Press embargoes and frantic rewrites 

A few months ago, I blogged on the phenomenon known as ‘the journalist’s jinx’. Well thanks to solicitor, blogger and FT journalist, David Allen Green, I was able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief last Friday and avoid said phenomenon’s cold embrace once more.

Among other legal stories, last week had been spent researching, interviewing and writing SJ’s ‘Big story’ on the Conservative’s announcement that it would scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new ‘British Bill of Rights’. Specific plans on how this would come about and what this new Bill would include were, at the time of completing the story, unknown. As I finished the story on Thursday afternoon, ready for Friday’s press day, it had been widely suggested that the new week would see those proposals published.

However, all hell broke loose at around 4pm when it was brought to my attention that Green had posted an embargoed press release from the Tories explaining their vision for the proposed new Bill. While it did not include the full plans of the Bill it was enough to make my piece redundant.

You see, SJ, unlike the national press, was not briefed by the Tories and their plans to radically shake up civil and human rights law. That particular Conservative press release did not appear in our digital pigeon holes.

Cue yours truly running around the office like a headless chicken in exasperation, while SJ’s new managing editor, Laura Clenshaw, attempted to subdue me with an oversized butterfly net. Next came the hysterical laughter and frantic rewrites. Oh the joys of a weekly publication.

All joking aside, I then noticed that Green was receiving criticism from other journalists (notably from those bastions of high-quality journalism, The Sun and the Daily Mail) who were angry at him for breaking the embargo and leaving egg all over their collective faces.

Leaving aside the fact that working at such publications would generally require you to have a thorough wash on occasion, Green points out that he was passed the press release by a third party and that he himself was not subject to the embargo. He decided to release its contents as it was in the public interest to do so.

Personally, this particular hack is inclined to agree with Green and not just because his actions saved my proverbial bacon, but because there really was no need to release such a statement under embargo. The proper forum for its release was during the party’s conference, especially as it had been alluded to over the space of several consecutive days. What reason could the Conservatives have had for holding on to such an important proclamation until a Friday? I’ll leave you, dear readers, to draw your own conclusions.

Turning to the contents of the Bill; well a quick peruse of the comments on the Jack of Kent blog and Green’s Twitter mentions reveals a host of lawyers appalled and depressed by its contents. It seems clear now as to why Dominic Grieve QC lost his post as attorney general, if he had to constantly argue against these proposals every day while in the cabinet.

This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 8 October 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.

Advertisements