(UK Home Secretary) Clarke attacks ‘poisonous’ liberal media

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2006-04-24 20:26:23

politics.guardian.co…,,1760415,00.html   Clarke attacks ‘poisonous’ liberal media Oliver King and agencies
Monday April 24, 2006
In an outspoken attack on “liberal media commentators” the home secretary, Charles Clarke, will tonight claim there is a “pernicious and even dangerous poison” infecting press coverage on the government’s civil liberties record. In a speech at the London School of Economics, Mr Clarke will accuse some parts of the press of making incorrect and over-simplified statements about his government’s record. The speech comes as part of a coordinated government fightback on the civil liberties agenda, which saw Tony Blair yesterday accuse critics like the former law lord Lord Steyn of being “out of touch”. Article continues [AD] Mr Clarke also today published a document on the Home Office website demolishing “frequently asserted myths” in the press about the effects of government security and law and order legislation. “I believe that a pernicious and even dangerous poison is now slipping into at least some parts of this media view of the world,” Mr Clarke will say in the inaugural Polis lecture at the LSE. “In the absence of many of the genuinely dangerous and evil totalitarian dictatorships to fight – since they’ve gone – the media has steadily rhetorically transferred to some of the existing democracies, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, some of the characteristics of those dictatorships. “So some commentators routinely use language like ‘police state’, ‘fascist’, ‘hijacking our democracy’, ‘creeping authoritarianism’, ‘destruction of the rule of law’, whilst words like ‘holocaust’, ‘gulag’ and ‘apartheid’ are regularly used descriptively of our society in ways which must be truly offensive to those who experienced those realities.” He went on: “As these descriptions and language are used, the truth just flies out of the window as does any adherence to professional journalistic standards or any requirement to examine the facts and check them with rigour. “In the case of often complex debates, for example on the appropriate balance between liberty and security, much media comment reduces itself to simplistic and flowery rhetoric.” Mr Clarke highlighted three recent articles in the Observer, the Guardian and the Independent newspapers that made, he claimed, “incorrect, tendentious and over-simplified” statements about Labour’s record on civil liberties. “These pieces are in my opinion symptomatic of a more general intellectual laziness which seeks to slip on to the shoulders of modern democratic states the mantle of dictatorial power.” The home secretary also blasted Lord Steyn for suggesting he was trying to “knobble” the judiciary: “It is offensive and wrong for him to say that. It would be ridiculous for me to seek to knobble the judiciary.” Earlier Mr Blair told journalists at his monthly press conference in Downing Street that he would legislate again to give the police more powers to tackle the threat from terrorism or the nuisance of anti-social behaviour. The prime minister said the “civil liberties” of a pensioner living in fear “counted” just as much as a suspected criminal. In an email exchange with the Observer’s Henry Porter, one of the journalists singled out for criticism by the home secretary, Mr Blair yesterday promised he would act against drug dealers in particular. “I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in. I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country,” he wrote. Responding to the advance publication of the speech, the shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: “Charles Clarke should realise that you don’t defend our way of life by sacrificing our way of life. The evidence shows that in many cases, things that have been enacted in the name of defending our security have actually done nothing to protect the people, and have even resulted in consequences entirely contrary to the government’s own intentions. “It is remarkable that he has chosen to blame the media – especially as his whole strategy seems designed to achieve good headlines for the government rather than effective policies to protect the citizens of this country,” Mr Davis said.

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