he became a DTI minister, observed: ’The munificent

Egyptian was affronted to get a phone call ... in which it was explained

that Hamilton felt it best to ’distance himself’ from the owner of

Harrods from now on. One can detect a cultural difference here: in some

circles it might have been considered a point of honour that, once

bribed, you stayed bribed.



For Hamilton, however, no sense of obligation apparently remained.’



This displays a partiality for the ’briber’ in alleging impropriety.



The Guardian is Mr Al Fayed’s friend, indeed. I have long found its

judgment eccentric and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, a long streak of

humbug. But I must not allow my prejudices to look a gift horse in the

mouth. Mr Rusbridger has just delivered himself of the James Cameron

Memorial Lecture on the freedom of the press. Two-thirds of it is an

account of ’hollow victories’ in the Hamilton/Greer and police libel

trials and a whinge against Britain’s obtuse approach to his conspiracy

theories.



But eventually he gets round to arguing that journalists are so used to

living in the ’bunker’ that they have been driven to defend the

indefensible.



Beset, poor things, by libel and official secrecy law, the threat of

privacy law, the ’uncertain menace’ of data protection legislation, D

Notice committees and, wait for it, ’manipulated’ lobby systems, they

have stood silently by during wholesale intrusions of privacy, invasions

of hospital wards, traducing of widows, tapping of phones, betrayal of

confidences and the ruination of lives.



It is good to hear a sinner come to repentance, even if pleading

mitigation.



But Mr Rusbridger does more. He argues that, in a less embattled

climate, editors might be prepared to consider such things as a privacy

law, a corrections column in newspapers and a right of reply for readers

in ’contentious’ cases. He even mentions my idea of a register of

journalists’ - and specifically financial and political journalists’ -

outside interests. Perhaps Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press

Complaints Commission, could now test editors’ - and proprietors’ -

appetite for a new compact between society and journalism.



It would be at least useful to discover their price for better

behaviour.



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