BBC Jersey – failing to investigate Senator Syvret

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I am aware that the following email from the editor of BBC Jersey is circulating in that island (but certainly not at his choice or request):

Dear Ms. Dix,

Thank you for your e-mail,

I hope I'm correct in assuming that you're referring to the article "Paranoia In Jersey" from Mr. Murphy's blog on the Tax Research website, also to be found on the "Is This Jersey?" website, in which he states that the only person in the States of Jersey whom he has "advised over a long period and for whom I have written and edited policy statements and States resolutions and to whom I have acted as political counsellor" is Sen. Stuart Syvret. He goes on to say "So Frank Walker, call off the hounds and sack your Health Minister. He's the only mole you're looking for."

We have not given coverage to Mr. Murphy's statement because it contains nothing new, nothing we haven't covered in the past, or didn't cover in the aftermath of the exchange of open letters between Sen. Syvret, Mr. Brocken, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Chistiansen et al. We speak to many States members very regularly, both on and off the record and we are not aware of any "witch-hunt," seeking out members who sympathise with the views and policies of Tax Justice Network, or those of Mr. Murphy. I trust that you will accept my assurance that in its dealings with States members and officials, the BBC always maintains a high degree of objectivity (and a fair amount of professional scepticism.)

Sen. Syvret has consistently denied being a "member or supporter of organisations such as the Tax Justice Network and Attac and so on". In his open letter to Sen. Syvret, Mr. Christiansen agrees that Sen. Syvret has never been a member of either organisation. As far as "support" is concerned, no-one to date has offered any evidence that Sen. Syvret has actively supported and/or promoted either organisation, thus disproving his statement. I think the problem may be that while Sen. Syvret may "have sympathiies" with certain viewpoints held by Tax Justice Network - certainly his often publicised views on the Finance Industry and the "moneyed elite" etc would lead one to suppose this - , in his mind he may feel that his "sympathy" falls short of "support". He may be among those who choose to define "support" as "active involvement" - posting leaflets through letter-boxes, or donating money, or delivering speeches of support at meetings. He and everyone, is entitled to his, or her own interpretation of whatever "support" may mean. In the end it's all down to words and a degree of sophistry, which, we are told, is part of the hurly-burly of political life.

A "mole" is defined as "a person who operates from within an organization, especially a double agent operating against his or her own government from within its (intelligence) establishment." If there is evidence that Sen. Syvret is actively working against the States of Jersey in a clandestine manner, we would be glad to have sight of it - although the lack of a doctrine of Collective Responsibility within the Council of Ministers means that it would be very difficult to establish that one of them was acting as a "mole," when, in effect, he, or she could simply and, perhaps, legitimately claim to be be following his, or her own, independent political agenda.

It is unfortunate, also, that Sen. Syvret's leg injury and the surgery it necessitated have removed him from the political arena in recent times, putting him effectively "out of the game." It is noted in our news diary to return to his allegations of "blackmail" when he makes a full return to public life.

Please rest assured that in our dealings with Sen. Syvret and any and all Jersey politicians and with Tax Justice Network and any and all organisations, we shall exercise to the full our duty of balance and impartiality. From an editorial point of view, a falling-out between a politician and some of those who have offered him advice is not a story of great public interest, unless, of course, in the course of the disagreement, it is shown that either party is demonstrably guilty of malfeasance. Sen. Syvret's words - and, indeed, those of Mr. Murphy - are open to interpretation and cannot be so construed. We shall, however, continue to watch developments with interest.

Yours faithfully,

Denzil Dudley
Editor BBC Jersey

Mr Dudley's mail raises a number of serious issues, which require comment:

1) At no time has Mr Dudley or any member of his staff in BBC Jersey tried to call me or John Christensen on the issues referred to by him. He might, as he claims, "speak to many States members very regularly" but if he were to "exercise to the full our duty of balance and impartiality" then it would seem obvious that he should also ask the other participants in an issue to seek their side of the story. The fact that he has never done so gives lie to his claim of impartiality.

2) I note the definition of a mole that Mr Dudley uses. I would suggest that the fact that Senator Syvret sent John Christensen and myself an unsolicited copy of the B Agenda paper on zero-10 scheduled for discussion at the Council of Ministers meeting on 6 April 2006 on 31 March 2006 because he, in his words, wanted " any written observations or questions you may have once you've read the document" might meet that criteria. His additional comment that we should "PLEASE REGARD THIS AS HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL" does suggest he was well aware of what he was doing. The mail referred to above has been sent to BBC Jersey as corroboration of this blog.

I would stress that at no time did John Christensen request information from the Senator. At no time have we leaked any of the information we received from him. This was all a matter of the Senator's choosing, and might be, we think, some indication of support on his part as well as being an indication of the degree to which he relied upon us. These facts must be compared with his comment to the Jersey Evening Press in April 2007 that he:

had taken a wide variety of advice on tax from a whole range organisations of which TJN was merely one.

This may, or may not, be true. But we suspect that he was not in the habit of sending B Agenda items from the Council of Minsters agenda to others. His relationship with TJN was not of the form he sought to imply there. This is clear from correspondence he sent to us in that same month, a copy of which is now in the possession of the JEP, in which he said:

Let's get a few things straight. I have told you both on several occasions, both verbally and by e-mail, that if the establishment sought to link me with TJN, I would make a point of denying it. ...I remember how I explained to John that this is exactly what I would do if challenged.

I have to be honest, he's been good to his word in this respect. But there was another part to this that he forgot: he agreed not to denounce our position in public, and he then did so during a debate on ethics in public life. Amongst the claims he made in doing so was "I don't agree with them." We could not agree with that based on the relationship we had with him. That is why we raised this issue. As Sen Syvret should have been aware, you do not make statements that are not true when claiming the moral high ground and then expect those who know that statement to be untrue to stay silent. And as he should also have been aware, correction of error is not blackmail.

3) To suggest there is no witch hunt going on with regard to TJN in Jersey is absurd. The Jersey Evening Post has reported this week that the Council of Ministers is encouraging States members to propose a motion of no confidence in Deputy Geoff Southern because he had been in contact with me. If that's not a with hunt, what is?

4) To suggest that "From an editorial point of view, a falling-out between a politician and some of those who have offered him advice is not a story of great public interest" is true, and I am pleased that Mr Dudley correctly perceives what has happened, for his analysis is correct in this respect . The fact that Senator Syvret has then abused his position as a Senator in the States to refer what is a falling out on his part to the States police on the basis of what he must know (because he's an intelligent man) to be a wholly untrue accusation of blackmail is a matter of public interest, I suggest. Let's be clear what that referral was. It was a crude attempt at gagging. It is also, I would suggest, a matter of public interest that the Attorney General seems quite unable to address this issue months after it first arose when he must know there is no case whatsoever for John Christensen and myself to answer. We have provided the evidence. The additional fact that in any reasonable jurisdiction in the world any case would also have to be dismissed because the Chief Minister of Jersey does, according to the Jersey Evening Post, persist in calling us "enemies of Jersey" and therefore is intent on preventing any possibility of a fair trial if ever the Attorney General were rash enough to suggest the matter go ahead seems also to be a matter of public interest.

The reality is therefore somewhat different from that which Mr Dudley seeks to portray. The truth is that the local media in Jersey, the BBC included, operates wholly under the influence of the financial services industry and the local politicians who act at its behest. My resulting point is simple. The BBC has a reputation for fair reporting. The simple failure of the BBC to ever put a call in to me on this issue shows that it is not operating in accordance with either its own or normally accepted journalistic standards in Jersey. The justifications it gives for not doing so are not true. In that case this failure is indication of the degree of corruption of the state and the usual organs of power and communication, let alone justice, that happens in places that live in fear of international capital, like Jersey. This abuse is a feature of tax havens. And the fact that I draw attention to it is precisely why those in power in Jersey, from the Chief Minister downwards, will do all they can to preserve the abuse they promote using whatever mechanisms are available to them.

If either the Attorney General or Mr Dudley want to call us neither John Christensen or I are hard to find. Try 01366 383500 for me or 07979 868302. But let's be clear. I'm not raising this issue for personal reasons. There's no sane person who thinks I have ever gone anywhere near blackmailing anyone. I would want to discuss the systemic issues here. That's what cause me so much concern. And the role of the BBC in Jersey appears to be part of the systemic problem of the place.

PS This blog was sent to the BBC in Jersey for comment in advance of publication. I have been verbally assured we may be asked for our side of the story more often in future. I hope that will be the case.