A top British broadcaster has hit back after two high profile politicians were cleared of breaking parliamentary rules following a "cash for access" sting. The standards commissioner accused Channel 4 Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph of "distorted coverage" when the outlets alleged Labour grandee Jack Straw and top Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind were willing to take money from lobbyists for access.
Rifkind and Straw, both former foreign secretaries, denied any wrongdoing at the time of publication in February and referred themselves to the standards commissioner. The watchdog ruled that the senior politicians had not broken House of Commons rules or the chamber's code of conduct, apart from Straw's "minor misuse of parliamentary resources".
Kathryn Hudson, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, described the media allegations as "distorted" and said the "cash for access" claims had damaged the lives of Rifkind and Straw.
"If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the house, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of the house," she said. However, Hudson did add that it was not for her to "make any judgement on the actions of the reporters or programme makers".
Rifkind reiterated Hudson's "distortion" remark and said the media outlets had mislead the public: "Channel 4 Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph must recognise the judgement of the standards commissioner and the standards committee that they were responsible for 'distortion' and for misleading the public in making these allegations," the former MP said in a statement.
"It has been for me, for my family and for my former parliamentary staff a painful period which we can now put behind us. My public life has continued over the last seven months with the support of colleagues. I am looking forward to the years ahead in very good spirits."
Straw said he was "naturally delighted" by the ruling in a statement. "Throughout my 36 years' parliamentary career I took great care to act with probity and to treat the rules of the House of Commons with the greatest respect," he added.
"I am most grateful to the committee on standards for confirming this. They say that I had been 'particularly at pains to keep his business work separate from his parliamentary resources', and that I had 'made declarations even when such declarations were not technically required.'"
But Channel 4 has stuck to its guns and described its coverage as "fair and accurate" in reaction to the watchdog's decision. "Channel 4 Dispatches stands by its journalism; this was a fair and accurate account of what the two MPs said. This investigation was in the public interest and revealed matters that were of serious public concern," a spokesperson said.