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Who will defend our right to a free press? Not the ex-hack of n ° 10 | Nick cohen




Boris Johnson is a former journalist who wants to send working journalists to jail. Boris Johnson is an opponent of the state nanny who will give courts the ability to jail anyone who discloses an abuse of state power. Judge him by the standards that are said to have guided his life, and you will find Boris Johnson to be a monumental fraud.

Yet no one envisioning the autocratic control his government grants itself has said that his transformation from famous journalist to secret policeman needs explanation. The only principle that even his sternest critic would expect him to uphold was a free press. Yet there he threatens to censor and jail like a part-time Putin.

Hypocrisy is exceptional even by the standards of this government. In 2003, the Blair administration turned to the BBC for claiming it had sexed its record on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Johnson supported the company. The BBC was engaged in justified reporting, he wrote in the Telegraph, and Blair was training his guns on exactly the wrong target. Now Johnson is aiming his gun at all targets: officials, police, newspapers, broadcasters and any member of the public who reveals what his government wants to hide.

In its consultation for legislation aimed at counter state threats, the Ministry of the Interior proposes to modernize the law on official secrets. Its measurement is modern only in the sense that Putin Kremlin or the Chinese Communist Party is modern. Johnson shows his modernity by going with the flow of a world where states around the world treat responsibility as betrayal.

If the government wanted to protect real secrets and only cared about serious crimes and hostile foreign powers, I would have no objection. Instead, he ruled that there can be no public interest defense for unauthorized disclosure. A civil servant or a journalist will not be able to escape from prison by declaring to have denounced an abuse of power. The requirement for the government to prove that an unauthorized disclosure caused damage will also disappear. Flight may be in the public interest. He may not have harmed national security or hindered an operation against organized crime. No matter. The source and the journalist are guilty.

For once in its history, the Home Office is stating what it believes in plain language. We do not believe there is necessarily a serious distinction between espionage and the more serious unauthorized disclosures, he said. The foreign agent and the domestic journalist are potentially equal threats.

Martin Bright, the editor of Index on Censorship, whose confrontation with the Secret State while working at the Observer is shown in the Netflix movie Official secrets, invites you to imagine the cold that will befall public life. Every leak and unofficial disclosure will have the potential to become a criminal offense. The state will then have the political power to choose the case to pursue.

The National Union of Journalists my union, to declare an interest has reviewed cases of official secrets which the government has been unable to successfully prosecute under the law in force for show danger we face. They include police harassing Channel 4 for reporting how undercover cops spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family. The Met goes for the Guardian for revealing that officers believed murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked and Belfast Reporters prosecuted for revealing links between the police and loyalist murderers. These were not attempts to protect national security, but to close legitimate investigations.

Johnson, like too many commentators on the left and the right, was a shrewd trader who gave his customers what they wanted. The resulting hypocrisy is depressing but all too common: the progressive columnist laments racism on the right but ignores anti-Semitism on the left; the conservative expert deplores the abuses of power by left-wing governments and supports them when their camp is in power. Both prefer to keep their feet on the throats of their enemies rather than uphold basic standards of truth and the integrity of the democratic system.

The Johnson government has gone for anyone who could weaken its control, from the BBC to the judiciary. But the current expansion of police powers is not limited to the simple determination of the power-hungry to shirk responsibility. Johnson is a more foreign man than many realize, with a psychological need to suppress. The Tory Shaped Press Daily mail and the Sun feels it and does not give his government a pass. He reported convictions of Johnson for criminalizing public service journalism and treating reporters as foreign spies.

Johnson was not just a Conservative columnist. He was (and is) a fantasy who convinced himself of his fantasies before selling them to his audience. He was fired for lying by the Times, invented fables about the European Union for the Telegraph and helped persuade 52% of voters that we could tear our relationship with the EU apart without feeling any pain.

Perhaps it was his miserable childhood that prompted him to pretend. Her father had affairs. Her mother suffered a nervous breakdown. The family moved 32 times in its first 14 years. Maybe it was just a judicious appreciation of Britain’s desire for illusions. Either way, hard news is hard for this illusionist to take. It threatens his story that lost greatness can be restored by wishing for it, and that we should make him happy as he slams his way into office because government is just a game.

The famous journalist will turn on real journalists, threatening them with jail, rather than risk admitting the reality in his never-ever country.

The police, the Home Office, the security services and all other members of the government who will exploit the new law on official secrets may not want to be loved like our needy Prime Minister. But they don’t want their mistakes exposed either. The tough-faced police chief and the bureaucrat behind him have more in common with the Downing Street dilettante than you might think. The desire of a narcissistic personality to shield itself from criticism pairs perfectly with the desire of an irresponsible bureaucracy to shield itself from scrutiny.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist




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