2 September 2009

The Media Third-Rails Compassion

The media, including the BBC, has clearly decided that Megrahi should not have been released. For the record, I disagree, and while my opinion has motivated this headblurt, the rights and wrongs of the decision are not what this is about. I want the media to hold all politicians to account and give all opinions a fair fight. I have found the media to be severely lacking in the debate over the Megrahi release.

The only politician to defend the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds was the decision-maker himself. MacAskill gave many interviews and faced robust questioning over the decision. Good.

No other politician has made the case for compassion. The 'not our decision' position taken by Gordon Brown and his Cabinet, and also by MacAskill's fellow Scottish Ministers, has also been robustly challenged by the media. Again, rightly so.

The other postion adopted, most prominently by David Cameron (so much for compassionate conservatism) and Nick Clegg, is the anti-release position. They argue that Megrahi's crimes were so terrible that dying in prison is the only just option. I have yet to hear Cameron, Clegg or any other politician arguing for Megrahi's continued detention during an interview have their position challenged. (Please please please point out any examples contrary to this statement that I have missed; I have been dying for an interviewer to question this opinion.)

The media has decided that not releasing Megrahi is the correct answer. On this evening's BBC News at Ten, Nick Robinson finished his analysis by remarking:
The one thing that I was struck [by] as I went through every word of this is at no stage did anyone suggest: why don't we simply say,
(dramatic pause)
"no, we won't release him".
His words clearly implied that the compassionate option was the wrong decision and that the politcal implications would be far less severe if Megrahi had not been released. Whether the political agenda would have moved on by now if a different position had been taken can only be speculated upon, but if Nick Robinson is right, the conclusion must be that if the government wants an easy time from the media, show no compassion.

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