Showdown in the air between elected politicians and the media

BBC NEWS | Politics | Guardian ‘could support Lib Dems’

So, the Guardian could support the Liberal-Democrats. The Guardian! Actually, I always had the impression that the Guardian tried not to sell its soul to any party. Never mind. This of course follows the (to newish Labour) rather more alarming prospect of the Express switching back to the Tories. BBC NEWS | Politics | Express switches after Euro shift.

It’s a well-known – or at least, frequently asserted – fact that it was the Sun (and friends) wot won it for New Labour in 1997 and 2001. In 1997 The Guardian, The Mirror, the Sun, the Independent and the Daily Star all supported New Labour. Only The Daily Express, the Telegraph and the Times stood against them. By 2001 both the Times and the Express had climbed into Labour’s bed.

But another perspective is that Labour was going to win in 1997 and 2001 anyway, and the papers were savvy enough to go with the winner.

Which leaves us with the question, how powerful are the media really when it comes to influencing elections? We are still facing the repurcussions of Mohammed Karzai’s media-propelled victory in Afghanistan. Are we really in the same position with the print media in Britain?

Let’s hope not. But perhaps this time we will actually find out.

Why tinkering with justice should alarm us all

BBC NEWS | UK | Juries learn sex offenders’ past

An election is coming up. By all accounts it will be on May 5 2005. So we now face the cyclical clamour of the Tories and nearly-new Labour trying to prove that they are tougher on crime and kinder on health. Usually this comes down to promises for building more prisons, giving more money to the police, short, sharp shocks, and other repackagings of the same old solutions.

But this time one-careful-owner Labour has surpassed itself. Juries in trials for theft and for child sex abuse will soon be told of the offender’s previous convictions.

Mm. Interesting choice, that. Theft and Child Sex Abuse. Why not Car-jacking and Internet Scamming? There’s a strong whiff of which crimes the public is most cross about in this policy decision. More government by polling, but we will let it pass.

We will let it pass, because the core of my complaint against this particular popularity stunt is not that it is a typical second-hand Labour random act of policy, but that it is tinkering with the core of justice itself.

Figure it any way you like. If you’ve been fingered before, the police will already have you marked as a potential suspect. Fine. This is necessary for proper investigation. ‘Form’ as the coppers say. But when juries are told as well, your past convictions are, as it were, fed into the system twice.

If there is genuinely reasonable doubt about the evidence presented in a trial, the accused should go free. This is fundamental to justice. Can the quality of the evidence be improved by providing details of previous convictions? Surely not. But the jury’s mind might be swayed. Suddenly we are looking at a system where other considerations are influencing the jury’s mind about a question of fact.

And suddenly we are staring at the face of a completely different kind of justice.

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