Sunday Times Editor: If You Have Questions About Our Snowden Story, Address Them To UK Government

from the you're-making-this-worse dept

So we already wrote about the absolutely ridiculous Sunday Times piece which claimed that Russia and China had "cracked" the encryption Snowden used on his documents (or, maybe, he gave them to them...) and thus all hell had broken loose and the UK had to remove "agents" from Moscow. Of course there were all sorts of holes in the story, which didn't make much sense. All of the "evidence" was just anonymous quotes from government officials, much of which contradicted itself. And, of course, there were the outright factual errors. When finally confronted about this, the reporter who wrote the story, Tom Harper, admitted straight up, that he was just "just publishing what we believe to be the position of the British government." When questioned about the evidence, he said that you shouldn't challenge him, but the UK government -- as if his job as a "reporter" was just to write down what they said, not actually search for the truth.

It appears that this attitude -- "we are stenographers for the government, rather than reporters seeking evidence and truth" -- comes straight from the top at the Sunday Times. Someone emailed Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens pointing out the many problems with the article, and got a short reply that says that all of these questions should be taken up with the British government, rather than the Sunday Times. Really.
Dear Mr Douglas,

I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.

Yours faithfully

Martin
There are... so many problems with this, but let's just address the two big ones. First, in suggesting that they ask the British Government (10 Downing St.), Ivens is flat out admitting what his reporter said earlier in the week: they were just acting as stenographers, and have no independent evidence to back up the story they wrote. That's not the role of a journalist. A journalist is supposed to be seeking out the truth. Yet, here, Ivens is basically saying that the Sunday Times has no evidence to back up its claims.

The second big problem is the "if you think they have lied to us then so be it." That, also, is an astounding statement for a journalist to take. If someone tells a journalist that you got a story wrong and your sources lied to you, the last reaction you should have is "so be it." The reaction should be "oh shit" and then revisiting the issue carefully to make sure you actually got the story right. Instead, here, the Sunday Times position is "meh, who cares." Incredible.

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  • icon
    rw (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 7:09am

    This is why governments want to define "Journalists" as only those working for major media outlets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:16am

    Doesn't the Government already have PR staff for that? Or is the Sunday some sort of Government PR agency that we didn't know?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:25am

      Response to: Ninja on Jun 18th, 2015 @ 8:16am

      We could fix all of this if we just had press secretaries who only work on Sunday

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:26am

        Re: Response to: Ninja on Jun 18th, 2015 @ 8:16am

        No, we could fix that if there weren't fucking clowns in Government.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:13am

        Re: Response to: Ninja on Jun 18th, 2015 @ 8:16am

        No no, press secretaries only work on Fridays, so as to maximize the number of people ignoring the news due to hangovers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      Of course the government has PR staff, and they're called... oh what was it... ah yes, 'The Sunday Times'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:30am

    Telliing lies to a journalist...

    A true journalistic publication would make sure everybody knew about anybody telling them lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:34am

    Somebody got a threatening visit from a couple of people in really nice suits. If they were wearing blue gloves, I'd have done what they said as well. Granted, I would have quit and emigrated after that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:40am

    No value

    Since the Sunday Times has admitted that they're nothing but a governmental mouthpiece, then people should just stop reading it, as they are not bringing any value to the table. Everyone can just eliminate the middleman and get their "news" directly from the government PR department.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:43am

    Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

    Did Ivens actually admit that those 'anonymous sources' were from 10 Downing Street, or is he such a tool that he does not realize his admission?

    It must be a real conundrum to be a journalist these days. There is a constant tension between integrity vs paycheck. Oh, wait...that means that the integrity part of the equation actually exists. That might be a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:54am

      Re: Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

      It was already established that the anonymous sources were with the government.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:58am

        Re: Re: Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

        Yes, one anonymous government source verified by yet another anonymous government source, but neither on of those sources were attributed to the Prime Ministers office, which is what I believe the 10 Downing Street refers to.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          AnonyBabs, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:53am

          Re: Re: Re: Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

          IIRC, Tom Harper mentioned that his anonymous "confirmation" came from Downing Street.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:27am

      Re: Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

      Did Ivens actually admit that those 'anonymous sources' were from 10 Downing Street, or is he such a tool that he does not realize his admission?

      It doesn't sound like much of an admission to me.

      It's more or less "my belief in this story is as solid as the gun pointed at my head". It's a pretty clear statement that they have been forced into publishing this item but he is not going to pretend to believe it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:46am

    But isn't the publisher responsible for content in the uk or is that just the commenters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ColinCowpat (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:51am

    Retraction due

    They ought to do what no rag does (as none of them has sense of ethics nor the balls to ever do it): To publish a retraction with headline and copy in the same font size, and on the same page, as the original lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 8:54am

    they just destroyed themselves unless of course the sheeple outnumber the free thinkers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:03am

    Taking lessons...

    They are simply getting their customer service training from Comcast...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:12am

    No, a journalist does not have a "responsibility to seek out the truth". Other than restrictions to not defame or libel journalists have no responsibility other than those they wish to take upon themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Groaker (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:25am

      Re: Truth and Duty

      In the US the media has no legal responsibility to tell the truth, and can lie as they wish -- so says SCOTUS.

      There is an ethical imperative for journalists to tell the truth, just as there are many occupations which have critical, though not legal obligations to tell the truth.

      Do you really want to live in a world where there is no reasonable ability to depend on the word of others?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 5:02pm

        Re: Re: Truth and Duty

        You could always move to Canada. We have laws preventing the news from lying. In fact FOX news was denied a spot because they refused to not lie on our networks. Even the current criminal PM Harper has been unable to get these laws overturned thank god.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 6:20pm

          Re: Re: Re: Truth and Duty

          How's that supposed to work? I mean, if the news isn't allowed to lie and make stuff up, there goes a good 90% of their programs. How are they supposed to fill up the time then, idiot hosts with braindead banter on meaningless subjects for hours at a time?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:38am

      Re:

      In the UK we have an Editors’ Code of Practice - the first clause of the which insists that publications “must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”

      So yeah, journalists do have a responsibility to seek out and tell the truth.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pragmatic, 19 Jun 2015 @ 6:14am

        Re: Re:

        The Editors’ Code of Practice is being ignored. What are the consequences?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          wereisjessicahyde (profile), 19 Jun 2015 @ 1:52pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, in an extreme case the UK newspaper the "News of the World" was forced to close down in 2011 due to some of their "journalists" being found guilty of hacking peoples phones to get inside scoops. Some even went to prison.

          It may not surprise you too much if I say that the "News of the World" and the subject of this Techdirt article "The Sunday Times/The Times" are both owned by the same company - News Corp aka Rupert Murdock.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2015 @ 8:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Some even went to prison." Well only the disposable ones did.

            The Editor in Chief got a platinum parachute & now has a new job in the USA as she is Rupert's Wonder Woman.

            As for the article, of course Limited News is a government spoke-piece, without Rupert the RWNJ side of politics would never get into power in the first place in the UK or Australia.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:01am

      Re:

      "Other than restrictions to not defame or libel journalists have no responsibility other than those they wish to take upon themselves."

      I couldn't disagree more. Journalists absolutely have a responsibility to seek and report truth. If they don't do so, then they aren't journalists.

      I sense that you may be talking about legal obligations, though. I think that "responsibility" is a separate and distinct concept from "legality".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      No, a journalist does not have a "responsibility to seek out the truth".

      If they are not seeking the truth then they re selling fiction under a false label.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JamesF (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:16am

    I’m not convinced that this is a problem.

    While its certainly true that a good journalist is someone who digs out stories, fact checks sources and so on, anyone can write for a paper. Now, whether you say ‘They aren’t really a journalist’ or you say ‘They are a bad journalist’ doesn’t really matter. They clearly consider it their job to write articles that sell papers, not to ‘find the truth’, and whether or not you grant them the title of journalist isn’t going to change that.

    The problem then, would seem to be the people that buy the paper, who aren’t demanding of the quality of the journalism within, but who are we to demand that they demand quality? If they did, this kind of thing would quickly get out and they wouldn’t buy it. But when we tell them the problem, they won’t care. They won’t much care that it’s not true, much less will they care if the government lied, or if the paper didn’t catch the lie. They won’t stop buying and they won’t tell their friends.

    And so the ‘journalist’ can photocopy the press release and feel satisfied in his work, and the people can buy it and feel informed. And you know what? That’s not a problem. Everyone involved has either accepted their level of misinformation, or would accept it if we told them about it. At the end of the day, I guess that’s their choice.

    Morans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:44am

    One question left for Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens:
    If the content was indeed provided by the UK government, and just printed by the Sunday Times - why do you place it behind your paywall and ask people to pay for it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      Hmm, sounds like it might be copyright infringement to me. Unleash the Prenda laws of the world. They have a new deep pocket to go after.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rikuo, 18 Jun 2015 @ 12:15pm

      Re:

      Works by the UK government do not fall into the public domain automatically, unlike the US. The UK has what is called 'crown copyright'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:49am

    Fact checking?

    I once heard that professional journalists working for so-called serious newspapers were supposed to do something called "fact checking".

    Guess not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    G. Washington, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:51am

    News?

    When truth is treason

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:03am

    The job of the tabloids

    The `job' of the (British) tabloids is to publish the most outrageous headlines and print pictures of scantily clad women, everybody knows that. (Yes that second part is sexist). The content of the articles does not really matter.

    Although it is not journalism, the reaction perfectly fits this section of the press. Even if it is rather pathethic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:08am

    Sunday Pravda? Pravda Times?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:10am

    I would expect no less of a statement from the UK's Propaganda Times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Former Fed, 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:35am

    Murdoch

    Given that the Sunday Times is owned by Murdoch's News International empire, what else would you expect?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 11:18am

    if reporters - whether print or tv or whatever - want to be taken seriously, they depend very heavily on a reputation for independence and the willingness to go hard after the truth.

    these clowns clearly don't - or can't - care about their reputations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nickweller (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 3:45pm

    Do you believe this crap, Ivens?

    Harper: Do you believe this crap, Ivens?

    Ivens: It's not our job to believe it, Harper. Our job is to tell the people –

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Coulrophobia, 18 Jun 2015 @ 4:58pm

    The UK is one giant circus.

    Clowns in the media, clowns in the government and the clowns who vote for them.

    It'd be nice to have some different acts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shadow Firebird, 18 Jun 2015 @ 9:00pm

    No News Is…

    It's only news if they *don't* want you to print it - to paraphrase Hunter S…a

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    res (profile), 19 Jun 2015 @ 3:08pm

    london times

    It's about time a government owned their own newspaper!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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