Beth Miller

Writing and tea

Interview with Nick Davies

Journalist Nick Davies took time out from shaking the seats of the mighty to speak to Viva.

What’s the most significant story you’ve been involved in?

What, in 35 years?? Um. The Wikileaks story [Nick brokered the deal with Julian Assange of Wikileaks to give The Guardian and two other papers advance access to the Afghanistan war files.]. That went round the world and right into the White House. In terms of impact – in terms of sheer amount of trouble caused – I guess that’s the one. But also the News of the World phone hacking story is amazing – that will run and run, with court cases coming up throughout the next year. That’s a story that will go on and on. Now the rest of Fleet Street are finally joining in and reporting it – they wouldn’t touch it before. I broke it in July 2009 and since then I have written maybe 20 stories on it. Until recently no one would touch it, only the Guardian.

Will Rupert Murdoch face questioning?

The Standards & Priviledges Committee have the power to call anyone to speak to them, but I doubt they will call Murdoch. They might call Rebekah Brooks, his representative on earth.

Will the full truth about illegal newsgathering come out?

There are a lot of liars involved, so they might be able to hide some of the truth. The thing is, the phone tapping goes on in almost every paper – it’s not just the NoW. So I think we might get the truth about the NoW but I don’t anticipate getting the truth about all the other papers who do this.

The Guardian? No, it doesn’t go on there: they are too poor and naive to get involved in law-breaking! They are quite a gentle lot really. But the Observer, yes. The Obs has a history of hiring a particular private investigator who uses these techniques to get information.

Will Andy Coulson go?

This is hard for you to write as some are saying he’ll go today – others next week! By the time Viva goes to press he could have gone. Though others are saying they think he’ll hang on.

Was it ethical for Wikileaks to publish the material on Afghanistan?

Wikileaks made a terrible mistake in publishing the unedited files. It was morally wrong: they risked the lives of people on the ground. And also politically wrong: the debate about ethics distracted attention away from important information about civilian casualties and Pakistan’s support for the Taliban.

Can I see the napkin?

[At their secret meeting in Brussels, Julian Assange wrote the Wikileaks codes on a napkin.]

I’ve got it here somewhere! [Rifling through papers on the floor.] Unless the CIA have taken it. [Joking – I think. Napkin is found and I examine Julian Assange’s tiny writing, the codes that he passed over following a six-hour meeting Brussels, feeling I have stepped into a real-life Bond movie.]

Have you ever felt in danger?

Not really. I’ve occasionally been frightened. While living in Glynde I was researching a drug dealer (not local), and heard he ‘knew where I lived’. I asked my lovely neighbours to keep an eye out for men with pickaxes! Nothing happened.

Is journalism is an honourable profession?

Most people who go into journalism genuinely want to expose bad things. You see it still in young idealistic graduates. But then they get stuck in a dishonourable system that won’t allow them to tell the truth. Fellow journalists liked [my book] Flat Earth News because it explains why good reporters write bad stories. Journalism is very different from the profession it used to be. There is no time to do proper research and checking.

What do you like about living in Lewes?

The people. There are lots of attractive towns; most are boring. But Lewes has a critical mass of interesting people.

Do you think Lewes is racist?

That [Sunday Times article] was an appalling piece of journalism. If you have to start insisting that Bonfire is anti-Catholic to make your point... well! It did not rely on any proper evidence.

Baltica or Neros?

Oh, Baltica! I don’t like chains. Before Baltica, Buttercup Cafe. And before that, Bills.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes, October 2010