Monday, October 06, 2008

It's OK for Journalist to Break Electoral Law, Apparently

The editor of the Press Gazette, Dominic Ponsford, may wish to reconsider his ARTICLE on the dispute between the Conservatives and Channel 4 over a Dispatches Journalist joining one of their donor clubs. It is so ill informed and full of holes that it deserves a fisk.

An undercover reporter from Channel 4 has come under fire from the Conservatives after she joined a club for Tory donors as part of a Dispatches this week into party funding. She made two monthly payments of £167 to Team 2000, a club for Tory backers contributing £2,000 a year, as part of her investigations for Cameron’s Money Men – which revealed that hedge fund traders involved in the now-banned practice of short-selling were Tory backers.
It wasn't banned at the time and why didn't the programme also look at Labour donors who undertook the same legal activity?
The Tories claimed to the Mail on Sunday that Jenny Williams’ investigation breached election law saying: “Electoral law is a highly sensitive matter, and agents provocateurs should not be used in this way to flout the regulations.” But as we are not currently in an election - it is difficult to see what they are driving at.
Oh dear. Electoral law governs all electoral matters and donations whether there is an election on or not.
And it is not clear whether Ms Williams used subterfuge, as she joined the Tory donor’s club under her own name.
Clearly she did, as she was using other people's money.
In any case the Ofcom Broadcasting Code allows journalists to go under cover where there is a public interest justification.
Not when it means breaking the law yourself.
Investigating the funding of political parties would seem to provide ample public interest.
Perhaps, if she had used her own money.
The code also says that broadcast journalists should act with “Due Impartiality” – but in the case if Dispatches, that means fairness over the course of a series – not in one episode.
We look forward to similar programmes on Labour and the LibDems then.
The Tories’ key gripe appears to be that they were misled because Channel 4 was the real source of the donation – not Ms Williams. This does sound rather like nitpicking.
To an ill informed journalist maybe. But it also sounds like law breaking, as Channel 4 may find to their cost.
And if the Conservatives have nothing to hide – why aren’t they just happy to take C4’s cash?
Had it been open and up front, and transparently their cash, there would have been no problem.
In the context of a documentary’s budget - £334 is very little money, and cash well spent if it sheds more light on a system of party funding which politicians of all colours agree is flawed.
I wonder if a journalist like Mr Ponsford will have sympathy with a politician who is found to have misdeclared £334? I doubt it very much.


Anonymous said...

well, as long as they do similar things to investigate a) how prepares the Lib Dems are to investigate the provenance of their donations (maybe attempting to find out whether anyone knew how dodgy one of their recent high-profile donors was) and how possible it is to buy influence in the Labour Party, then I, for one, will be pacified.

Mostly because I couldn't give a toss whether short-sellers donated in the past to political parties; any of them. Short selling was perfectly legal then.

But what really p*ss*s me off is all this faux-moral outrage about short-selling. Many people seem to have missed the fact that shorting does not happen in a vacuum. In order to sell short, you need a buyer, and that buyer is - in the act of buying - betting on your assessment of the value of whatever you're shorting being wrong. So criticising people for shorting is essentially criticising them for being good at their job, which is 'judging the value of things'.

Or you could just ban that completely. 'Course, the economy might not be too healthy if you abolished the stock market.

Anonymous said...

An agent provocatuer is someone who seeks to encourage or provoke others to an illegal or outrageous act.

Joining an organisation to observe it from the inside is not being an agent provocateur.

Anonymous said...

'But as we are not currently in an election - it is difficult to see what they are driving at.'

I think that quotation says it all. The Tories understand the law and the journo doesn't.

What are the chances you give Dominic Ponsford an opportunity to explain himself in Total Politics, Iain? We need neutralness in the mag after all. We can't have all the writers like yourself being well informed. Where's the neutralness in that? Give Dominic Ponsford a go! :p


Johnny Norfolk said...

I think most media people have spent time at the BBC being brainwashed and thats why so much is leftie. We could do with some real right of centre newspapers like the DT used to be.

Catosays said...

But Ch. 4 were acting as journalists and that must have put them above the law....well, they'd like to think so!!

Catosays said...

Anonymous said...

An agent provocatuer is someone who seeks to encourage or provoke others to an illegal or outrageous act.

Joining an organisation to observe it from the inside is not being an agent provocateur.

October 06, 2008 10:44 AM

Of course it's not...until you do illegal things like failing to declare the origin of the money you're donating.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that we're talking about the Tory Party here - the "bad guys" and in the eyes of the media especially Channel 4 it is perfectly acceptable to if not break the law certainly to bend it as it is in "the national interest" to stop the Conservatives forming the next government. However it is of course absolutely NOT acceptable if we are talking about the Labour Party as they are clearly the "good guys" and in these straitened times it is the duty of all broadcasters to ensure that that message is drummed home to the electorate on every occasion up to and including the General Election.

I hope this has now clarified the situation

Anonymous said...

while i am all in favour of openness and transparency especially where a donation to any political party is concerned, this post has a slight air of 'the lady doth protest too much'.

still c4 could put it right by showing similiar investigations into lib dem and nulab sources of funds.

Anonymous said...

"Dominic Ponsford"

Craaazy name, craazzzy guy !!!

Anonymous said...

C'mon Iain you've gotta comment on this.

I hope yours is tasteful!

Anonymous said...

Peter Mandelson to have kidney stone removed: I see the old spin miaster is up to his old tricks! Expect constant spinning to the media about trivial rubbish. Surely we did not need to know that!

Next he will be press releasing what he has had for breakfast or when he expects to next pass his breakfast.

Whilst I think Mandelson is a formidable politician despite his obvious risk taking flaws (2 resignations)- I don't think his skill set is best suited to this cabinet job. Surely if he had still been trade commmisioner he could have nipped this German, not to mention Irish and Danish economic nationalism on the head.

I believe the role he performed in brussels would have enabled him to seek a resolution to the deposit problem more than his role here!

I was most amused by Peter Mandelson's arrival at this renamed cabinet committee today with Mrs Balls (Yvette Cooper) - do they think we are stupid not realising it is contrived?

Curbishly said...

Before Drapers Drones start their astroturfing perhaps they should be looking at what Guido has discovered.

Unfortunately they seem to have missed out on the biggest short seller of Bradford and Bingley. None other than his old crony Paul Myners' GLG Partners. Brown's favourite financier, donor and deputy chairman of the Smith Institute, as well as Gordon's personal financial backer during the leadership campaign.

GLG partners declared to the FSA the largest short position in the market, the massive hedge fund profited the most from being short Bradford and Bingley before it went under. If Charlie's dozen strong rent-a-crowd don't fancy demonstrating outside GLG's City offices they could try demonstrating outside the Guardian's offices. Myners is also chairman of the Guardian's holding company.

Labour has also taken £1 million from Jon Aisbitt, non-executive chairman of Man Group, Britain's biggest quoted hedge fund group. Derek Tullet, who made his money providing derivatives broking services to hedge funds, also sent £400,000 into Labour's coffers.

Guido has already pointed out that one of the LibDems biggest backers, Paul Marshall of Marshall Wace, is an evil short seller with no less than three of his funds on the FSA's register of short sellers.

It gets even better, the FT has discovered that MPs' own pensions are invested in a hedge fund manager, Quellos. Not only that, in addition the MPs' pension fund also made money lending stocks out to hedge funds to enable them to short shares.

Anonymous said...


Is that Paul Myners the same Paul Myners who I see is now Financial Services Secretary in the Treasury?

Also, short selling is still allowed for non-bank stocks, I think. So it is not in itself immoral or illegal (AB of York, please note), but is banned because of its effect on vulnerable stocks.

Curbishly said...

Is that Paul Myners the same Paul Myners who I see is now Financial Services Secretary in the Treasury

Now you wouldn't be suggesting that there is any form of cronyism in Browns government would you?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:44 AM said:

"An agent provocatuer is someone who seeks to encourage or provoke others to an illegal or outrageous act."

Accepting a donation from an undisclosed agent (Just like the David Abrahams affair only far, far smaller figures.) is illegal. Gordon Brown said so himself. He also said the money was to be returned.

Anyone know if it has?

Anyone know if the Electoral Commission will be getting the Labour Party to cough up the same amount to them?

Malcolm Redfellow said...

So, it's all "A OK" provided it's a private individual using his/her own money.


Does that apply to all those paper organisations which exist purely and simply to channel shareholders' and members' cash to one or other political party?

And why is it necessary to have the Bearwood - Astraporta - Ashcroft Associates connection? And has anyone distinguished Ashcroft's money from that of the Belize Bank Ltd? (After all, that rabid socialist mouthpiece, the Daily Mail, seemed to have doubts as recently as 20th July).

And what is/was Flowidea (apart from a secretive channel of finance for Hague)? Oh, I see here it is/was a subsidiary of Arbuthnot Securities, itself a subsidiary of the Secure Banking Group (now there's an original idea whose time has come).

Or why is it necessary for Cayman Islands operations to set up front organisations (e.g. Meekland Ltd) purely as a way of subscribing to the Tory Party?

What is the difference between similar operations and a "long fraud", except actually coming to Court?

And, remind me, what was the real story behind the Laidlaw (remember him?)/IIR bungs? After all, the IIR and Electoral Commission accounts are polar opposites.

No, no, a thousand times no. The whole political funding mess, all the way from nice-but-dim Tories to reptilian Sinn Féin, needs to be chewed over, by all means possible. It really is a choice between decent democracy and sleazy corruption.

Anonymous said...

sweet irony how I love you.

I just hope Cameron makes a complaint to the authorities and the book is thrown at Channel 4.

Anonymous said...

I normally disagree with almost everything you write and dislike pretty much everything you stand for, but I think that you're right on this one.
But what do you expect from a hack writing about a hack - people in professions tend to club together.

PhilC said...

Looking at the other comments, it seems I'm in a minority on this but Iain, your complaints are frankly cobblers.
Unity has Fisked your Fisk (is that an uber-Fisk?)here:
The impression your postings give is of a party with a very thin-skinned response to standard hard ball journalism.
Or is this the Mandelson approach of bullying reporters and cow those who ask awkward questions?

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine the media if they caught a political spy infraltrating them? Can you imagine the press if they caught a journalist writing what a bunch of shits they really are? Can you imagine what Richard Littlejohn is really like as a person and published in the press?(Stupid springs to mind). Then there is heffer. Not attractive to either sex.

Chris Paul said...

Storm in teacup surely? Far worse things happen at sea. £300? A journalist joining a political party or support group for a snoop? Did we have this outrage when that wally from the Guardian infiltrated the BNP and wrote them a four Berliner page advert? Or when someone or other wound up Labour people to tell silly stories about PVs?

We all know it's the Lib Dems they should be looking at. I'd recommend Rochdale for a start.