Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Radioactive Hazards

I imagine the interview with Shona Pitman and Matthew Price will be the subject of discussion for some time to come.


The crux of the matter, as stated by Matthew Price on BBC Radio Jersey was that no one, however passionately they feel about something, can go on public radio and make unsubstantiated claims against other individuals without them being able to defend themselves.

One commentator on Facebook said that

"Deputy Pitman's interview today was an agreed right of reply to the uninterrupted 10 minute slot given to Sean Power last week where he accused the Pitman's of trying to suppress press freedoms"

And asked the question:

"Why didn't Mathew Price cut Deputy Power's microphone when he made unsubstantiated allegations against the Pitman's? Why didn't Mathew Price stop Deputy Power from making these allegations when the Pitman's were not there to answer them?"

In fact, Deputy Power's interview is available online:

In this, he states that the letter was "handwritten and anonymous", and he was careful how handled it. He says "the police told me that I wasn't the only one", but "they didn't say who the other recipients were" and he and the others "had to be fingerprinted to have our fingerprints eliminated"

He does say of the recent attempt by Deputy Trevor and Shona Pitman to get an injunction against publishing a story the arson threat letter that "I was mildly surprised in that they trumped against injunctions and super-injunctions and transparency"

That's more of a comment on their actions than an accusation that they were trying to suppress press freedom. Accusations do not usually begin "I was mildly surprised." It is clear that the reason for this was the apparent inconsistency with the recent super-injunction, in which Trevor Pitman was arguing for greater transparency and not "secret court sessions".

Deputy Power also says "I've been threatened before on blogs and things, which you tend to dismiss" but nowhere does he mention Deputy Pitman here. In fact, he welcomes Deputy Pitman's comment quoted for him to hear that "Certainly no one we know would do that, and if they did we would condemn it."

At the end of the interview, there are no "unsubstantiated allegations" made - I've listened to it twice now. All he says at the end is "I've received an arson threat, and I really don't know everything else." Nowhere is there any accusation that the Pitmans or their supporters might be behind it.

I just can't hear where he made accusations against the Pitmans which is what some people are saying he did in that interview. We are fortunate that we have the verbatim words and not hearsay.

But let's look at a few other matters which came up.

Shona starts by speaking about a "smear campaign by the JEP". Matthew Price's rejoinder is that this is a reputable newspaper, staffed by professional journalists, and that she can't say those sort of things.

Nevertheless, she does give one case - the case of Geoff Southern and herself helping voters compete applications for postal votes which contravened a recent change in Jersey election law - which she says was described by the Jersey Evening Post as "electoral fraud". I've not got access to the original article from the JEP so I can't tell if the wording did use those terms.

But Matthew Price assumes that is the case, and agrees that it was not electoral fraud, but insists that it was breaking the law. What he avoids addressing is that if the JEP had used the term "electoral fraud" instead, as Shona alleged they did, they would have been misleading the public over what happened; that rather undercuts his comment about "professionalism" which he just stated.

In fact this issue came up in the States, where Senator Le Main was reprimanded and called to withdraw an allegation of "electoral fraud"

Senator T.J. Le Main: Is it not right that the Deputy has pleaded guilty to electoral fraud?

The Deputy Bailiff:  No, Senator, he has not. We are not going to discuss the case today. One moment, please. This is a matter which is before the courts, but it is a matter of public record that it is not electoral fraud. So, I did reprimand Senator Le Main for it but, Senator, I must ask you formally to withdraw the allegation of electoral fraud.

Senator T.J. Le Main: I withdraw it, Sir.

Whether that could be termed "a smear" campaign is, of course, a matter of opinion, but it is certainly a case in point which could be adduced to support that opinion, if the JEP did use that term, and Matthew Price seems unwilling to permit her to make that argument. Unfortunately, she gets sidetracked from the substantive point to be made.

The caveats I place above are simply because I do not have the original JEP press cuttings relating to the case; if anyone does, I would be pleased for receive a copy so I could verify whether or not "electoral fraud" was used.

But given that the JEP did use that phrase as Shona alleges, that would clearly be a case of misreporting, and grounds for an opinion that their reporting was "a smear campaign".

Shona's second point relates to Deputy Power whom she says is "known to be dishonest". In evidence for this, she cites his standing down as Minister for Housing after a breach of the Data Protection Law for scanning to email to himself and another, a private email between Deputy Carolyn Labey and Deputy Judy Martin.

What is extraordinary here is that Matthew Price feigns ignorance of this story - "I don't know what you're saying is true or not". That is an extraordinary admission of ignorance, as the BBC reported on this very story in 2011:

"Deputy Sean Power has resigned as Jersey's housing minister after breaching data protection laws. He said he passed on an email he found lying on a printer in the States building in August last year. .. Deputy Power forwarded it to the Data Protection Commissioner - and also a third party - and in doing that he breached the Data Protection Code." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-12345516 ). Quite how her argument would have developed from this point is uncertain, because she was not able to make it.

Of course, Deputy Shona Pitman would have probably been wiser to have a copy of that printed out from the BBC's website to show Matthew Price when he said "I cannot substantiate it at the moment".

And she does go beyond what the BBC says in their report. I can't find a news report in which Deputy Power tried to blame Deputy Southern, but perhaps one exists, but if you make that claim, you need evidence and not just an assertion. Likewise, the assertion that Deputy Power was the source of the leak to the blog site which printed a substantial amount of the email is certainly surmise as no forensic evidence has come to light to prove that.

It is an extraordinary interview, but I don't think Deputy Pitman does herself any favours by trying to talk on when Matthew Price has cut the microphone off.

But what it certainly shows is that when being interviewed by Matthew Price, ensure you have the appropriate press cuttings from the JEP, or print of a BBC web page, so that if he feigns ignorance, he can be gently reminded that he should not be quite as much of an amnesiac as all that.

I can't recall the exact wording of the JEP about the case of breaking the election law, and whether or not it actually used the term "electoral fraud", so I wouldn't have expected Matthew Price to. Primate source documents such as press cuttings are the only way to prove that was the term used, if indeed it was.

It is very strange however that he can't remember the Housing Ministers resignation, or the reason behind it, which certainly I can, and which was reported in detail by the BBC. That seems to be to be a tactic to force the interview onto other lines.

He wants to talk about the Pitman's personal situation and how they feel about it; she wants to raise matters about how they see themselves badly treated by others. In the end, I'm not sure either comes out of it terribly well.

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