Saturday, 3 October 2015

PERSONAL STATEMENT ON EXARO AND THE CURRENT MEDIA WAR OVER THE REPORTING OF CHILD ABUSE

When I created ExaroNews I had no idea of where it would lead. Its purpose was simply to 'hold power to account' through investigative journalism under the leadership of an honest editor ... a type in our society who is as valuable as an honest cop. We found that honest editor in Mark Watts.

The next stage was to get funding and this we did. What few seem to understand is that the funding came with a condition on our part - no interference by the shareholders in editorial decision-making. There was no quarrel with this and I signed away my own ability to tell Mark what to do, neither to cajole nor to threaten.

A risk was taken by us that he would continue to maintain the highest journalistic standards and not be frightened by the brute weight of the political establishment, of the dark forces to be found in every society or of rival media embarrassed that Exaro would achieve what they had signally failed to do - hold power to account - despite their massively greater resources.

Exaro does not have massive resources but it has had sufficient resources to follow through on what has become one of the biggest investigations of our age - allegations that child abuse and worse (if anything can be worse) were covered up by the powerful. This was the decision of the editorial team and no one else.

Those who followed the Kincora Case are fully aware of what very small groups of people within the system are capable of. One should not ever assume that institutions are necessarily acting in our interest simply because that is what they claim that they are doing. To me (as an outsider), it was always reasonable that they should investigate this matter much as they have investigated many other matters.

At no time (to my knowledge) has Exaro pre-judged the issue in regard to the child abuse allegations - the police once used an unfortunate turn of phrase but that is not the responsibility of Exaro. Exaro appears to have listened to claims and undertaken what investigation it could, reasonably publishing the results. Even to suggest (as one blogger appears to have done) that Exaro had the power or influence to initiate police investigations is almost comically absurd.

The mainstream media's initial approach to Exaro was to try and kill it by ignoring it. Its ability to set the agenda has emerged as a result of editorial persistence. The police make their own decisions on what is worthy of investigation from their perspective and what is not. The allegations have clearly been taken seriously by the police who, despite the ragged and sensationalist reporting of the mainstream media, have reiterated their own high professional standards in an important statement.

That article is well worth re-reading because it makes it very clear that the police are very concerned about the reporting of witness statements and the risks that the media might prejudice their investigations and later court cases while still managing to assert their belief in the importance of the responsible media in assisting investigations.

The publication by Exaro of this police statement in full (which no other media have done despite their public interest claims) is taken by me to mean that Exaro is in in agreement with it. Subsequent public comment by the Editor of Exaro on Twitter suggests that he remains concerned about the conduct of other media in relation to the witnesses and any pre-judgment of investigations. He must speak for himself - I cannot.

The allegations are also taken seriously by some prominent and rather politically brave politicians - it is gratifying that their courage has not halted their careers. Being taken seriously by police, leading politicians and Exaro does not make allegations true but it does make them worthy of investigation in a free and open society. If not, we may as well be in a closed dictatorship.

It must be made clear that at no time (despite my own close interest in the subject of which the Editor knew nothing) have I had any say or influence in the subject matter of the investigation. Neither I nor any Director were consulted on the investigation at its inception or since. I have no idea whether the allegations are true or false. I consider it reasonable, by the very nature of things, that mistakes may have been made or could yet be made but also that the allegations are far from being easily dismissed.

Everything I have read to date (noting that this has been going on now for some two years or so) suggests that Exaro and, entirely separately, the investigating police officers have cause to be interested in the allegations, have no political angle whatsoever, are professionally committed to what they are doing in their very different spheres and are utterly right to reveal any possibility of wrong-doing in the public interest in order to explore the evidential base for claims.

One is not naive - I am aware of past scandals such as the absurd satanic abuse claims of several decades ago. The possibility of such phenomena as false memory or political manipulation has to be taken into account but the right approach is not to walk away but to investigate even these possibilities rationally and in an evidence-based way, especially in the wake of the Jimmy Savile Scandal which the BBC signally failed to investigate adequately while it was happening on its very door step. In my opinion, the BBC lacks all credibility in this area and should stand down.

My own interest is now simply as an observer while others are engaged in serious professional struggles that might have equally serious reputational consequences for them if they do get it wrong. That is their risk - I don't actually share that risk. But let me give one solid reason why I suggest that the investigation may have merit and it is this.

If the investigation had no merit, I would not personally be subject, over many months, to repeated and aggressive internet attacks on my integrity based on half-truths and failures to obtain the facts directly from me (it is not as if I am hidden on the internet), including attacks on relatives of mine using innuendo.

The flow of false claims about Exaro and the individuals involved in Exaro suggest that we are seeing a campaign of deliberate attempted destabilisation of the investigations in which some mainstream media have now found themselves to be 'useful idiots'. These mainstream journalists too must investigate but they should equally investigate the sources for the claims against the investigation. In this world of smoke and mirrors, this is becoming a test case about the sort of journalism we want in our country and so of the sort of politics and justice we are prepared to tolerate.

I am personally subject to these attacks simply because I founded Exaro News and own a minority stake in the Holding Company that owns it. That is all. It is a form of political terrorism because the aim is to create fear and anxiety surrounding reputation. The attackers seem to believe that, by attacking me, they can destabilise Exaro. They do not seem to realise that, no matter what they say about me or members of my family or my businesses or my politics, I have no power to stop any investigation even if I wished to do so - and I do not.

The nature of those personal attacks - which it seems involved hiring private investigators (who seem to have done a very poor job) to build a dossier on me (and others) which included family members - indicates that someone is rattled by these investigations. It suggests that the investigations are dangerous to someone. It suggests, on that basis alone, that the investigations are worthwhile.

Here, I write in a wholly personal capacity. I do not speak for Exaro Holdings, I do not speak for Exaro News. I speak only for an individual who has no regrets whatsoever in having kick-started an organisation, now wholly editorially independent of me and which has been so since its formation as a Company, that is prepared to turn up stones to see what lies beneath them.

I cannot take responsibility for the investigations which means I cannot take either the blame or the credit for what happens next. What I will do is say that, on the balance of probabilities and on the very fact of the attacks on me in the undergrowth of the internet, Mark Watts seems to have struck a nerve. I hope that he and his hardworking team continue to refuse to be brow-beaten as I will refuse to be brow-beaten.