Over a dozen new national papers would spring up after the fall of the Junta, all fighting for space
“During the transition, many papers reflecting a variety of orientations came into existence. Within a few months of the refounding of The Mirror, a new newspaper, the Guardian, was created. This new daily provided a liberal counterpoint to the social-democratic Mirror. Similar initiatives were launched on a provincial level, leading to a large expansion of the democratic press. The principal impact on the size of the reading audience, however, was limited. Much of the increase in circulation reflected the reading of several daily papers by an informed minority of the population. The new publications crowded established newspapers out of the market. Pro-Junta newspapers would suffer the most, especially the Spectator who fell from its position as the most read daily to 7th in circulation.”
- The Media and Politics During the Transition, Lecture by Heinz Brandenburg, Cambridge University (2014)
In the aftermath of the Junta’s fall, old liberal newspapers were refounded and new left-wing media forms were established. Journalism in transition Britain was interesting, most journalists had been born after democracy had fallen, and had never seen a functioning media ecosystem. Most had spent their careers uncritically reprinting Government press releases and keeping their heads under the parapet. Even after the fall of the Junta, British journalism took a while to get going, there was no institutional memory of critical journalism, and all the publications that had survived the Junta naturally lent to the right. These establishment publications were, at best, suspicious of Britain’s new democracy - if not outright hostile. Britain’s journalists, the inventors of the printing press and mass media, had to start from scratch.
Under the direction of editor Janine Gibson, The Guardian, a middle-class centre left broadsheet had the strongest investigative reporting during the early days of the transition. They hired top talent from US and other anglosphere publications to fill in the gaps. The paper would make the scoop of a lifetime when it reported undercover police were infiltrating protest and left-wing groups, in a continuation of Mountbattenite policy. During the Junta years the Home Office established the “Information Commission '', a very polite British way of saying secret police. Unlike the paramilitary civil guard or the shadowy forces of the Security Services, the Information Commission would actively infiltrate dissident groups, gather information on those involved, and then report back to the security services for a quick arrest. They were an arm of the civilian police, rather than the security services or military.
British journalists still held the deferential attitudes towards authority of the 80s
The Information Commission had been kept in place by the Johnson administration, but further absorbed into national policing structures and placed under strict supervision. The transition government argued the Information Commission and it’s officers still played a vital role in preventing terrorism, and that commissioners would only be deployed against violent extremist groups. Whistle-blowers reported to the Guardian this was false and that Information Commissioners had infiltrated the Socialist Alternative and RISE, as well as the youth wing of the SDP. The Commission had not only targeted legitimate political organisations but also peaceful protest groups such as "Release!" - an animal rights group and "Earth First" -an environmentalist group.
“An Information Commissioner whistle-blower who lived undercover at the heart of the environmental movement has quit the Commission. IC Mark Kennedy, infiltrated dozens of protest groups including anti-racist campaigners and anarchists. This is despite the Information Commission officially ending infiltration of non-violent groups in 2005. Kennedy testified his activities went beyond those of a passive spy. Kennedy first adopted the fake identity Mark Stone in 2005, to disrupt the UK's peaceful movement to combat climate change. He grew long hair and sported earrings before going on to attend almost every major demonstration in the UK. He was issued with a fake passport and driving licence. Kennedy, who recently resigned from the Commission, is torn over his betrayal.”
- Information Commissioner spied on green activists, Rob Evans, The Guardian (2011)
Leaked documents revealed Information Commissioners (all men) having sexual relations with and even fathering children with, unsuspecting activists, only to vanish without a trace once their assignments were complete. In some instances undercover commissioners rose to positions of prominence and even leadership in their organisation, going on to plan direct actions. Legal scholars argued that the Commissioners acted as provocateurs and any illegal actions involving Commissioners could be described as entrapment. Information Commissioners even appeared in courtrooms as their undercover personas and would take the opportunity to testify against their activists comrades, even directly lying to judges and members of the jury as to their real identities.
Women were overwhelmingly targeted during infiltration operations
In response to the escalating situation, Justice Secretary David Miliband announced he would be creating a new body, the Police Conduct Office. The PCO would have the responsibility for oversight of British policy, independent from the security services and the political establishment. Alison Saunders, Council of Prosecutions chairwoman and highest prosecutor in the land was appointed to head up the new PCO service. Saunder’s appointment instantly drew controversy, with critics arguing her role as a prosecutor meant she was inseparably intertwined with the police, many of her cases could have been carried by evidence from Information Commissioners. Socialist Alternative Deputy Leader Diane Abbott publicly demanded a political appointment to head the Office but Secretary Miliband denied this, arguing the Office’s head had to be impartial and non-political.
The investigation would be arduous and it would be many years until the Information Commissions’ Victims got any sort of closure or restitution but it did mark a turning point. Whilst many government institutions seemed to have moved on from the Junta, the police hadn’t. The Commission’s Scandal was the latest example of abuses of power and other dodgy action taken by the old bill. The Rozzers had gained some prestige in defeating the coup of 2009, it had been riot police, rather than army units, that had surrounded Parliament and eventually taken back the Commons, but with the Commission scandal a lot of that good will had faded away. Unlike the military, the police had never truly been one with the Junta, always remaining half and half-out. Now with the Junta gone and democracy in vogue the police had to chose which side they were on.
“Speaking to the camera, each victim remembers the torture they were subjected to in Scotland Yard, which was used as a detention centre under the dictatorship. They recall each torture by name – the wheel, the operating room. But even more harrowing than their accounts of being broken are confessions from victims who disclosed the names of their accomplices and are still unable to forgive themselves 50 years on. All feel their voices have been silenced for the sake of a smooth transition from the Mountbatten dictatorship to democracy. This is the silence that the new documentary “Frank” by director Ken Loach hopes to break. The film puts a spotlight on one of the dictatorship’s most notorious Information Commissioners, Frank Pulley.”
- New documentary breaks silence on Junta-era cop’s culture of torture, Ryan Parry, Daily Mirror (2009)
The police had a less than glorious history during the Junta