Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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I see the Press Complaints Commission has dismissed recent allegations of phone tapping against the News Of The World newspaper. I’m glad that common sense has prevailed and that the good gentlemen (and ladies) of the press are able to go about their business once again. Even though I don’t work for that particular newspaper I know better than anyone how much of a landmark this ruling is in the wider field of tabloid journalism, being a journalist myself. It is important for newspapers to have the freedom to use any method (within reason) that they deem fit to help bring items of importance to the public at large. I can’t see how stifling members of our profession – whether by unnecessary imprisonment in the case of my good friend Clive Goodman, or through the enforced resignation of another friend of mine, Andy Coulson – can help matters.

Now I must make clear that I don’t for a moment agree with what Goodman did back in 2007 – phone-tapping members of the Royal Family (or anyone, for that matter) is a gross intrusion of privacy, something which I myself know better than anyone. After the break-up of my first marriage I believe to this day that my phone line was being recorded, though I could never prove this at the time. My point is that it’s not a particularly nice situation for anyone to experience, and in that particular case Goodman and the private investigator Glen Mulcaire clearly overstepped the mark.

Goodman – who is, as his name suggests, a good man – made an honest mistake in employing a private investigator to hack into the phone lines of Royal Family members. I’m not disputing that for a moment. I know better than anyone that the Royal Family have aides, and that these aides are the people you go to when you need information regarding any Royal. You certainly don’t invade their privacy by intercepting phone messages or listening into their private conversations. With that said, however, I feel that the judgement in their case was a clear breach of human rights which only served to suppress the press’s entitlement to free speech.

It is not the place of the courts to pass judgement on the press – any cases of malpractice involving journalists should always go through the correct channels, i.e. the Press Complaints Commission. It is then up to the PCC to decide whether the newspaper in question should publish a printed apology or not, depending on the severity of the crime. Thankfully, in this most recent case it did the sensible thing and rightly dismissed the allegations out of hand.

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My heart goes out to the poor woman who this week suffered the indignity of having her surname misspelt by the Prime Minister as he rushed out an obligatory letter of condolence after her son was killed in Afghanistan. The scribbled note from Gordon Brown contained several basic grammatical errors and was probably written on the back of a receipt whilst he was down the pub for all we know. Being a journalist, I know better than anyone about the importance of atention to detail, as our written words affect the views of millions on a daily basis. It is important not to make fundemental errors in any story because it devalues the point we are trying to make. And the point here is that the Prime Minister has screwed up big time, defiling the memory of a brave young soldier.

Now I don’t know all the facts surrounding this case, but it seems pretty clear to me that Mr. Brown had other things on his mind at the time he wrote his “letter”. Perhaps he was too busy thinking about buying himself a personality on eBay, or possibly working out how to close his mouth between sentences. Whatever happened, the fact still remains that he took his eye off the ball with devastating consequences. Had I been in the Prime Minister’s position I would have made sure I had spelled their family name correctly, although I wouldn’t have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place – but that’s beside the point. It seems so obvious when you think about it, so why did Brown make such a heinous error of judgement? I know better than anyone how annoying it is to have your name misspelt at the best of times (yes, BBC, I’m talking about you – it’s MINNS with two N’s, by the way – just so you know) – let alone how terribly that sort of fundamental error can be compounded in times of grief.

I only hope that Gordan Brown has learnt a lesson from all this…

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