The Scotsman and Peev’s defence is that, as a rule, what is on and off the record is defined from the outset and allowing someone to retrospectively go “off the record” is like allowing someone to edit an article written about them. It’s a pretty fair point – if you let people go off the record in hindsight at what time do you draw the line? Must they make the claim immediately after comment, within an hour or just before the piece hits the printers?
Allowing someone to go off the record retrospectively does open that particular Pandora’s Box, but it’s an inescapable one in the real world as interviews do not tend to follow the rule-of-thumb that exists in ideal journalism.
As Greenslade points out, some interviewees tend to go on and off the record many times within a brief interview and trying to apply strict rules to that can be difficult. Often people will say ‘this is off the record’ and then proceed to make their comment before the journalist has time to agree or disagree; under the “rules” laid down by The Scotsman would not be counted as “official” either. In reality, laying down rigid rules in a very variable and unregulated situation like a conversation is pointless..
So again it comes back to the central point from before – whether Power was “officially” off the record it’s clear that she wanted to be and going against her wishes could do the journalist’s reputation damage in normal circumstances. If Power had been a regular contact, she’d likely never speak to Peev again. Peev asserted her right to quote Power as she has; I wonder if those she does speak to on a regular basis are as comfortable with the situation?
Most importantly, however, there’s a question that I’ve yet to see asked that could go some way to clarifying the whole situation:
What did Peev say next?
When Powers made a belated request to go off the record, did Peev say “no, sorry – too late”, “sure, no problem”, “eh, I’ll think about it”, “she’s a monster, eh? Tell me more” or nothing at all? If Peev really felt she was within her rights to quote Power’s comments as ‘on the record’, did she make it quite clear there and then or did she allow Power to think she was in the clear or still off the record?
As Peev has said – the tape was rolling so it was on the record; that counts for what she said to Power too.