The charge against The Guardian is treason.
It was The Guardian that broke the story of the hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone, prompting the closure of the News of the World and setting in train tougher regulation of the press as proposed yesterday in a Royal Charter.
For four years, the paper has been a tormentor of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, where its reporting is blamed for bringing police officers to the front doors of reporters and senior executives.
At the Daily Mail, the left-wing title is hated even more. Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor-in-chief, has been the most strident opponent of stricter controls on newspapers and regards The Guardian’s view of the world as being diametrically opposed to his own.
So when the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, accused The Guardian (without actually naming it) of having aided terrorism in its publication of secret material leaked by Edward Snowden, the paper’s many enemies saw an opportunity to settle some scores.
The Guardian’s reporting of a succession of big stories has not been flawless. It misreported the deletion of messages on Millie Dowler’s phone, rightly causing anger at News UK. Its championing of Julian Assange appeared misguided after it had to reconsider its relationship with the eccentric Wikileaks founder. And its handling of the Snowden story has led to it being accused of “adolescent excitement” and “extraordinary naivete” by Jack Straw, a former Labour foreign secretary.
The Mail, in an editorial, and the Sun’s columnist Rod Liddle have claimed – quite outrageously - that the Guardian’s “crimes” are more serious than the tabloid phone interceptions and bribery of police officers being investigated by Scotland Yard. The Times suggested this week that the Guardian could be prosecuted for its actions.
Just as the Mail recently smeared the late father of Ed Miliband as “The Man Who Hated Britain”, so the Guardian’s critics are trying to portray its leaking of GCHQ secrets as the behaviour of a paper that dislikes its own country.
In a snub to Parliament, newspapers are now likely to establish their own regulator, which they say will have beefed up powers for dealing with misbehaving titles. Judging by their words this week, some would have The Guardian hauled in for punishment – and sent to the Tower.