47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


JON sat staring at those two words, fingers posed over the keyboard. Did he dare do it or not?

The story was of the usual kind. It had one of the reporters’ names on it, but had clearly been downloaded direct from Central Information.

This one was about Rights of Way. They’d all been temporarily closed for years under emergency legislation.

But now the government had decided to completely do away with the concept, erase the term from the law books.

And the thinking behind this?

“Any notion of unauthorised access to private property is clearly in conflict with the age-old traditional rights of property owners and also incompatible with the overriding contemporary need to protect innocent men, women and children from the threat of terrorist activity,” pointed out the Minister.

That was what the story said. Those were the two words he couldn’t take his eyes off. “Pointed out”.

Total acceptance of the official line. Implicit endorsement by the paper of everything that the minister had said.

Jon wanted to change it. He was the editor, after all. There was nothing written down anywhere to say you had to use Central Information copy verbatim.

It was just that everybody did.

It was easier that way.

Jon had been in the business for 25 years and had never been in any trouble.

For the first decade or so, he’d been consciously keeping his head down, paranoid that the company would find out about that incident at university which had led to his parents being visited by the anti-terror police. None of it was supposed to be on the record, in theory - his father had seen to that.

But you never knew and from time to time Jon still expected the whole issue to be suddenly shoved back in his face, nearly 30 years on, as Exhibit A in the case for his prosecution.

After the first decade of caution, Jon’s good journalistic behaviour had been of the unthinking kind. He had been too busy bringing up his family, climbing crucial rungs on the ladder of self-promotion, to be bothered by pangs of either conscience or guilt.

Now, though, he knew he was too old to go any higher in the publishing corporation.

His children no longer wanted his time when he made it available to them and, sadly, neither did his wife.

For the first time in many years, he had found himself thinking about the stories he was publishing.

“Pointed out”. That was such an insult, such an assumption on behalf of Central Information.

He couldn’t let it go, could he? But what would happen if he changed it? Would he go the way of Tony Singh at the Herald who, according to rumour, had started receiving readers’ letters containing pro-terrorist terminology.

Not only had he failed to pass on the evidence to the authorities - an offence in itself, of course - but he had even started publishing them.

Started, because a few hours after the first one had appeared in the paper he had ‘resigned’ and never been heard of since.

Jon would have liked to have seen the letter involved, but it had disappeared from the Herald site by the time news of the controversy reached him.

This wasn’t anything like Tony’s crime, but all the same...

Jon pictured his pleasant and hard-earned home, his family, their annual fortnight in Provence, the admiring look on the faces of all the people to whom he was introduced as The Editor of The Sussex Free Press...

“Free Press!” Jon laughed at himself, replaced “pointed out” with “claimed”, uploaded the story and leant back in his executive chair waiting for the whole world to come tumbling down around him.