Saturday, 22 January 2011


On BBC Radio4's Any Questions broadcast yesterday evening Katharine Birbalsingh compared the release of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks to phone-tapping by the News of the World. This met ridicule from some members of the audience but none of the other panel members picked up on the comment.*

Ms Birbalsingh, teacher and darling of the Conservative party, referred to Julian Assange "being hailed as a kind of hero... this is a similar kind of thing... listening in to peoples conversations." Is she proposing that we should laud the News of the World? Or jail Mr Assange?

This comment came after a member of the audience questioned David Cameron's judgement at employing Andy Coulson, editor of the newspaper when the phone-tapping took place. Mr Coulson has always denied involvement, but finally resigned this week after the investigation reignited.

What Ms Birbalsingh does not seem to understand is the difference between phonetapping of individuals and interception of government documents, let alone what was then done with the documents.

The phone-tapping by the NotW was aimed at a host of celebrities, sports personalities and politicians. They intercepted private messages, and used this to reveal information about private lives. Some of this information was released, most of it was probably boring, and no one will ever hear the evidence behind these stories.

Wikileaks, however, release information which should be in the public domain, information about governments. This information is not personal, it affects more than the lives of the individual(s) concerned, and is gleaned from official documents. Not to mention, these documents were published, albeit with minor editing to protect identities.

Unfortunately this subtlety seems to have passed Ms Birbalsingh by. Maybe if she cared as much about freedom of information as she seems to about education...

*N.B. The quote can be found from ~2mins30 in.

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