To leak or not to leak?

It would be fair to say that Isobel Oakshott's decision, in breach of a non-disclosure agreement, to hand to the Telegraph for publication a large file of WattsApp messages sent to and from former Health Secretary Matt Hancock which he had provided her while they were working together on a book has provoked some strong reactions on all sides.

Needless to say the Telegraph themselves say that this is a massive scoop and revealing it is in the public interest and a lot of people have been delighted at the opportunity to have a fresh pop at Matt Hancock over things in the WattsApp messages, almost invariably arguing that this provides fresh evidence confirming allegations they have been making for two years or so.

Matt Hancock, of course, considers it a "massive betrayal" although he can console himself that he is unlikely to suffer as much from his decision to trust Ms Oakshott as the last person who shared information with her and regretted it: Vicki Pryce went to jail.

I think there is a very real issue here. To be honest nothing the Telegraph has yet printed was in my humble opinion such an earth-shattering revelation as to provide a strong enough public interest defence as justify breaking the normal standards of journalistic confidence and a legally binding NDA. I reserve, however, the right to change that opinion if the Telegraph has anything more surprising than the news that the Education Secretary (and department) whose job was to see that children get a good education was less keen on closing schools than the Health Secretary (and Department) whose understandable priority was to check the spread of the disease.

I would admit that there could be circumstances in which there could be a genuine public interest for releasing confidential information. However, I would have thought that giving it to the inquiry would probably be more likely to serve the public interest than giving it to a newspaper.

I note that many of the people who are complaining about how long the inquiry is likely to take results were conspicuously silent when Sir John Chilcott's inquiry took seven years to confirm what a mess Tony Blair had made of the Iraq invasion and did not report until long after Blair had left office.    

Hancock is very far from being the only person with concerns about whether Oakshott did the right thing by giving the messages to the Telegraph.

Ian Dunt, the self proclaimed "liberal extremist" and columnist at the "i" newspaper had this to say on Twitter:

"Oakeshott's behaviour is so lacking in basic ethical standards that she makes it harder for any journalist to do their job and get sources to trust them.

The Telegraph is pursuing an anti-lockdown agenda. The stories we get will follow that agenda and we'll not know what they omitted to make them fit.

Right place for this was a playing-it-straight outlet or the inquiry. Hancock is a prize bellend, a national embarrassment, without the seriousness or basic ability necessary for the role he had. But this isn't how to get him. And by signing up to it, we play into their hands."

By the way, I do not normally tolerate or quote the sort of language on this blog which Ian Dunt used in the tweets quoted immediately above about Matt Hancock, and I only made a rare exception in this instance because it was not gratuitous - he was making the point that he, as someone who really doesn't like Hancock, still doesn't agree with what Oakshott did. Anyone who posts that sort of insult in the comments box on this blog should not expect to see their words in print unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Comments

Paul Holdsworth said…
Two things.

Thus far, I agree that Oakeshott's Public Interest excuse is unjustified - she shouldn't have broken it.

But much, much more astonishing is that Hancock entrusted those messages to a double-crosser like her!

You might not appreciate it ve of Dunt's description of Hancock, but his behaviour on this and other matters makes the greater part of that description entirely justified, I'd say.

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