Letters - Letter of the week

The journalist Amanda Platell (16 February) congratulates the journalist John Humphrys on his post-Hutton claim that journalists "must be free to be wrong". It is extraordinary that, alone of all the professions, journalists not only claim the right to get things wrong, but actually wear it as some sort of badge of honour. This arrogance is compounded by their refusal to grant the same right to anyone else. No surgeon, politician, social worker, GP, footballer, train driver, company director or teacher is allowed to get it wrong. One mistake and he or she is publicly, ruthlessly destroyed.

Andrew Gilligan did not have the right to broadcast wrong information on the Today programme. Nor did he have the right to betray his source to members of a select committee, while publicly proclaiming his source's right to confidentiality. He had an obligation to broadcast correct, truthful information and to uphold the journalistic "ethics" to which he claimed to subscribe. BBC managers and fellow journalists have no right to defend his mistakes. Journalists and commentators would be well advised to enter a period of reflection on the lessons of all this for themselves, to consider their obligations rather than whinge about their self-declared rights. Some hope.

Simon Jarrett
Harrow, Middlesex

This article first appeared in the 23 February 2004 issue of the New Statesman, End of the sex war