17:23 Friday 24th May 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: The Government has defended the security services against criticism that they could have done more to prevent an attack which killed a soldier in London on Wednesday. It came out yesterday that the two main suspects had been known to MI5 for some time. Since the attack, calls for the so-called Snoopers Charter to be revived have gained momentum. Our political reporter Georgie Russell joins us from Westminster.
GEORGIE RUSSELL: Well I think Chris ever since it was made public that the two suspects in this case were known by the security services, naturally questions have been asked as to whether MI5, MI6, could have done more to stop this attack on Drummer Lee Rigby taking place. So the Government has come out today to say yes, and investigations will take place to find out what they knew, what action they took, whether mistakes were made and so on. But also the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wanted to go on record and say quite clearly that MI5, MI6, have a very tough job with limited resources. (TAPE)
ERIC PICKLES: I think we need to be realistic that a free and open society is always vulnerable to isolated individuals intent on violence.(LIVE)
GEORGIE RUSSELL: But as I say, an investigation will take place alongside that of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, looking into the police shooting, and of course the overall investigation into Drummer Lee Rigby’s death.
CHRIS MANN: Now let’s look at the issue of social media and the need for regulation and monitoring, two big talking points today. Firstly, calls for a revival of the controversial co-called Snoopers Charter have gained momentum, following the murder of a soldier on the streets of London. Boris Johnson has added his voice to suggestions the security forces need greater powers to monitor people’s communications on the likes of Facebook and Skype. And secondly, a Tweet by the Commons Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow about Lord McAlpine was libellous, according to the High Court in London, which ruled on that today. Well joining me now to discuss both of those is the Director of the Cambridge-based Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell. Hi Bob.
BOB SATCHWELL: Hi.
CHRIS MANN: First of all, the Snoopers Charter. Obviously a reaction to the terrible events of yesterday. Justified, or is this more Big Brother?
BOB SATCHWELL: Well I think you’ve got to be very careful. You should never make decisions about things as important as this in haste, and while the heat of a situation is raging. There are very difficult problems. Of course we want our security services to be able to do their job properly. But there have to be sufficient protections. I was just thinking about this this very day, when I was filling in a form on the Internet for a new driving licence. And I thought it was amazing the amount of information which the state keeps on us. And, you know, I don’t mind. I don’t feel guilty about anything .. (LAUGHS) .. so I don’t mind them having that information. But there have to be safeguards to make sure people use that correctly, they don’t use it unless they’ve got very good reason to do so, and that they protect that information. But at the same time as we’ve got this demand for the police and the security services to be able to get at more information, they’re actually being .. wanting to be more secretive for the public in terms of who they arrest and so on. And the balance, there has to be a balance there, but it has to be struck in the right place. And there is still a terrible passion for secrecy in this country, and both the Government and the authorities and ordinary individuals should actually think twice about where they put the switch. And I believe that the switch should always be that you should be prepared to release any kind of information that’s possibly available from Government agencies, or even from yourself, unless there’s a very good reason for not releasing it. But unfortunately the switch is usually, from Government downwards, is tell them as little as possible unless we’re forced to reveal it.
CHRIS MANN: Of course what they’ll be saying is that this will be a way that we could keep an eye on terrorists, but of course there’s a lot of listening and surveillance goes on that we don’t know about. The problem is many people feel it’s been shown that the security services and the police have abused these powers in the past.
BOB SATCHWELL: Well there have been terrible problems, and I think that the police have got an awful lot of confidence building to do, after all the issues that we’ve seen in recent years, to do with Hillsborough and Jimmy Savile and so on. And they need to work at that, and they need to be very careful before they keep asking for more and more powers, because what will happen is that they’ll lose touch with the public. And the most important intelligence that the security services and the police can get is actually from ordinary members of the public. They are the eyes and ears. And if the police particularly stop being the kind of special community policemen that we’ve grown up with in this country, policing by the community for the community, that will be very bad news for them, because the information won’t flow for/from? them. And what they need to do is to have all the eyes and ears of ordinary people around the country giving them information about people who are highly dangerous.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s continue our chat on Drivetime with Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors on the second of our two media stories, and that is that Sally Bercow, well known wife of the Commons Speaker, has been found that she was libellous, the High Court has ruled today. She attended a hearing which considered the meaning of an allegedly libellous Tweet she sent after a Newsnight report that wrongly implicated the Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child sex abuse allegations. And, Bob Satchwell, the interesting thing about this is she didn’t actually say anything that you could read as libellous, but it was the tone of it, wasn’t it? She put: “innocent face” on it. And that was taken that she was saying the opposite of what was in her Tweet, if you know like.
BOB SATCHWELL: Well, absolutely. I think the public might now start to realise just how many problems that the .. of the whole fashion media, people like you, broadcasters, people like newspapers, people in newspapers, have. How careful they have to be. Because they’re open to libel actions, and indeed other actions, some of which are criminal, through the criminal courts. And I think what is happening here just shows how careful that people using social media need to be. And there is a limit on freedom of expression, in this case.
CHRIS MANN: People outside of the media might not understand that if you repeat a libel, it’s actually worse than if you have researched something and you think it’s true.
BOB SATCHWELL: Well it’s not just if you think it’s true. You have to prove it. There has been a slight revision in the law now which gives you some chance, but basically you have to be able to prove it. That’s why it’s even more dangerous if you’re reporting what someone else has said, because you are not in a position to report it. You can only say, well, someone said that. And that’s not a defence in libel.
CHRIS MANN: So this will bring a change to what people really should be saying in any form of social media. It means take more care.
BOB SATCHWELL: Well it means take more care, and it does point to the fact that people are often critical of traditional media. But traditional media journalists have a lot of training in these matters, so that we try not to get into trouble, because it can be very very expensive.
CHRIS MANN: Bob Satchwell, thank you so much for joining us.