Politics and the law: on collision course?

The diplomatic storm over Tzipi Livni continues

 

William Hague, Harriet Harman and Bob Marshall-Andrews discuss the Tzipi Livni question at PMQs yesterday.

 

On Tuesday, I blogged about the diplomatic row triggered by a British court issuing an arrest warrant for the former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni. It rages on.

At PMQs yesterday (watch the video above), Bob Marshall-Andrews asked Harriet Harman whether she would support the power of the courts to issue proceedings against anyone where there is sufficient evidence. It was a clear reference to this case. Harman replied that she supports judicial independence.

But the plot thickens. The present law allows the courts to issue a warrant for a non-citizen who has allegedly committed a war crime in another country. Today it has been reported that this will change, with Gordon Brown said to be pushing for plans to build in "safeguards" in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders. These "safeguards" will entail granting the attorney general full power of veto for suspected war criminals.

It might just be me, but does that sound like an encroachment on judicial independence?

It was also reported that Brown telephoned Livni to tell her that he "strongly opposed" the warrant, while the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, called Livni and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, to apologise. A diplomatic nicety, perhaps, but the planned changes to the law -- which follow calls from Israeli politicians to, well, change the law -- signal a much more worrying collision of politics and justice.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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