A century ago American journalist Finley Peter Dunne declared that it is the business of a newspaper to ‘comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable’.
Elements of the press have turned that maxim on its head in striving to make a hate figure of human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, who has led attempts to prosecute British soldiers for alleged war crimes in Iraq. Shiner and his staff have been subject to death threats and intimidation for seeking to hold the state and its military to account.
Of course, this is not really news. Gazette readers will know that Shiner has been a target for media-manufactured vilification for years. In recent weeks the phenomenon has merely (though not ‘merely’) reached a new pitch of malign hysteria.
Shiner is not an assimilable character and doesn’t want to be. He has crossed many powerful people. And as a bete noire of establishment newspapers, he might have come straight from central casting.
But as we contemplate secret courts, the curtailment of judicial review and the erosion of the right to representation by independent counsel, a thought occurs. It is that we need more lawyers like Shiner, not fewer, who are willing to put themselves in the line of fire as a bulwark against the overweaning power of the state.