Write today to Hacked Off asking them to explain the presence of Evan Harris as an advisor to their organisation and asking for their support over Brian Deer’s MMR investigation before the UK’s Leveson Inquiry. Write to Hacked Off founders Martin Moore (email@example.com) director of Media Standards Trust and journalist Brian Cathcart (B.Cathcart@kingston.ac.uk) as well as Thais Portilho-Shrimpton the organisation’s employee at the Inquiry (firstname.lastname@example.org).
‘Hacked Off’, the support organisation formed in the wake of the Murdoch media hacking scandal in the UK has so far failed to come up with explanation of the presence of former MP Evan Harris as an advisor. Dr Harris – who was also a member of the British Medical Association ethics committee at the time - worked closely with Brian Deer who accessed confidential medical and legal information, notoriously publishing the names of participants in the 1998 Wakefield/Lancet paper on the web. Three weeks after I first contacted Hacked Off about this matter they remain tight-lipped, and have made no public attempt to distance themselves from Harris. Nor has Harris made any attempt to distance himself from Deer’s investigation.
Harris wrote an editorial in Murdoch newspaper, the Sunday Times, accompanying Deer’s first allegations against Wakefield on 22 February 2004, led a debate against Wakefield under the cloak of privilege in the House of Commons on 15 March 2004, and took part in a Science and Technology investigation of Wakefield on 1 March 2004 in which he failed to acknowledge that Wakefield had publicly disclosed his role as an expert in the MMR litigation in a letter published in the Lancet as early as 2 May 1998, although the impression given in media reports at the time was that he had never done so at all. Harris, himself, had a host of potential conflicts in the affair which have only ever been partially acknowledged. He also accompanied Deer to the Lancet offices on 18 February 2004 to ambush Wakefield and colleagues, and to the first day of the GMC hearing against them on 16 July 2004.
This was also agenda journalism. Deer was initially approached in 2003 by a Sunday Times news editor who told Deer he needed “something big” on “MMR”: this editor Paul Nuki, like Harris, apparently had a father who sat on the Committee on Safety in medicines during the Pluserix episode (1987-92), and who was also to leave the paper to run the UK National Health Service’s main information website (NHS Choices) in 2007. A new wave of allegations from Deer was unleashed in the Sunday Times in 2009 immediately following proprietor James Murdoch’s appointment to the board of MMR manufacturer (and former defendants) GSK.
Hacked Off popped up seemingly spontaneously in Summer 2011 to represent the public interest in the media hacking allegations, and is supposed to support members of the public acting as witnesses to the Leveson Inquiry. The position, however, may be a little more complicated as the organisation is an off shoot of the Media Standards Trust which has behind it a roster of powerful international media and science industry sponsors . All this would be fine if they were committed to fair play and did not run for cover the moment anything politically sensitive appeared on the horizon. The manifesto states: :
“Hacked Off was founded to campaign for a public inquiry into illegal information-gathering by the press and into related matters including the conduct of the police, politicians and mobile phone companies. Only a full public inquiry, we argued, could put the truth of the hacking scandal before the public and ensure that necessary lessons were learned.”
It is obviously easy for Hacked Off to lend support in a cases where the invasion of privacy is the only issue but much harder where a journalistic investigation has involved the patronage of the highest echelons of government, including the public endorsement of the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer and relates to the protection of both government policy and powerful industrial interests. In such a case it is more than ever important for such a body to express concern on behalf of members of the public whose lives have been ransacked. Deer’s investigation included the accessing of private medical and legal records, blagging (the use of a false identity to conduct interviews), and a secret agreement with the GMC not to disclose that he was the complainant against Wakefield and colleagues so that he could continue reporting as a disinterested party.
This is a list of links that have already been provided to Hacked Off:
These matters deserve rigorous investigation and exposure. The hearing has already heard evidence from Tony Blair’s Director of Communications Alastair Campbell and the industry funded Science Media Centre advocating media repression on issues like MMR. No one from the other side of this issue has so far been called, nor can anyone under present conditions expect any help from the self-appointed guardian of the public interest. The question arises whether they are there to see fair play, or to obstruct it.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.