British Editor At Odds With Politicians p. 16

By: Edwin Roth House of Commons votes to bring editor of the Guardian before
its Privileges Committee; it could mark the first time a
journalist was reprimanded by the House Speaker since 1956 sp.

PETER PRESTON, 56-year-old editor of Britain's serious and prestigious daily Guardian, sat in the House of Commons press gallery recently and heard Conservative parliamentarian Roger Gale make a shocking statement that is immune from libel action.
"The press, and the editor of the Guardian in particular, have stood out as guardians of public morality, but this particular guardian angel has turned out to be the whore from hell!" Gale said.
Like everything said in House of Commons debates, however, not only these words but their publication throughout the world are covered by total immunity.
Preston, Guardian editor for more than 19 years, later said on British TV, "It was not pleasant to sit there and hear myself described as the whore from hell."
Gale's comment came during a very dramatic House of Commons debate about whether Preston should be hauled before the House Privileges Committee for having used questionable tactics to obtain information.
Preston had faxed a letter to the Paris Ritz Hotel on House of Commons note paper ? with the name of cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, and a senior civil servant's signature ? to obtain a copy of Aitken's hotel bill paid by Saudi Arabian businessman Said Mohammed Ayas.
Aitken, chief treasury secretary in Prime Minister John Major's Conservative cabinet, is a grandnephew of newspaper tycoon Max Aitken, the first Lord Beaverbrook.
Preston had sent the fake fax to the hotel with the full knowledge and consent of the hotel's owner, Mohammed al Fayed, an Egyptian-born multimillionaire living in London, who also owns the famous London department store, Harrods.
Preston, who has admitted that his forgery was wrong, said: "I have done this only to protect my source Mohammed al Fayed ? with his prior knowledge and consent."
Al Fayed is reported to have a no-holds-barred vendetta against the British government, because he and his brother were accused in a published British government report of having lied about their social origin and the source of their money ? and because the government has refused British citizenship to his brother.
Major used House of Commons immunity to accuse al Fayed of trying to blackmail his government. Al Fayed is now working to prove corruption in the government and in the Conservative Party.
Preston has reported that not only Aitken but also Major knew about the faked fax since May. On May 18, Preston said he received a note from Major's office, warning him about "the margins of criminality."
Conservative parliamentarian David Wilshire said during the debate:
"The greatest threat to the rights of the individual and the rule of law is the belief by people in powerful positions that the end justifies the means.
"Down that route lurks the jackboot and the lynch mob," the statesman concluded.
Wilshire revealed that he had formally reported Preston to the police. Other Conservative parliamentarians also demanded that Preston should get a criminal court trial for forgery, fraud and criminal conspiracy.
Even the opposition Labor Party's leader, Ann Taylor, said that Preston should be hauled before the Privileges Committee.
By a vote of 318-38, the House of Commons decided to bring Preston before the Privileges Committee, which can order the house speaker to publicly reprimand Preston. The last speaker's reprimand of a journalist took place in 1956.
?( Roth is a freelance writer based in London) [Caption]


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