Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nick on Liberty

(from the Rioja Kid)

Part of the reason Nick is becoming unreadable is down to his increasingly hectoring and melodramatic style. Still, if you’re going to be hectoring and melodramatic about anything, the Saudis are a good enough place to start.

Anyway, here’s the meat of the thing. On That Mosque Programme

It is against this stifling background of journalists and Muslim activists biting their tongues and pulling their punches that the unprecedented decision of the West Midlands police and Crown Prosecution Service to hound Channel 4 should be seen…

… the rules governing television documentaries remain incredibly tight. Channel 4 stuck to them. It substantiated every allegation and then gave the people it criticised a right of reply. Even so, the West Midlands police referred it to the television watchdog and, in the process, sent a message to other journalists thinking of exposing religious extremism to back off if they didn't want the cops on their case as well.

Now why might that be then? A couple of years back, Nick had this to say about attempts to warn us of the consequences of creeping authoritarianism:

Meanwhile, many politicians and civil servants will never forgive the law lord, Lord Hoffmann, for saying of anti-terror legislation: 'The real threat to the life of this nation ... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.' The slyness of the sentiment infuriated them. Hoffmann might have said that the liberties of Britain must be protected even at the price of allowing preventable atrocities to take place. This is a principled position that I believe in, but one which honourable people oppose for honest reasons.

As it was, Hoffmann allowed no room for argument about the balance between liberty and security and simply asserted that the government was engaged in an unwarranted power grab. When even law lords sound as if they write their judgments in green ink, I think it is fair to say that a deep malaise has taken hold. Because it is so prevalent, not nearly enough attention is paid to its psychological appeal to millions of people.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Lord Hoffman was talking about: as you give the cops more powers they inevitably become policy makers themselves, not least because a wide spread of laws enables them to pick and choose the ones they find it convenient or useful to enforce. It enables them to adopt their own priorities. And funnily enough, they don’t turn out to be Nick’s. When you “allow room for argument over the balance between liberty and security” the cops get to say who wins the argument. He adds:

Ofcom will rule on Undercover Mosque in a few weeks and it looks like it will dismiss as laughable the West Midlands police's claims that Channel 4 framed innocent preachers.

Given his record at prediction, I wouldn’t put any money on this.


Blogger ejh said...

they inevitably become policy makers themselves

From a slightly different angle, indeed.

9/28/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And a very good article it was too, Justin. But a quick look at the current party conferences might suggest that many of our elected representatives have forgotten what "holding people in authority to account" means. And Decency has a strong streak of holding to account people who are not in authority?

9/28/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Given channel fours recent record on documentaries, I'm kind of rooting for the police here.

9/29/2007 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm rooting for them if only out of nausea at the idea that somehow the police force (and the BBC, and the government, and the press, and everybody) is, despite all appearances to the contrary, in the grip of a mania causing them to be subservient to radical Muslims. It's a concept belonging to loony-reactionary paranoia and therefore you can't really argue with it or placate it. So you might as well annoy it...

9/29/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which country Cohen believes himself to be living in whn he writes of 'this stifling background of journalists and Muslim activists biting their tongues and pulling their punches', with the right-wing press running Muslim peril stories every week and 'respectable' journalism endorsing the same ideology in more sophisticated language, with last night's documentary on Sharia law and the forthcoming Panorama.

10/02/2007 07:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was that the doc which argued Sharia law is bad based upon Nigeria's experience of it? I saw the premise, and decided that some things were too stupid to be endured.

10/02/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cian, yes, it was an archetypal example of the journalism Cohen believes is currently terrified into silence, collapsing the distinction between the reactionary Sharia practised in Nigeria - which is opposed by many Muslims, including the Islamic human rights commision - and the form of Sharia Muslims are asking to be introduced in britain which relates to banking and divorce. I don't hold a brief for any form of religious law, but there's no comparison between the two any more than the fact both the presumption of innocence and hanging, drawing and quartering both originate in english common law. It was also presented by a 'Muslim activist' (e.g. former fundamentalist turned decent) which makes Cohen argument even more see-through.

10/02/2007 09:20:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home