I’ll start with a personal story. Just over a decade ago, when I was a freelance journalist, three police officers from the Greater Manchester police terrorism unit came knocking at my door. When I asked why they had shown up at my flat, they told me they wanted to talk to me about the book I was in the middle of writing. Not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a democracy, where the writing of books should never be the concern of the police.
After I let them in, they served me with a draft order instructing me to give them all of my source materials — recordings, notes, transcripts — pretty much everything I’d created in the course of my reporting of terrorism. Of course, journalists don’t give up their sources. We don’t hand over notes and recordings for fear of betraying those which we have promised confidences to. So I fought it. And a few months later I was sitting before three of the most senior judges in the UK listening to their verdict.
Although the court came to modify the scope of order, in the end they agreed with the Manchester police. And in that moment I came face to face with the realisation that if I didn’t want to do what three judges had ordered me to do — hand my precious belongings and my journalistic integrity to the police — I would likely be put in jail. The period of hearing out rational debate had ended and even though I’d committed no crime, nor caused civil injury, I could be forced against my will to do what the representatives of the state wanted me to do because, simply put, they had the right to put me in prison. I had come up against the wall that is the State Monopoly on Violence. So I gave in.
A few years later, I would come against the Monopoly on Violence again in a more direct fashion after getting whacked over the head with a truncheon by a police officer at a protest over student fees. I was covering the protest as a journalist but I knew there would be little point complaining. In such circumsta...