THE BLOG

Phone-Hacking and Terrorism - Not the Same Thing

20/03/2013 15:38 GMT | Updated 20/05/2013 10:12 BST

It's been another difficult month for the press, following the political agreement on tough new regulation and more 'dawn raids' to arrest former high-profile newspaper employees who are suspected of criminal misconduct as part of the phone-hacking scandal.

Leaving the contentious issue of the post-Leveson agreement on new regulation for the free press aside, I cannot understand why it is that the police insist on making such dramatic raids on people's homes in this matter. What is the point?

I can understand the use of 'dawn raids' (which, ironically, is a term which was popularised by positive tabloid reporting of police work to capture potentially hostile criminals and terrorists) when the suspects could be suicide bombers, or other potential offenders who pose a serious threat to the lives of the general public. But the accused in this phone-hacking case definitely do not fall into that category.

Take Tina Weaver as an example. The former editor of the Sunday Mirror was the latest high profile newspaper figure to be the subject of a 'sensational dawn raid' last week, as police 'swooped' by her home in the early hours of the morning to arrest her in connection with suspected phone-hacking offences. I read with horror that Weaver is currently seven months pregnant and was home alone during this 'daring sting' aside from the company of her nine-year-old son, who presumably was hugely distressed by this episode.

This is the only time that similarly melodramatic swoops have been pursued in this case - in fact it seems to be the modus operandi.

James Scott, the Sunday People editor, who was also arrested in the same operation as Weaver, was picked up by the police at 5am, and his two young children are reported to have been hugely distressed. It was also revealed that they had lost their mother just two years ago.

Now are you going to tell me that Weaver, Scott or anyone of these other journalists and white collar executives pose enough of a threat to society that they needed to be scared witless like this, along with their entirely innocent children? Has the world gone mad, are we now suggesting that if you are thought to have broken privacy laws and hacked into someone's phone, that you are as much of a menace to society as if you are a murderer, rapist or career criminal?

Moreover, did the police not take Weaver's advanced pregnancy or Scott's vulnerable children into account before deciding that they needed to act as they did? It's frankly ridiculous. But because it's open season on the press, no one really seems to want to challenge anyone on it.

For the record, Weaver along with the other executives who were arrested last week, deny any knowledge of phone hacking. But this is not the point. Why are the police spending so much energy and taking such dramatic steps to pursue this case, whilst other, to my mind much more serious crimes, get comparatively little attention.

I think we all know why. It's because the current campaign is driven by a political class which is seizing an opportunity to get its own back on the press with inevitable zeal. Everyone agrees that mistakes were made, and in some cases serious breaches of the law were undertaken in pursuit of information. I don't know anyone who thinks this doesn't need addressing and that a change in the way the press conducts itself in some areas needs to happen.

However, do we really want to abandon the right of a free press to question and challenge the establishment and to push the boundaries in order to get to the truth? Do we really want our newspapers being controlled, directly or indirectly, by the government? Or do we want them to be in the face of the establishment - asking questions and challenging the powers that be, the police force included, to come up with straight answers on difficult questions?

It's a divisive issue and lots of people I know have differing views on the subject. However, one thing we are all agreed on is that there is absolutely no need to for a heavily pregnant woman to be woken up at 6am by a belligerent police raid, when she is still innocent until proven guilty.