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Guardian allowed to print what the BBC can’t broadcast

It was bizarre listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in bed this morning. They were leading on the Guardian publishing a story about the cash for honours story without being able to give any details because the broadcaster is covered by an injunction.

I had to get out of bed to go to a computer to read that: “Detectives are investigating whether Lord Levy, Labour’s chief fundraiser, urged one of Tony Blair’s most senior aides to shape the evidence she gave to Scotland Yard, the Guardian has learned.”

It seems that the attorney general’s office did try to get an injunction against the Guardian in a telephone hearing but when the judge heard the paper was already being printed decided the case was “finely balanced” and refused make an order. The attorney’s lawyer had even asked if the van drivers had mobile phones so that they could be recalled.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, is quoted in his own paper saying:

The Guardian was today given a significant story about the cash for honours inquiry which we checked both with Lord Levy and with the police. Our story was referred to the attorney general’s office, who told us it was “similar” to another story which was the subject of an injunction. We asked to see the court order and were told it was confidential to the parties to the original action.

The story was well-sourced and clearly in the public interest. In this country there is a well-established principle that the state cannot exercise prior restraint on newspapers. If the attorney general – who may be a player in this action – is seeking to gag newspapers he must give the precise reason for doing so. In the absence of any specific details we decided to publish. Secret orders and prior restraint on the press have no place in an open society.

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