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Just a thought...

Since pretty much everyone agrees that some employees of a different part of the group breaking the law through phone hacking / tapping means that News International is not a fit organisation to own a majority share in a television company, what does MI5's record of illegal phone hacking / tapping say about the British government being fit to 100% own the BBC...?

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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
miss_next
Jul. 13th, 2011 08:49 am (UTC)
I always thought it was supposed to be legal if MI5 did it. Not that this makes it ethical unless they're doing it to someone they've got very good reason to suspect, but that's unfortunately not the same thing.
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:34 am (UTC)
Does it? I thought there were certain hoops they had to jump through. There have certainly been news stories in the past about "illegal MI5 phone tapping".
miss_next
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
You would probably know better than I do. What's undoubtedly true is that newspapers aren't supposed to do it, and it appears to have been endemic (not just the NotW).
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:08 am (UTC)
By no means - I'm certainly no expert on the legal implications of phone tapping. ("I'm an accountant Jim, not a civil rights lawyer...")

Hasn't been a good week to be a journalist has it? I had been thinking that the one person who thought this story was great would have been Mr Hari, since at least it took attention away from his rather less serious misdemeanours, but then he still got suspended.
pellegrina
Jul. 13th, 2011 09:15 am (UTC)
Does it make a difference if the organisation at least theoretically has as its ultimate goal the security of the the state as embodied in its citizens (all of them, not just the ones with disposable income to invest), rather than a requirement to maximise filthy lucre shareholder revenue?
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:51 am (UTC)
Yes, I think it does. But MI5 has certainly been criticised in the past for surveillance of various people by various people. And if you apply the News International logic, every time the Security Service (or the Police) receives such criticism, it enhances the argument of people like me who think there is no place for a state-owned broadcaster in a modern liberal nation.
pellegrina
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
You've lost me - the logic of News International, or the logic of the people criticising News International? The criticism of News International or by News International?
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
I meant the logic that phone hacking by employees of one part of the NI group meant that another part shouldn't be allowed to acquire the remaining 60% of BSkyB.
(Deleted comment)
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 01:30 pm (UTC)
Yes. I deliberately used the phrase "state-owned" rather than "state-controlled" because I see no evidence that anyone in government or the civil service really controls the BBC. I'm happy that it is independent.

Independent of course isn't the same as unbiased. It's just that the bias (as the BBC's own report admitted) comes from the attitudes of the people who work there and the (perhaps rather narrow) social circles in which they mix rather than affiliation with the state, the government or a particular political party.
(Deleted comment)
philmophlegm
Jul. 14th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
I hate it when that happens...
the_marquis
Jul. 13th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
I was under the impression that RIPA included MI5 and that even before that Act they needed a judge's warrant to tap phones.
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC)
That's what I thought. I'm definitely no expert though.
parrot_knight
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
I don't think the British government does own the BBC.
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC)
OK. Replace "government" with "Crown".
parrot_knight
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
I don't think the Crown does, either - the sense of a 'corporation' at the time the BBC was established was analogous to a civic corporation, divorced from the concept of ownership.
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:03 am (UTC)
Wikipedia certainly thinks the Crown owns the BBC. The BBC Trust says that the BBC is "owned and paid for by the public". Since I doubt that "the public" has any status in law, surely this must mean ownership by the Crown.

Also, it is the Crown which appoints trustees to the BBC Trust - to make an analogy with the commercial world, if company A was the only body able to appoint directors to company B and by doing so controlled B, then B would be considered to be a subsidiary of A.
parrot_knight
Jul. 13th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
'The public' is nebulous defensive PR speak, though the formation of the BBC Trust has changed the way the Crown and the BBC relate to one another. I wouldn't necessarily follow the commercial analogy you offer before looking at the duties each party owed the other. Anyway, you've inspired me to order a secondhand copy of Asa Briggs's The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, volume one, to look at the thinking behind the establishment of the BBC as a public body in the 1920s.
wellinghall
Jul. 13th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia certainly thinks the Crown owns the BBC.

Wikipedia is not always right ...
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)
And neither are people ranting or trolling on livejournal...

We don't currently have a better-researched answer. We may have to wait until parrot_knight's book arrives!
bunn
Jul. 13th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC)
The fact that parts of the British state have been known to do regrettable things is not, in my view, an argument for a completely different semi-detached arm of the British state to not exist, any more than the proceedings of the NOTW is a reason to sack, I dunno, all the cleaning staff or all the facilities managers in the employ of News International.

MI5 and the BBC may have the same ultimate owner, but only a conspiracy maniac would argue that they share staff, operating procedures, or even broad aims.

Television and print journalism are pretty closely related. I don't think MI5 and the BBC are.

Also, unless we are going to have total anarchy, when it comes to the state, we kind of have to accept that sometimes, it's not going to operate how it should, and sometimes it's going to balls stuff up or operate in a deeply embarrassing or shameful manner.

We don't actually have to accept this from any other single organisation, because everything other than the state is replaceable. For this reason, non-state organisations are always held to higher standards than the state. It is easier to find alternatives to any non-state organisation, but the state is the state, and short of secession or revolution, we are stuck with it.
philmophlegm
Jul. 13th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
But the proceedings of the NOTW are apparently a reason to deny a different part of the group the right to buy the remaining 60% of BSkyB/


No, I doubt that MI5 and the BBC have the same ultimate aims. It would make for some odd John le Carre books if they did.


Television and print journalism are closely related (although watching Sky News's coverage of the NOTW story, there seemed to be to be a distinct hint of schadenfreude suggesting rivalry and / or snobbery at Sky News). Would the issue be different if BSkyB didn't include Sky News then? Print journalism and dramatisations of epic fantasy literature are probably less closely related.


I don't think we should accept that the state sometimes doesn't operate how it should. When it doesn't it should be brought to book. And it should be held to the same standards as the rest of us. We are admittedly stuck with the state, but that doesn't mean that liberal, morally thinking people shouldn't attempt to reduce its power and influence over individuals as much as possible.

Edited at 2011-07-13 04:03 pm (UTC)
bunn
Jul. 13th, 2011 05:31 pm (UTC)
I don't think we should accept that the state sometimes doesn't operate how it should
We don't have to accept mistakes without criticism.

Unfortunately, since the state is not run or manned by omnipotent superbeings, (or even by Hivers, who I'm pretty sure would do a better job of it) sometimes it's going to screw up, sometimes impressively.

So far as I can see, this is one of the main arguments for a small state: because we are stuck with the state, the bigger it is, the more potential for it to make really big ballsups and the more risk of Emperors New Clothes scenarios.

I think if News International wanted to buy something not communications related - say, Cadbury's - that would be fine. But their behaviour has suggested that allowing them control of further communications channels of any kind should be, at the very least, closely scrutinised. Remember that Sky isn't just a broadcaster : it is also a holder of considerable amounts of data and a provider of interactive services, some of them of a confidential nature.
andrewducker
Jul. 13th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced anyone owns the BBC.

It's governed by the BBC Trust, which exists because the Crown says it does. But the Crown doesn't lay claim to any of it, so far as I can tell.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/about/how_we_govern/charter_and_agreement/index.shtml
skordh
Jul. 13th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
Yes isn't it an independent body established by royal charter - like the Institute of Chartered Accountants?
andrewducker
Jul. 13th, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
MI5's corruption proves that the Institute of Chartered Accountants must be DESTROYED!
philmophlegm
Jul. 14th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
That's true, but we accountants look beyond legal form to substance ("substance over form"). And the substance of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is that it is controlled by the members - people like me who have passed the exams and pay their subscription - not by the government or the state or the Crown. I pay a subscription to the BBC, but I don't have the power to, for example, vote against an increase in that subscription like I do with the ICAEW. That level of control rests with the government.
skordh
Jul. 14th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
Fair point.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )