While sailors and marines are given the freedom to sell their stories of being seized by Iranian forces, a couple are barred by the law from telling the full story of the court hearing in which they were cleared of harming their baby son.
The contrast of these two stories goes to the heart of the relationship between the media and government.
Controversially, the military gave the 15 who were held by the Iran permission to sell interviews to the media. The one woman, Faye Turney has been paid a reputed Â£100,000 to talk to the Sun and ITV. The paper this morning headlines it: Faye my ordeal, with three sub-heads â€” I feared being raped by Iranians, Stripped to knickers in dingy cell, and The truth behind our TV smiles.
This plays to an image of Iran which serves the Government’s present policy. Peter Wilby in Media Guardian today comments:
The press is always willing, as it was over the capture of the sailors, to criticise a British government for putting its service personnel in harm’s way and for not responding with sufficient resolve when they get into trouble. But it treats foreigners, particularly Muslims, as always in the wrong. The Iranian regime may be as evil, aggressive and oppressive as the US and British governments want us to believe, though I find the case that it poses a signifi cant threat to anybody even less convincing than the case made in 2003 against Saddam (remind me when Iran last invaded another country). All I ask from the press is a little scepticism, a bit of inquiring journalism and an occasional attempt to test out the idea that Iran’s rulers are just normal, blundering politicians making it up as they go along. It’s not much to ask. Is it?
There are other wider questions about the press paying for interviews and the way in which the very fact of money changing hands is most likely to ensure that the seller provides the quotes the customer wants.
At the same time Jake and Victoria Ward are desperate to tell the story of their 18-month “nightmare” before they were cleared of harming their baby son William who they had taken him to a GP with a swollen leg which turned out to be fractured.
The Guardian reports that Cambridgeshire County Council, for whom they both worked, took proceedings against them. They were both suspended from their jobs during a 14-month investigation by the police.
Then a county court judge ruled that the council had not crossed the first threshold for taking a baby into care. “There is no cogent evidence that these parents injured their son,” said county court judge Isobel Plumstead.
Because family court cases are heard behind closed doors even these details would not be publishable if a high court judge had not given permission for the BBC to broadcast a video diary of the family’s fight to establish their innocence.
But the doctors, social workers and police have their anonymity preserved, unless another court rules otherwise and Mr and Mrs Ward are barred from discussing aspects of the case not mentioned in the judgments.
Their solicitor, Sarah Harman, told the Guardian the couple would keep fighting for their right to tell it.
There can be no question here of protecting the identity of the family and the idea of open justice demands that the full story should be known. Mr and Mrs Ward (there is no suggestion that they are asking for money to tell it) should have the freedom to tell their story.
Yet they are barred from talking fully to the press while the 15 sailors and marines are given the green light to talk for as much money as they can get.
In November last year the Newspaper Society warned that while it welcomed Government suggestions to improve access to family courts it regarded proposed reporting restrictions “as a step backwards and a serious erosion of the principle of open justice”.
Openness seems too often in England today to depend upon whether it serves the interests of government and its officials.