The Grubby World of Whistle Blowing and Media Scoops

March 1, 2023

Wednesday March 1st 2023

Two different stories this week seem to have overlapping messages. I have been reading the thriller Whistle Blower by TV journalist Robert Peston. Then today, a media scoop arrives from journalist Isobel Oakeshott, and published in the Daily Telegraph.

Peston describes the grubby world of the political journalist in a fictionalised way which clearly draws on his extensive experience as a lobby correspondent based in Westminster. He describes the skulduggery involved as journalists compete for scoops from leaks and rumours within a charmed inner circle.

A comparison between the two stories helps us understand the complex issues of ethics in whistleblowing and the revealing a scoop claiming public interest offered at the expense of dubious or downright dishonest practices.

The Oakeshott story takes us back to the time when Matt Hancock was health minister during the Covid pandemic. In the early days, there were regular press conferences in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the health minister reported and gave advice flanked by medical experts which gave legitimacy to their statements.

Later, Hancock was to become the centre of another drama which ended in his dismissal over secret assignations which broke his own Covid rules and his marriage. He resigned as MP and began a new life as a celebrity in I’m a celebrity get me out of here.

He was also writing his memoirs entitled The Pandemic Diaries. He recruited a ghost writer Isobel Oakeshott who acquired a vast amount of primary materials of a sensitive nature.

These were to become the materials turned into the story in the Daily Telegraph this morning and which quickly became hot news across the print and television media.

The story reveals that Matt Hancock during the Covid pandemic was told in April 2020 there should be “testing of all going into care homes”. Government guidance later made it mandatory for tests for only for those people leaving hospital.

The deaths of untested residents in care homes were to become a tragic consequence of Covid. Oakeshott’s story appears to find the Health Secretary at fault. A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said the messages had been “doctored and spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.

Ms Oakeshott justifies her use of materials she obtained in confidence while working for Matt Hancock as resolving her moral dilemma by coming down on the side of the public interest. Others may chose to disagree.

I remember one expert of the ethics of leadership saying ethical dilemmas often involve balancing two ethical rights.

This is a story with legs, likely to keep moving for more than a one-morning stand in the newsagents.