Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Naughty, naughty.

JOURNALISTS are naughty. This is both a good and a bad thing.

It makes us the kind of people who persist in poking our noses where they are not wanted no matter how many times they are batted away, and in fact if you bat us away we're naughty enough to decide it must be worth persisting at.

The downside is that, trained and inured as we are to getting around obstreperous police, lying politicians, cheating love rats, criminal thugs and other ne'er-do-wells in which the ends really does justify most of our means, we sometimes behave in precisely that way when we didn't ought to and when the ends don't justify it at all.

Spotting the difference between the two isn't always easy, and even the most honest make mistakes. When a story is denied or legalled out of the paper the journalist who worked on it might refuse to accept they were wrong, pursue it long past the point of reason and will insist on their deathbed the little sod was bang to rights.

Sometimes they have genuinely stumbled upon a scandal; other times they are blind to the fact they were simply wrong.

This obsessive tendency, combined with our naughtiness, is something that doesn't earn us any friends, can lead to some stunning cock-ups, and more often than not is directed at people who are naughtier than us. So long as that happens 51 per cent of the time or more, it's a creditable deal.

There are other parts of society which cannot boast the same proportions nor offset their occasional bad behaviour against the public benefits of their continued existence.

Take Chris Moyles, for example, the recently-replaced Radio 1 DJ. You may like him or not, but it would be hard to argue the £500,000-a-year breakfast show he fronted for eight years investigated anything or stopped anyone doing things they shouldn't.

Newspapers don't do those things all the time, of course, and DJs can sometimes; but radio shows rarely come near that justification threshold of 51 per cent.

Anyway, Moyles was entertaining and maybe worth the public money he was paid by the BBC to bring in new listeners. He became a rich man and then invested in an aggressive tax avoidance scheme so the public who'd paid him didn't get quite the number of school meals and NHS bandages they were expecting from his taxes.

Well, perhaps we'd all do the same, eh? It's down to the rules and the accountants to some extent, so let's not be quick to judge.

Except that at a tax tribunal Moyles' lawyer argued that the public shouldn't get to hear about all this, as it might infringe his human rights.

The judge summarised the argument saying: "If it were to become public knowledge that he availed himself of a tax-avoidance scheme, his career might be damaged and his earning capacity reduced. He is already the focus of media interest for other reasons, much of it hostile."

He added that "adverse media comment" might "breach his right to respect for his private and family life".

Hang on. What about the human right of 62million people to a health service that's not cutting back on the bills, or street cleaners to a new broom now and again? School meals, street lights, filled potholes? And if he is so concerned that involvement in a tax avoidance scheme would be damaging to his reputation why did he, er, not get involved in the first place?

And then he hurls in that celebrity chestnut of 'privacy' when what he actually means is 'secrecy', deployed as a shield against "adverse media comment" that he's a filthy-rich hypocrite happy to earn more than he could reasonably spend and deprive an entire nation of his share of tax while the listeners who earned him that cash pay their whack and he squeals about how mean they will be to him if they know.

Well now we do know, thanks to naughty journalists and a sane judge who refused the request to keep it under wraps. Let the adverse media comment rain down upon him, and we'll await the UK Uncut sit-in on Moyles' doorstep.

But we will be waiting a while for that bit because most of the nation holds celebrities and high-profile people in a sort of unwilling awe. Their opinions about politics (Eddie Izzard), Darfur (George Clooney), media morality (Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan et other immoral al), feminism (Geri Halliwell, inexplicably) are absorbed without much thought as to whether people who stand on a stage and ask to be loved are really qualified to endorse anything other than hairspray.

X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, for example, is a pretty and successful young woman whose dresses, hair and love life is a source of interest to some. Yesterday her dad Plato - not the Greek philosopher, but let's imagine - spoke out to defend her amid claims she had acquired a new boyfriend before he'd quite finished with his ex.

"What she says is always the truth," he said. "She doesn't lie."

But then she does employ PRs and lawyers. When she was found to have been in a sex tape sold by an ex it was at first roundly denied, with Tulisa's people saying it wasn't her, she'd never allowed anyone to film her at intimate moments, and being quite categoric about it.

Then thanks to naughty journalists it turned out it was her, she had let herself be filmed, and she sued her ex in the High Court before writing about it in her autobiography. Last week her lawyers sent out more legal letters to newspapers about her new boyfriend's ex, over claims there had been an overlap between the two women, while Tulisa was telling someone on Twitter: "Shame ur mum didn't aborted u, bet she thinks about it wen she looks at u now tho!"

At least newspapers show people how to spell.

Tulisa's not blessing us with her opinion on politics, the media or human rights but her use of PR and lawyers to deny the obvious is a trait displayed by plenty of those who do, who generally do more harm than good, and who also want to have more control of what the Press writes. Does it not sound like people in their position have quite enough control already?

The loudest complaints about how naughty journalists are come from people who are naughtier than us, be it misusing the law, asking for special treatment, short-changing the taxpayer or misleading the public about what kind of people they really are.

Nowhere is this fact more obvious than in the Houses of Parliament, a place where many people work hard to do their best and more than that all-important 51 per cent majority manage to do their worst.

Three years ago they were hauled over the coals of public disgust for snuffling £90million from us in free food, homes, sofas, duck houses, repaired tennis courts, pruned wisteria and mortgages.

This year they've so repaired the damage they claimed £89m while rewriting the rules so they could rent from each other for more than it cost for us to buy them houses to start with.

So remorseful are they that, a la Moyles, 51 don't want us to know who their landlords are for 'security' reasons, and others demanded a 50 per cent increase - an INCREASE! - in allowances so they could live within walking distance of Westminster and not have to commute.

I'm sorry, does commuting give you cancer? Is it something only plebs do? And if you're worried that if we know where you live we'll be so angry you won't be safe then HOW ABOUT NOT PISSING US OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I don't give a toss about Tulisa, care anything for Chris Moyles and probably loathe politicians more than is healthy. But generally speaking they're all rich, all trying to bend the truth, and regardless of whether it's sex, cash or fame that's just not on.

There is no-one else who points out people who are admired are less-than-admirable; no-one else who bothers to traipse along to tax tribunals and plough through company reports; and few who can be bothered with Freedom of Information campaigns cross-referenced with the electoral roll and Land Registry. It is just us friendless hacks, by and large.

Journalists are imperfect. We do need someone to watch over us and smack our hands with a ruler now and again, and we need to be held to account for it if laws are broken, fractured or circumvented.

But until celebrities are honest, rich men pay all their taxes, and politicians grow tired of the gravy train, then naughty journalists who become dangerously obsessive and do good only slightly more often than they get it wrong are the best, imperfect, hope we all have that the truth will ever out at least 51 per cent of the time.

It's time we had a break.


* Tulisa's PR and lawyer have asked me to point out this post originally and quite wrongly claimed they had misled the public on her behalf. This was a mistake and referred to allegations made elsewhere they had issued false denials about a story, and has now been edited to remove this implication.
It was not my intention to say her PR or lawyer were acting unprofessionally and I apologise for any false impression it may have given.