Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and one of Scotland's leading pro-independence bloggers, was today denied leave to appeal over his conviction for...well, for blogging, and his eight month jail sentence. The ostensible reason he will be sent to prison is the harm allegedly caused by threatening the anonymity of the complainers in the Alex Salmond trial. I've even seen it being argued on Twitter that it's entirely appropriate to treat Craig as the equivalent of a violent offender and to put his life at risk (he has significant health problems) because the harm caused to the women in question was on a par with a violent offence.
The most obvious response to that point is that it hasn't actually been established that any harm whatsoever has been caused to the women - no-one has credibly demonstrated that identification occurred as a result of anything Craig wrote. But some would go further and ask why the law is taking such punitive steps to protect the women at all, given that the jury in the Salmond trial didn't - or so the theory goes - believe their claims. The reality, of course, is that the jury weren't faced with a binary choice between "the defendant committed the crimes" and "the women are perjurers". They were simply asked to decide whether the charges had been proved beyond reasonable doubt, which means that the acquittal verdicts can cover a spectrum of meanings, of which the possibility that the complainers lied is only one. It's therefore not a contradiction to say that Alex Salmond is innocent in the eyes of the law and also that his accusers are not perjurers in the eyes of the law - which by extension suggests that it's not necessarily wrong for the latter to continue to enjoy some protection.
But to me the real question here is why that protection is so one-sided. As Alex Salmond is innocent, why isn't the law extending him some protection, given that it's beyond all reasonable dispute that media reporting of the trial caused infinitely more harm to his own reputation than it did to the reputation of his accusers? That's precisely the problem that Craig Murray's coverage of the trial was intended to address. It's been pointed out by a number of people that if it hadn't been for Craig's reporting of the defence evidence, they would have been none the wiser as to why Mr Salmond was actually acquitted. The coverage would have consisted of blanket reporting of the prosecution evidence, followed by a seemingly inexplicable not guilty verdict, thus creating the bogus impression that "he got off on a technicality" or whatever. Indeed, that's exactly the impression that anyone who didn't read Craig's blog was left with.
As we have a post-trial legal process that is (theoretically) giving redress to the complainers, why isn't similar redress available to Mr Salmond? Why shouldn't the media be held accountable for one-sided reporting that caused immense reputational harm? And shouldn't we look at whether it's appropriate for the complainers to have been able to continue to use the cover of anonymity to try to get Mr Salmond found guilty in the court of public opinion after he had already been found not guilty in the real court? Legal protection must surely carry responsibilities as well as rights, and shouldn't be abused with impunity.
As Craig Murray's blog was the corner of the media that came closest to redressing the disgraceful imbalance in this episode, he should really be receiving an award for outstanding journalism, rather than facing jail time.