Jargon ruled the day as the committee of MPs investigating privacy spoke
to a famous PR man and a Google executive
Max Clifford criticised the Press Complaints
Commission before the committee of MPs investigating
privacy. Photograph: David Levene
Four people from the new, state of the art, social media faced MPs and
peers on Monday. They were three middle-aged men in suits plus one
slightly younger woman in a suit. Hip and happening they were not.
Instead they had learned all the jargon and corporate-speak you'd expect
from a banker or a car-maker.
The committee was investigating privacy, and it soon became clear that
this was of scant importance to the social media. The parliamentarians
kept asking if their boards ever discussed ethical issues. If they do,
they certainly don't make a song and dance about it.
Daphne Keller of Google was over from her home in the US. She pointed
out how amazing were the safeguards used by many sites. Why, she had
been banned from looking at pictures of her own children, downloaded by
her husband, for fear that they might be looked on by paedophiles!
She was asked why Google couldn't just take down anything – such as the
clandestine tapes of Max Mosley's S&M "party" – that had been decreed
illegal. She also managed to avoid answering that. Lord Mawhinney gave
her a blast of British, or at least Ulster, irony. "Ms Keller, you have
got ducking and diving down to a fine art. I hope you will take that as
I don't think it was meant as one. It might be flattering to a cheating
footballer in the penalty area but not to an international executive.
Next they heard from two PR men, the famous Max Clifford and Phil Hall,
who used to edit the News of the World. Mr Clifford was ruing the
present situation by which newspapers were too frightened to print
anything that might reflect badly on the rich and powerful. "In the
present climate, you wouldn't have heard about MPs fiddling their
expenses!" There was a certain uneasy stirring around the table.
He went on to ladle abuse on the Press Complaints Commission. "It might
as well not exist! I've never known them help anyone. Take the McCanns.
The PCC had nothing to do with them, they didn't want to know!"
Warming to this theme, he got on to the topic of Robert Murat, the man
who was once wrongly suspected of being involved in the disappearance of
Madeleine McCann. "That man had his life destroyed by the media. I got
involved – I got apologies from all the papers plus several hundred
thousand pounds, but the PCC was nowhere to be seen, and I could give
you 500 examples. They are not independent, they are paid by the media,
end of story!"
Mr Clifford's plan would be to have a truly independent body that would
decree if a story was in the public interest – not merely interesting to
the public. This would work for ordinary people.
"The rich and famous get more than enough protection – I know, I'm part
of it! Superinjunctions don't exist for most members of the public – the
law is for the rich and powerful, and in a democracy that is wrong!"
At this point Mr Clifford heard a sound which may have been unfamiliar
to him: MPs and peers murmuring in agreement.