Being ‘economical with the truth’ is just one description of the way politicians will twist and turn to avoid answering difficult questions. To stop them hoodwinking the public, journalists (especially live interviewers) need to be quick on their feet.
Michael Wills MP, minister in the Justice Department, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (23 March) about a report on the security and legality of numerous Government databases which hold personal information on citizens. He was having none of Prof Ross Anderson’s criticisms and tried to rubbish the report.
Probably the most worrying case highlighted by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust is the DNA Database. The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled that this is in breach of the Convention on Human Rights because it contains the DNA records of people arrested but never convicted of any offence.
When asked about that database in particular, Wills claimed that Prof Anderson had failed to balance the public benefits against any disadvantages, He went on to refer to the importance of of DNA records in the detection of crime. It’s worth repeating his words: ‘As we saw last week, it’s also about the prevention and remedying of miscarriages of justice. If not for the existence of DNA and databases, innocent people might still be in jail.’
Unfortunately, the interviewer failed to pick him up on this ‘economy with the truth’. Sean Hodgson’s release from prison last week had nothing to do with the DNA database. His conviction was overturned because new techniques were applied to evidence from the time of the crime which proved that his DNA was not present in the blood and semen samples left by the killer. What’s more, the DNA Database has been of no use in finding the murderer.
Sadly, the interviewer was too focused on his line of questioning to pick up this classic ‘blinder’ and the minister got away with it!
The interview can be heard at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7958000/7958482.stm
The report on databases is at: http://www.jrrt.org.uk/