Ross Clark

There’s no denying the Boris tape was politically motivated

There's no denying the Boris tape was politically motivated
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A neighbour records a domestic row through the wall of their flat, takes the recording to a newspaper which then publishes details of the conversation. I wonder what The Guardian would have made of that in 2011 when it was on its crusade against press intrusion which led to the Leveson Inquiry – especially had the newspaper been a red-top.

Eight years ago, it was hacking into the messages on mobile phones which caused the controversy – a practice which led to criminal trials and a comprehensive, judge-led inquiry into the ethics of the press. Is it really any less offensive to record a conversation through the walls of a private flat - effectively bugging the property - and then publishing the details even when police have investigated the incident being recorded and decided no crime has taken place?

It seems that The Guardian’s moral high ground is distinctly undulating, formed of lofty peaks when it wants to have a crack at conservative-minded newspapers and deep chasms when it spies an opportunity to report the goings-on in the private life of a frontrunner in the Conservative leadership campaign.

You can argue that the character of the man who seems likely to be the country’s next prime minister is a matter of extreme public interest, which it is. And if police are called to an address, for any reason, domestic incident or other, then it is perfectly proper to report that. But police replied to The Guardian’s enquiries that they had visited the property and concluded nothing was amiss, both parties involved in the alleged altercation were fine. So why, after that, the need to report the contents of a private conversation which led to the police being called to this non-event – recorded through the walls of a private home? In a half-justification for publishing the conversation, The Guardian claims that the neighbour recorded the conversation out of concern for Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s girlfriend. But if the neighbour genuinely thought the recording might be necessary for some kind of court case, why run off to The Guardian with it? It is hard to escape the conclusion that the decision to report the contents of the conversation was purely political, done in the hope of damaging Johnson’s campaign to be Conservative leader.

I don’t know where Guardian editor Katherine Viner lives, but I presume she would have no objection to a reporter recording conversations through the walls of her home and printing what he hears. Who knows, we might even find out how Viner plans to respond to the complaint about the reporting of the Boris altercation, which will certainly be going to the press regulator, IPSO.