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Moorhouse media misunderstandings

Shhh... not in front of the constituents!

Shhh… not in front of the constituents!

Sometimes it’s hard to see what politicians are getting at when it comes to the media – and sometimes they don’t make it any easier to understand them.

In Tynwald this week, Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse asked a very odd question which had a number of implications.

And it’s not the first time he seems to have misunderstood the way the press works, either.

A question in Tynwald this week asked Chief Minister Howard Quayle about how he goes about defending the Island’s reputation in the wake of the Paradise Papers.

But it was one of the follow-up questions, from the southern MHK, that caught my eye – as it seemed to suggest the chief minister could somehow suppress reporting.

Mr Moorhouse asked:

I would like to ask the Chief Minister, given the importance of getting across the correct message, has the time arrived for the Chief Minister’s Office to retain editorial rights where interviews of national importance are given?

It’s a strange question, and one that’s provoked a reaction from Isle of Man Newspapers.

Here, I’ll look at in a bit more detail.

A message to you, really?

First then, what exactly is the “correct message”?

The point being made by the UK media (and those further abroad) is that it’s morally questionable to put money in offshore jurisdictions to avoid tax in your home country.

Saying “we’re well-regulated” or “all this is done legally” doesn’t really address that point. And saying only one message is “correct” smacks of media control.

Whichever side of the debate you’re on, should the press only follow the chief minister’s comments and ignore all other questions?

I doubt the BBC or Guardian would accept there’s only one “correct” message.

Rights you are, then

Now we hit the crux of the problem. What are the editorial rights referred to?

Once an interviewee gives permission to be questioned by a media organisation and does the interview, they have no editorial rights. Copyright rests with the person that created the work – and under a standard journalism contract, reporters pass that copyright to their employer. So there’s no copyright claim.

Does it mean the right to refuse publication? Well, no – if you’re contacted by an outlet and do the interview, you can’t turn around and refuse permission to have something published. The outlet doesn’t need your permission to go ahead with the article.

And there’s certainly no right to privacy if you’ve volunteered to be interviewed. Or, for that matter, if you’re approached or photographed in a public place where there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy.

So it’s very difficult to see what “rights” the chief minister could retain.

Sense and censorship ability

Let’s, for a moment, imagine the chief minister did have some editorial rights.

A reporter interviews him, goes back to the office, writes the piece and it’s published. The chief minister spots it and doesn’t like it.

Should he then have the power to have the article pulled? Or perhaps he should dictate how it should be written before the journalist can write it themselves?

And why would that only be the chief minister? Surely if it applies to him, it applies to all interviewees? And those referred to in interview? Would that just be individuals, or organisations too?

The next time someone’s convicted of serious crime, do they get to have the article pulled too? Would the media have been able to report the MEA loans scandal, given anyone involved could have exercised their “editorial rights”?

As for whether a journalist would even approach the chief minister for interview… I’d rather just write “someone says something bad about the government” and then wait for the chief minister to offer an interview. At which point I’d refuse unless he gave up his “editorial rights”.

Question time after time

This isn’t the first time Mr Moorhouse has displayed a poor understanding of the media. In September, he had a question for the Treasury Minister.

September 2017, Tynwald

September 2017, Tynwald

So what’s that about? Someone accused of social security fraud doesn’t want their name in the media?

To begin with, no names are released before a trial – and you wouldn’t report it anyway given the legal ramifications that could have. Charges change all the time in court, so it’d be a brave reporter that would risk libel or contempt of court.

And the information isn’t “released” when someone is found guilty. You go to court, sit in the courtroom and report on it – the names are matters of public record. I’ve written before about reporting people being found innocent.

Even before that, Mr Moorhouse claims to understand the media well enough to say on his campaign website “The media perhaps overemphasises the global nature of the world in 2016”.

Bowdlerised over… and over

Jason Moorehouse (from Facebook)

Jason Moorhouse
(from Facebook)

It’s disturbing to see an MHK in favour of closing off public access to court cases. It’s even more disturbing to see an MHK arguing that politicians should be controlling what the media publishes.

To be clear – if Mr Moorhouse doesn’t like what he reads, he’s free to disagree or not read it at all. And if he disagrees, he’s free to contact the media.

He’s also free to retain and exercise his editorial right not to be interviewed by journalists: although I suspect he may falter somewhat in the run-up to the next election, when media coverage suddenly becomes important again.

It’d be easy to say “well, you’re a journalist, of course you think this”. But the important thing to realise here is that what he’s actually arguing is that you shouldn’t be free to read certain facts or viewpoints.

A pretty odd thing for a teacher-turned-politician in a first-world democracy to be advocating.

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