The relationship between the traditional TV, Radio and Newspaper media and the the Government is particularly murky when it comes to "intelligence agency" stories.
This weekend's "scoop" by the BBC of the apparent details about the forthcoming plans to expand the Security Service MI5 from by around 1000 new recruits (about a 50% increase in staff) on Saturday afternoon, is typical. How did the BBC get such a story ? According to the Sunday Times, a briefing was given by a senior Home Office official.
All the other TV news media outlets followed the BBC story i.e. they cloned an edited, unattributed version, even apparently quoting the same Tory opposition spokeman exactly.
The Observer devotes a front page article to the story and throws in speculation about the use of "telephone intercepts" as evidence in court. This is despite the Home Secretary David Blunkett's previous media spin after his comments on his foreign trip to India and Pakistan that he would be publishing a discussion paper at the end of the month.
"However a liberal consensus is now growing over allowing intercepted communications - so-called 'electronic eavesdropping' on phone calls - to be admissible in court"
That must mean that we are not part of this "liberal consensus":
- Did public revelations in a US Court about the phone intercepts of Osama bin Laden's Satellite Phone really help in the war on terrorism ?
- With the Voice Morphing computer technology available even today, how will it be possible to prove in court, that "telephone intercept" evidence from the security services has not been edited or faked ?
It would be astonishing if the Home Secretary commited himself to such a major change in policy, which would involve wholesale changes to the hugely controversial and complicated Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, either on Monday or on Wednesday when he is due to reply to the Privy Council report on his controversial Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act.
Why is Parliament content to let the Home Secretary "spin", "leak" and "brief" newspapers and tv media about major policy changes affecting National Security, such as reducing the burden of proof in terrorist trials or expanding MI5, before an official statement has been made to Parliament ?
Why are the media so desparate to provide partial reporting and inaccurate "instant" analysis ahead of such official announcements, and then ignore the details of the policy and its knock on implications as "old news" once the policy has been announced ?
Is it really too much to expect Sunday newspapers to comment on and analyse in depth a Government policy statement made the week before they publish rather than to attempt to speculate on leaks and briefings about a statement of policy due in the following week ?
Of course, some news media are still insulting their readers' intelligence, by illustrating their versions of the MI5 story with photographs of the distinctive MI6 Secret Intelligence Service building at Vauxhall Cross, rather than the MI5 Thames House headquarters on the other side of the river Thames between the Millbank tower and Parliament.