The best test for anyone faced with a moral issue is to use what we may call the “Coroner’s Court device”. You have to ask yourself how your actions will sound to others when subject to legal scrutiny.
And so it is, precisely for Isabel Oakeshott in this case, and indeed for any journalist faced with a moral dilemma over a story.
Is it wrong to befriend an intelligent, capable but currently vulnerable individual with a high octane story to tell when that person is personally and emotionally at risk from the explosive impact of publication?
The answer here is no, it is not wrong – particularly if it involves the exposure of a Cabinet minister in a lie and the concealment of a criminal offence – as long as the journalist concerned spells out exactly what the implications are for everyone involved and does so in a manner that will be defensible if it is ever subsequently examined.
Vicky Pryce should have told her story openly, as Oakeshott apparently urged her, or she should have gone to the police, while recognising, as she had been warned by Oakeshott, that she herself was at risk. The role of the journalist is to do all that one can to help expose a truth that is in the public interest and that is what The Sunday Times political editor was clearly doing here.
It is sometimes inevitable that the journalist becomes personally involved in the story, but as long as the individual journalist behaves properly, responsibly and does not lose a sense of perspective, that does not matter if the action they have taken stands up in the court of public opinion. I would have done the same as Oakeshott.
The writer is a former political editor of The Mirror and The Sunday Telegraph.
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