Thursday, March 29, 2012

#McCann #Leveson #SOCA :SOCA setting priorities via tabloid column inches (2005)

The Independent has an interview with Sir Stephen Lander, Chairman of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and former Director General of the Security Service MI5.

The interview did not ask the question "approximately, to the nearest
£20 billion
, how much does Serious and Organised Crime cost the UK annually ? £20 billion or £40 billion ?"
, but it does, somehow, magically assert that:

"Organised crime is estimated to have a £15bn a year turnover."

Sir Stephen did reveal something of interest to Home Office kremlinologists:

"The priorities that are adopted by Britain's elite crime fighting force will be partly based upon the number of column inches newspapers give to different types of organised criminality, Sir Stephen disclosed.

Researchers at the Home Office have looked at about 30 newspapers, divided equally among broadsheet and compact newspapers, the tabloids, and the regional press, over the past five years. They have calculated which organised crime issues are the most pressing by measuring the column inches and number of stories devoted to each subject.

Organised immigration crime came first, followed by drugs.

Sir Stephen explained: "The brainboxes in the Home Office have been putting together a sort of harm model."

"brainboxes in the Home Office" - your words, not ours, Sir Stephen.

"The model basically articulates the harm that is caused to the UK under a number of headings - the rewards taken and made by the criminal; the social and economical harm to the UK; the institutional harm - corruption for example and illegal immigration - and tries to put a cost [on them].

"It also brings into play judgements about the degree of public concern and they have a proxy for this, which is the amount of column inches in the press. Which is not quite right, but is probably as good as you will get. It is pretty rough and ready but it is asking the right questions. It is asking not, what is the incidence of something, but what is its impact."

So what happened to the British Crime Survey and even focus groups ? Surely these are at least as valid a methodology as measuring column inches in only 30 newspapers, owned by probably not more than five major media proprieters ? What about radio. television and the internet ?

"One of the priorities of the harm model is a better understanding of the problems."
He continued: "The first of the cracks of the methodology suggests that we need to do more on people-smuggling and people-trafficking."

So does this mean that because newspapers are obsessed with immigration issues that Soca will be giving people smugglers and traffickers more attention than it would otherwise?

Sir Stephen replied: "Illegal immigration stories in the media are much the most frequent - they reflect a newspaper's policy line on a subject and they also reflect genuine anxiety."

What about the "climate of fear" hype and spin feedback loop ?

The Home Office and Labour party spin doctors leak, brief, spin, send out press releases to target those 30 newspapers, which are then used by another part of the Home Office as the input to their "harm model" !

"People-smuggling has been growing across Europe and the UK is seen as very attractive location. The best estimates are that 95 per cent of the illegal immigrants who get here are paying someone to facilitate them, so it is a real money earner. It is a lower risk than drugs. It does have an impact that has been growing over the past 10 years."

He did, however, concede: "There is certainly a level of hype in some of the media coverage but nevertheless there is substantial money made at the expense of the UK and taken out of communities from poor countries."

Ministers will set the overall priorities of Soca, which in turn draw on the "harm model".
That is political harm if you have sloganised your policies as "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

"But is it right that politicians should have such an influence in the way crime is tackled - why not leave it to the professionals? He argued: "You can't disentangle the political imperatives. If ministers want to have something slightly more important than something else then that is their political judgement.

"They run the country, I don't - it's their judgement that counts. It is a real problem [illegal immigration] - this has weight this problem, the degree of weight you attach to responding to this has to have an element of political judgement about it."

"For a national agency, of course it is going to be political, what else is it going to be?""

Why are the Home Office Civil Servants being employed to do political intelligence gathering at tax payers' expense ?

Yet the Home Office seems to be happy to ignore actual formal public consultations and even detailed reports from the House of Commons Committees on Home Affairs, Human Rights, Public Accounts etc.