PM attacks BBC payout after show’s failures


LONDON: The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, joined the chorus of criticism over the payout to the former BBC director-general George Entwistle, as two more senior editors stepped aside over the broadcaster’s decisions on programs investigating child sex abuse.
Mr Entwistle’s deal, in which he received double the money stipulated in his contract, is now likely to be reviewed by Britain’s National Audit Office after a torrent of complaints from MPs of all parties.
Mr Entwistle quit at the weekend, only 54 days into the job, after a furore over the BBC program Newsnight wrongly suggesting that a Conservative peer, later identified as the party’s former treasurer, Lord McAlpine, had been involved in paedophilia in Wales in the 1980s.
Mr Cameron last night said Mr Entwistle’s payout of a year’s salary was “hard to justify”.
The head of news at the BBC, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Steve Mitchell, both “stepped aside” while the broadcaster investigated why management dropped a Newsnight program investigating child sex abuse allegations against the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. Multiple allegations against Savile have surfaced since then.
A BBC report into the McAlpine affair, released on Monday night, linked the two controversies.
The director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, concluded the editorial management of Newsnight had been weakened after the Savile scandal. The editor of Newsnight had been suspended over the decision not to run the Savile documentary, a deputy editor had left the organisation and other deputies were stood aside from making decisions over Savile-related matters.
It was decided late in the process that the program suggesting a Tory peer was a paedophile was “Savile-related” and judgment about it was referred up to a different line of management.
Mr MacQuarrie’s report found that basic journalistic checks and balances, such as correct photo identification of the alleged attacker and the offer of a right of reply to the person accused, were lacking.
The chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, faces renewed calls for his sacking and was forced to defend his decision to give Mr Entwistle a lump sum of £450,000 ($686,000) on top of his pension.
Lord Patten said in a letter to the parliamentary select committee on media that if Mr Entwistle had not made an “honourable offer” to resign, he would have had to be sacked and would have been entitled to a full year’s notice.
But a Conservative MP on the committee, Philip Davies, said the payout was an affront to taxpayers and demanded Lord Patten be replaced. Asked if he thought getting rid of Lord Patten would increase the instability at the BBC, Mr Davies said: “Lord Patten is part of the problem. He is saying get a grip now because the whole issue is overwhelming him … He has been asleep at the wheel.”
Adding to the broadcaster’s public embarrassment, its new acting director-general, Tim Davie, appeared to lose his temper and walk out of an interview on Sky TV.
Mr Davie, who was appointed at the weekend, repeatedly declined to say whether Mr Entwistle was responsible for the BBC’s flaws and batted away questions about whether more heads would roll before saying he had “a lot to do” and walking off the set.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Bottom-feeders do their sums and rise to the top(less)

SO, WHICH aspect of the royal nipples scandal is the most eye-rolling? That depends, it seems, on which part of the press is pontificating.

The lefties point out the naivety of an heir to the throne who has not yet twigged to the potential of the telephoto lens – after Fergie’s topless toe-sucking pics? – and wonder also about the possibility of confected outrage.

The Observer’s Catherine Bennett filleted the royal response, saying the reports of the BBC’s Peter Hunt developed ”in the manner of a grief counsellor illustrating the seven stages of bereavement”.

She wrote: ”At first, he said, the couple were ‘annoyed’. Also ‘saddened’ and ‘disappointed’. But they were also ‘philosophical’. Then, just when you might have expected them to enter ‘acceptance’ followed with luck by ‘hope’, the labile pair became ‘hugely saddened’, then ‘furious, upset’ over this ‘grotesque’ event, passing through ‘disbelief’ to become ‘angry’ and next ‘incandescent’ to the point of consulting lawyers. By teatime on Friday, legal proceedings had been launched and for William there had to be real concerns about spontaneous combustion.”

All a bit much from a pair who needed to understand that they were ”contracted national pets”.

But the part-owner of an Irish tabloid is not nearly so sanguine. A furious Richard Desmond has promised to shut down the Irish Daily Star for publishing 13 of the paparazzi shots of a topless Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing while holidaying in France.

Mr Desmond’s company, Northern and Shell, co-owns the Star and insiders say he has told lawyers to start the necessary legal action to close the tabloid. He said: ”The decision to publish  has no justification whatsoever and Northern and Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”

The paper’s website has been taken down.

St James Palace has said the publication of the pictures by the French magazine Closer was ”totally unjustifiable”: ”There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.”

Well, yes. Closer, the French magazine that published the pictures originally, has long been a bottom-feeder, as has its Italian stablemate Chi, which has also run with the topless pictures and was previously best known for having published photographs of Princess Diana immediately after her fatal car crash. Both magazines are part of publishing group Mondadori, which is controlled by sleazy former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

France has supposedly strict privacy laws but the fines are not high – a maximum of €45,000 ($A56,000). The royals are also suing in the French courts but that might not net them more than €100,000.

So Closer and its colleagues just do the sums. Potential millions in earnings from resale of naughty pix, versus up to €150,000 in slaps on the wrist? No contest. Publish and be damned.

The damnations are coming fast and furious; it is, after all, the only way the British press can get its hooks into a story that must be making its own bottom-feeders salivate. Renaud Revel, media commentator with L’Express magazine, has pointed out that it is hypocritical of British media outlets to denounce the pictures: ”The world’s gone upside down. English paparazzi are totally lawless.”

The Sunday Mirror reports that William wants someone jailed over the photos, and French law does allow for a criminal sentence over breach of privacy. But that won’t stop the photos going viral.

In the absence of international privacy legislation, the internet remains a wild and lawless realm, and royal breasts are safe only in captivity.

First published on

Paper may be shut over topless pictures


The owner of an Irish tabloid that published paparazzi shots of a topless Duchess of Cambridge has promised to shut down the paper.
Richard Desmond’s company, Northern and Shell, co-owns the Irish Daily Star, which ran 13 of the shots taken of the Duchess sunbathing on a terrace while holidaying in France with her husband at a private chateau.
Insiders say he has told lawyers to start the necessary legal action to close the tabloid. He said, “I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture. The decision to publish … has no justification whatsoever and Northern and Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”
The paper’s website has been taken down in the interim.
St James’s Palace has said the publication of the pictures by the French magazine Closer was “totally unjustifiable”.
“There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.”
Closer’s Italian stablemate Chi, which has also run with the topless pictures, was previously best known for having published photographs of Princess Diana immediately after her fatal car crash.
Both magazines are part of the publishing group Mondadori, which is controlled by the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who once fought a court battle to halt the publication of shots of topless women at his villa in Sardinia, claiming they violated his right to privacy.
France has supposedly strict privacy laws but the fines are not high – a maximum of €45,000 ($56,000). The Cambridges are also suing in the French courts, but that might not net them more than €100,000.
Closer and the other magazines that publish the pictures stand to earn millions from their resale.
In Rome, Alfonso Signorini, the editor of Chi, said he was not afraid of lawsuits because the images are “not damaging to her dignity”.
“They are certainly images of historical import,” Signorini said. “For the first time, the future queen of England is seen in her natural state.”
Signorini dismissed the idea that publishing them might be seen as revenge by Mr Berlusconi on European tabloids that had mocked him. Mr Berlusconi, who left office in November, is facing trial on charges that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute.
But if for the European publications it is a case of publish and be damned, the damnation is coming fast and furious; it is, after all, the only way the British press can get their hooks into a story that must be making their own tabloids salivate.
A media commentator with France’s L’Express magazine, Renaud Revel, has pointed out that it is hypocritical of British media outlets to denounce the pictures: “The world’s gone upside down. English paparazzi are totally lawless.”
Britain’s Sunday Mirror reported that Prince William wanted someone jailed over the photos, and French law does allow for a criminal sentence over breach of privacy. But that will not stop the photos going viral.
In the absence of international privacy legislation, the internet remains a wild and lawless realm, and royal breasts are safe only in captivity.

First published on


The makeover of the wild man of Windsor has hit a bump in the road, writes Karen Kissane in London.

First prize must go to the British newspaper The Sun for the earthy brilliance of its headline about a naked Prince Harry covering his genitals with his hands: “Harry grabs the crown jewels.”
But the left-wing paper The Guardian wins the silver. Referring to the small red star that draws attention to the central point of the royal rear in another photograph, columnist Hadley Freeman muses that she is not sure “if the red star on the royal bare backside is a coy editorial choice … or that’s just how royal arses come”.
This week, everyone’s wild about Harry – except, perhaps, his nanna, who must have choked on her breakfast toast at the news that the third in line to the throne had been photographed in a Las Vegas hotel room playing naked with girls and that the pictures had swept right across the world via the internet.
Suddenly, the Queen has been sucked back into the kind of ghastly maelstrom last visited upon her when Fergie was photographed having her toes kissed beside a pool. Or, worse, the brouhaha when Charles was taped talking about how he longed to be his mistress’s tampon.
A suddenly circumspect Harry is lying low. His Dad has unleashed his hounds on the British press. Several reportedly paid tens of thousands of pounds to buy the images but Prince Charles’s lawyers, Harbottle and Lewis, sent a letter to Leveson-cowed newspapers via the Press Complaints Commission warning that under the editors’ code of practice, “It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.”
That did not stop some British editors from publishing links to the celebrity-gossip site, which originally published the images, and yesterday the Sun splashed one of the pictures over its front page.
It is thought one of the girls had taken the images on a camera phone and later sold them for up to ¬£200,000 ($303,000). They show the birthday-suited prince getting up close and personal with a naked woman while playing a game of “strip billiards”.
Almost as entertaining are the legitimate photographs taken of Harry the next morning, after news of the pictures broke. He might be 27 but his facial expressions would be recognised by any parent of an errant teenager: sheepishness and dread.
Harry had pretty much recovered from his image-denting attendance at a party while wearing a swastika armband in 2005. On an official trip to the Caribbean earlier this year, he charmed leaders and paraded his blue suede shoes.
Harry’s makeover was said to be partly the work of a new team of spin doctors who are refashioning the monarchy’s image for a modern age. But Harry, bless him, will long remain the spin doctors’ greatest challenge.
Life and times
Prince Harry is an Apache helicopter pilot who has served in Afghanistan and is expected to return later this year.
At 12, walked behind the coffin at the funeral of his mother, Princess Diana.
Reportedly had engaged in underage drinking; has admitted smoking marijuana.
In 2005, was photographed wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party and later apologised.
In 2009, made a derogatory remark about a Pakistani soldier. Sent to army sensitivity training.First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

MP’s defence of Assange triggers consensual sex row


As American politicians race to distance themselves from the notion of “legitimate rape”, a British MP has triggered his own furore by saying that having sex with a woman while she is asleep is not rape.
Controversial independent MP George Galloway has been attacked in all of Britain’s leading newspapers after he claimed a rape allegation in relation to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had no basis. “Not everybody has to be asked prior to each insertion,” he said.
Speaking of the allegations by two Swedish women of sexual misconduct by Mr Assange, Mr Galloway said: “Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape.
“At least, not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this. Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know.”
Telegraph columnist Tom Chivers wrote in response to Mr Galloway: “She was unconscious at the time. It was literally impossible for her to consent. Having sex with someone once does not give them carte blanche to have sex with you again; the woman is entitled to change her mind between ‘insertions’ (Yuck, George. Yuck.)
“And what is more, she is entitled to expect the man to wait until she is sufficiently conscious to state whether or not she has changed her mind. That is what ‘consent’ involves. Giving it once is not a waiver of one’s right to refuse it in future.”
Sarah Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, told the Guardian Mr Galloway’s comments supported an enduring false notion of “real” or “serious” rape. “It can be just as devastating to be raped asleep by someone you know, as it is to be raped by a stranger,” she said.
Mr Galloway is no stranger to controversy. A former Labour MP, he was expelled from the party in 2003 as a result of his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. In 2004, he co-founded the left-wing coalition Respect, an acronym for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade Unionism, and returned to Parliament in 2005.
He made his controversial comments in his weekly video podcast, “Good night with George Galloway”. While he described Mr Assange’s alleged behaviour as “sordid”, he said: “I don’t believe either of these women.” He said while “it might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you mind if I do it again?’ – it might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette – but whatever else it is, it is not rape, or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.”
Mr Assange’s supporters believe the women were a “honey trap” after he angered US authorities with the publication of thousands of secret diplomatic cables. Mr Assange denies the women’s claims and has not been charged.First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

End witch-hunt and let us go free, Assange tells US


WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange has demanded that the US cease its attack on him and his colleagues, calling on the President, Barack Obama, to “renounce its witch-hunt” and “do the right thing”.
In a passionate speech late last night from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up since June 19, Mr Assange called on the US to immediately “dissolve its FBI investigation”, declaring: “As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does our freedom of expression.”
“The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.”
Mr Assange attacked the US for forcing Bradley Manning, the former US soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, to “endure months in of tortuous detention”.
“He must be released,” he said.
In the 10-minute address, the flush-faced 41-year-old thanked the government of Ecuador for its offer of asylum and the governments of other South American nations for their support.
He apologised to his loved ones. “To my family and my children, who have been without their father, forgive me. We will be reunited soon,” he said.
Following a European arrest warrant issued for Assange in relation to allegations in Sweden of rape and sexual assault, and a failed appeal in Britain against extradition to Sweden, Mr Assange broke his bail conditions on June 19 to enter the embassy,requesting political asylum on the grounds that he was being persecuted. Britain declared that Mr Assange faced arrest should he step onto the embassy’s front steps.
Hundreds of supporters waited for hours in drizzling rain for the balcony address. Before Mr Assange appeared, the writer Tariq Ali and others read messages of support from film director Ken Loach, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Australian journalist John Pilger. His supporters were joined by scores of police, including a ring of officers surrounding the low balcony.
Earlier, his legal adviser, Baltasar Garzon, said Mr Assange had “instructed his lawyers to carry out legal action” protecting “the rights of WikiLeaks [and] Julian himself”.
Mr Garzon did not give specific details of the action but said it would extend to “all those currently being investigated”.
A spokesman for Wikileaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, told the media Mr Assange might give himself up to Sweden, if Sweden promised it would not extradite him to the US.
It is claimed he could face political persecution or even the death penalty if charged in the US over the publication of confidential diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks website.
It was revealed yesterday that the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, over-rode the advice of his own lawyers when Britain sent a letter to the Ecuadorean government in which the Foreign Office effectively warned it had the power to enter the embassy to arrest Mr Assange.First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Assange looks to international court


WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange will appeal to the International Court of Justice if Britain prevents him from going to Ecuador, according to a senior Spanish human rights lawyer.WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange will appeal to the International Court of Justice if Britain prevents him from going to Ecuador, according to a senior Spanish human rights lawyer.

Baltasar Garzon, who is working on Assange’s defence, told Spanish newspaper El Pais that Britain was legally required to allow Assange to leave once he had diplomatic asylum.

“What the United Kingdom must do is apply the diplomatic obligations of the refugee convention and let him leave, giving him safe conduct,” he said. “Otherwise, he will go to the International Court of Justice.”

Ecuador announced on Thursday that it was offering Assange asylum because it believed he would face persecution and a possible death penalty in the United States, where authorities are furious over the release of thousands of confidential diplomatic cables on his website.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for two months trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual offences claims by two women. He denies the allegations.

His supporters fear that if he went to Sweden, he could from there be extradited to the US.

Mr Garzon said the attempted extradition to Sweden was a ploy to allow the US to exact “political revenge” on Assange.

Mr Garzon, best known for trying to extradite former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet from London to Madrid on human rights charges in 1998, criticised Britain’s threat to arrest Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy, saying this was a threat of “invasion”.

The former judge, who was barred from the judiciary in Spain in February for exceeding his authority in probing a corruption case, held a long conversation with Assange, 41, on Wednesday evening, the paper said. “He was very confident that they would give him asylum, as they did,” Mr Garzon was quoted as saying. “He seemed very calm and in good spirits. He knows he is in the right.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told London’s Times newspaper that he had not expected Ecuador to make public a letter he had sent in which he warned he had the power to strip the embassy of its diplomatic status in order to allow police to enter. He later told reporters: “There is no threat here to storm an embassy.”

Assange’s quarters come with an air mattress laid on an office floor, and a window from which he can gaze in the direction of London’s distant airports, and the possibility they represent of a flight to Ecuador.

For now, that flight might as well be a million kilometres away, given the 20 or 30 Scotland Yard officers keeping a 24-hour watch outside the embassy. Friends who have visited Assange say he has a computer and a broadband connection, at least one mobile phone, and regular deliveries of takeaway food, carefully inspected by the police.

While the British laws governing consular premises do allow for the de-recognition of an embassy, any such move would also have to comply with international law.

Mr Hague said it was a matter of regret that Ecuador had decided to grant asylum and Britain would not permit Assange safe passage out of the country. He said the case could go on for a considerable time.

WikiLeaks said on Twitter that Assange would give a live statement “in front of the Ecuadorean embassy” tomorrow at 2pm, London time. It is not clear what “in front of the embassy” means. The embassy is an apartment inside a much larger building, and an announcement at the apartment’s front door would still be inside the building.

He could be seized if it is deemed he has stepped outside the embassy’s diplomatically protected area.

The lawyer for the two Swedish women, Claes Borgstrom, said Ecuador’s move was absurd and an abuse of asylum law, which was designed to protect people from persecution and torture if sent back to their country of origin.

“He doesn’t risk being handed over to the United States for torture or the death penalty. He should be brought to justice in Sweden,” Mr Borgstrom said.

The Union of South American Nations will meet tomorrow to discuss the situation at the embassy.

First published on

WikiLeaks exposes Syria files

WIKILEAKS last night began publishing a vast database of 2.4 million emails it says involve the Syrian government and associated companies, spokeswoman Sarah Harrison told a London press conference. Ms Harrison said the Syria files ”shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy, but they also reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another”.She said the emails had been set up in a multilingual data-mining system with languages including English, Arabic and Russian that can be analysed in many different ways.

The emails derived from 680 Syria-related entities or domain names, ”including those of the ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport and Culture ?

”The range of information extends from the intimate correspondence of the most senior Baath party figures to records of financial transfers sent from Syrian ministries to other nations.”

This leak dwarfed ”cablegate”, the release by WikiLeaks of previously confidential cable exchanges between American embassies and Washington. ”The data is more than eight times the size of ”cablegate” in terms of number of documents and more than 100 times the size in terms of data,” Ms Harrison said.

The first story would be about emails demonstrating that a Western defence company had been selling as late as this year technology to Syria, which has been enduring a bloody government crackdown on rebellion.

She said that SELEX, which belonged to the multinational defence leader Finmeccanica, had sold Syria a technology called TETRA, which allows police forces to communicate in a secure and reliable way. ”The selling, assistance and training by Selex continued through to this year,” she alleged.

A website for SELEX Communications said it sells an emergency services communication system called TETRA, an acronym for Terrestrial Trunked Radio.

Ms Harrison said she could not comment further on individual stories or headlines until they were published via seven media partners over the next two months. Publishers would include Associated Press in the US, OWNI in France and in Spain.

Ms Harrison also declined to comment on the situation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has applied for asylum.

She read a comment from him that said: ”The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.”

Assange has been inside the embassy since June 19 seeking political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex allegations.

He denies the claims and says the sex was consensual and the claims against him politically motivated. He fears that extradition to Sweden could be followed by extradition to the United States where he could be charged over ”cablegate”.

First published at on 6 July 2012<

Assange loses his final appeal … bar one


THE WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has lost his final appeal in a British court and faces extradition to Sweden where he is accused of rape and sexual assault.
But the Supreme Court gave Mr Assange a stay of 14 days on the extradition order so his lawyer, Dinah Rose, QC, could apply to have the proceedings reopened. She said the judgment was partly based on a legal question that had not been raised during the hearing and which she had not had a chance to argue. She said this related to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Mr Assange did not appear in court. Supporters later said he had been stuck in traffic.
In a majority decision of five to two, the judges decided that the European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden asking for Mr Assange’s extradition was legal and should be enforced.
If the court does not allow its proceedings to be re-opened, his only other legal avenue would be the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If that court should agree to take his case, he would be allowed to remain in Britain until the hearing.
The sex allegations relate to a visit to Stockholm that Mr Assange made in August 2010 when he had encounters with two women. One later complained to police that he had not used a condom, despite her insistence, and another that he had had sex with her while she was asleep. Mr Assange strongly denies the claims and says the encounters were fully consensual.
Outside the court, one of his solicitors, Gareth Peirce, said: “The judgment speaks for itself. The judges were clearly divided.”
The legal situation over European extradition warrants was “chaotic” and the British Parliament had implemented the law without understanding its implications. The journalist and lawyer John Pilger said: “I think the judgment was quite extraordinary in that it appears that the British Parliament has been misled by ministers and put forward this legislation based on English law, whereas most of Europe had looked at it in terms of European law. There is massive confusion.”
Mr Pilger said, “If it can happen to Julian Assange it can happen to any journalist.”
The Australian-born Mr Assange has been on bail with an electronic security monitor on his leg for more than a year after having been detained in December 2010 on a European Arrest Warrant. His legal team had argued that the warrant was not valid because it had been issued by a prosecutor and not a judge. A prosecutor was not a “judicial authority” as required by English law, they said.
The president of the court, Lord Justice Phillips, said the question had been difficult but the majority decided Britain’s Extradition Act was based on a European framework in which “judicial authority” was intended to include prosecutors such as the one who issued Mr Assange’s warrant. The European Arrest Warrant was introduced after the September 11 attacks in the US. Critics say it allows people to be moved from one European country to another without any requirement to show evidence.
One of Mr Assange’s lawyers had argued he was being persecuted, not prosecuted, because governments had been embarrassed by an avalanche of secret documents released by WikiLeaks. But a Swedish lawyer rejected the claim and said the women were victims.
Mr Assange’s team fears that if he goes to Sweden he could then be extradited to the US, where authorities are considering a range of charges against him over WikiLeaks including espionage and conspiracy.
American authorities link him to the US Army Private Bradley Manning, who faces court martial over 22 alleged offences, including “aiding the enemy” by leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
US prosecutors reportedly believe Private Manning dealt directly with Mr Assange and “data-mined” secret databases “guided by WikiLeaks’ list of ‘Most Wanted’ leaks”.
Mr Pilger said Mr Assange should be protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing free speech. He accused the Obama Administration of “concocting” the case.First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Media inquiry told of lobbyist’s dealings with top minister over TV bid


A lobbyist for News Corp exchanged 191 phone calls, 158 emails and 800 texts with the office of the British Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, during the company’s bid for the satellite broadcaster BSkyB, the Leveson inquiry heard last night.
But News’s head of communications, Fred Michel, said he could not assess whether Mr Hunt had been supportive of the bid at the time.
He said that although he never met Mr Hunt during the bid process, he had exchanged a small number of text messages with him. “Nothing inappropriate never [sic] took place,” he said.
Mr Hunt’s job is under threat following revelations at previous hearings of the Leveson inquiry into media ethics that Mr Michel wrote 164 pages of emails to his boss, James Murdoch, which seemed to suggest Mr Hunt was secretly on-side with the £8 billion Murdoch bid. Mr Hunt, who is also Media Minister, was meant to be impartially overseeing the bid process.
Labour has accused the minister of being a “cheerleader” for the Murdochs’ now abandoned bid and have called for Mr Hunt to resign over the affair.
The lawyer assisting the inquiry, Robert Jay, QC, asked Mr Michel about an email he wrote in November 2010 telling Mr Murdoch that Mr Hunt had to pull out of a planned meeting to discuss the bid with Mr Murdoch because it would undermine the minister’s quasi-judicial responsibility to be impartial.
The email said: “Jeremy is very frustrated about it, but the permanent secretary has now become involved.”
Mr Michel told the inquiry there was “frustration on both sides” that the meeting could not take place and that he wanted to arrange for Mr Murdoch and Mr Hunt to speak over the phone to “apologise to each other”.
Last month Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned over the email revelations. Mr Smith – who was due to give evidence overnight – said that in his communications with Mr Michel he had acted without Mr Hunt’s authorisation and he had allowed the impression to be created of too close a relationship between News Corp and the Department for Media.
Mr Smith said at the time: “I do not recognise all of what Fred Michel said, but nonetheless I appreciate that my activities at times went too far and have, taken together, created the perception that News Corporation had too close a relationship with the department, contrary to the clear requirements set out by Jeremy Hunt and the permanent secretary that this needed to be a fair and scrupulous process.”
Mr Michel told the inquiry he did not exaggerate in his emails in order to make himself look better to his employer: “I don’t need to puff myself up.”
He said he might have written some emails with a view to improving morale at News over the bid but that this happened on only a few occasions.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.