13 August 2009

Lockerbie Case Leak: analysing the strategies...

Its always a bit tempting simply to consider the “face” of the story, nod, happy to be included when the journalist massages in phrases like “it is expected”, “the BBC understands”. Both of these becalming, soothesome phrases appear prominently in the (advance) BBC coverage – which has blossomed into a roar in the echo room of the press – that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is “anticipated” to be freed from Greenock prison in the near future, eschewing a prisoner transfer, but instead “getting a Biggs”, the beneficiary of executive clemency.

Given the significance of the case, and the twinkling row of eyes across the world directing their attention to the result – BBC anticipation is terrifically unlikely to simply amount to “we guess, no real reason really”. Particularly since the speculation is taken up by most of the other papers – Herald, Telegraph, Times. Of course, some of this is reporting reportage as news. But lets peel the onion a little more attentively. If the BBC are trumpeting the information, someone in the know must have told them – assuming the report is accurate. There must be a limited number of people in that position.

I was particularly interested in the section of the BBC report which said that: “The speed of his transfer is thought to be influenced by consensus among all parties that Megrahi be back on Libyan soil in time for Ramadan next week.” All the parties? Which parties are these, pray? Megrahi’s lawyers? Might they encompass Libyan “authorities” – the ambassador, and associates perhaps? Civil servants at Kenny MacAskill’s beck and call – or the decider himself? The dribble of the news is highly unlikely to be accidental. One of these “parties” has played the sieve with the story. It reeks of deliberate agency. A while back I guessed that MacAskill wouldn’t agree to the prisoner transfer, largely because politically there would seem more to lose than to gain. If the news is true, I can claim some sort of (besmirched) prescience (actually, I would have been primarily wrong. Ho hum!). In particular, the political consequences of transfer or compassionate release must differ somewhat. The latter foregrounds the released individual’s physical state – the former looks far more like a backhanded collusion with Libyan authorities, a seedy deal cooked up in the desert. At least in terminological terms.

If one was cynical, one might also say that public opinion is being softened up in advance. It is one thing to deal with Megrahi’s release conceptually, it is another watching – as I assume we’ll eventually be able to – video footage of the man walking at liberty. Dividing these symbols could be a cunning, albeit limited, goal. Even more cynically, consider what has happened if MacAskill has not reached a final decision. Now he has before him the press response to one option, replete with the quotes of bereaved family members, both voicing outrage and support. It would be explosive stuff if the final decision is not faithful to its leak.

While the Government spokesperson makes the deliberate denial that any final decisions have been taken, if I had to guess between likely candidates for primary leaker – I’d suspect the culprit was MacAskill himself, and/or a civil servant under his undirected executive direction, for the diffusing influence which dividing (a) getting the public used to the idea of Megrahi’s release and (b) seeing him released would seem to exercise. For Megrahi or his representatives to leak would seem ludicrously to be tempting fate for no appreciable gain. Quite on the contrary, I would imagine attempting to force the ministerial hand in this way would be the swiftest and surest path to having all considerations rejected. Or alternatively, what if the public reaction to the story was universally hostile? The announcement of the final decision could retract the intelligence of the leak, with nobody being wholly sure whether there had been the proverbial "u-turn" or not. Leaving Megrahi perpetually enchained in Greenock. Ramadan or no.

1 comment :

  1. Looks like a deal has been done - he withdraws his appeal in return for being released. He goes home and dies and everyone hopes that is an end to it.