Saturday, 9 July 2011

Read all about it - News of the World!

This has been a momentous week, not just for the News of the World, but for print journalism, politics, how we use and access media and, frankly our national life as a whole!

Like some other people have expressed, there is so much I could say about this, maybe in time, but I have some key thoughts.

Matthew Parris wrote an excellent column on the issue in today's Times. His commentary is so often on the money. Today he looks at the issue from a different perspective and touched on one of the things I was thinking.

He pointed out that journalists have been snooping and using illegal or immoral methods to get their stories for decades. Sometimes they are slimeballs in the gutter, sometimes it is to expose light on a dark corner that needs exposed!

He gave several examples. I myself was minded of the Watergate scandal - the ultimate electronic surveillance story. It was exposed by the Washington Post and made the name of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It became a famous book and magnificent film called All the President's Men - watch it if you care about investigative journalism.

In the film Woodstein are played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. If mobiles and phone hacking was around in 1972 do you seriously think Woodstein wouldn't have used it? Of course they would!

However, they had Ben Bradlee as their editor (played by Jason Robards in the film). He keeps them on track, makes sure they have corroborated stories and facts they can use. He ensures they follow some standards - that they produce 'a really good piece of American journalism'.

What I am thinking about the News of the World is not the shock at phone hacking. I think there are several far more disturbing things exposed here.

Firstly, that the police are often paid for information and pass on intimate and sensitive information. Also, their investigation of phone hacking in 2004 was so lame and crap! This is the establishment, one of the pillars of a free society letting us down! I hear the current investigation is much tougher and their are several policemen frankly embarrassed but what has gone before and determined to do it right and to do it well this time!

Secondly, I am disturbed by the picture we are getting of what appears to be nothing less the wanton personal attacks on the lives of some celebrities. When the newspaper decide they are the source of a good story that suits the commercial interest of selling a few papers the celebrities are subjected to a concentrated journalistic attack. They might as well have given them a kicking in the street. The casual emotional violence and serious bullying of an assault which shows no respect for the victim is quite breath-taking.

Bad enough If they have done wrong - lied or cheated or behaved badly. But often they have done no more than have the same complications in life as eveyone else. And if they have behaved badly it doesn't justify the assault on their dignity by the tabloid press.

In the last two days I have seen Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant and George Michael lead empassioned arguments against the gutter press attacking them, violating them, obtaing information on them and those close to them illegally and intimidating them. Then, hiding like scoundrels behind the freedom of the press to protect their disgraceful conduct. They exposed that even much of the campaigning the papers sometimes do is to just sell papers!

This is just assault that wrecks lives!

The third thing that disturbs me is how this affair has highlighted intimidation and the irresponsible exercise of power. It is clear that politicians have fallen over themselves to seek approval from the Murdoch empire. Both politicians and other media outlets seemed to have been scared of them. Indeed it seems possible that to attack News International or their papers in some way risked having some aspect of your life uncovered. None of this is illegal, it is about the unhealthy exetcise of power. But at its worse it's little more than a protection racket!

Perhaps a good thing is the way our media is changing. The power of the print media is diminishing in the face of online journalism and the 'free Press' of social media. I'm told the the spreading furore across had a lot to do with the scandal becoming a runaway train that couldn't be controlled. A campaign on twitter and Facebook played an important part in making the news as well as keeping us informed.

I remembered how at the last election when the LibDems broke through after the debates the right wing journos started to smear Clegg. It didn't really work in a way that it might once of done. This in no small measure was helped by twitter hashtags like #iagreewithnick and Facebook campaigns. Whatever anyone subsequently thinks of Nick Clegg this is a good thing and we have the power to counter the pompous opinions of patronising old trout like Ann Leslie or Melanie Phillips.

The other good thing is that a sense of balance is being discovered. The palpable sense of indignation at the hacking of Milly Dowler or the phones of dead soldiers or terrorist victims is drawing the line of acceptable behaviour for journalists. The News of the World crossed that line and it has killed them!

I don't suppose we're going to lose dodgy journalists. I suspect it is important we don't. We still need them to uncover things like Watergate. But even if we accept that or want them to chase a little gossip there has to be a line drawn. This affair helps do that.

So the aftermath of this scandal will run and run - and yes a fair amount is now being driven by people who are opposed to Murdoch politically. But an end to this disturbing abuse of power, poor standards by the police and a tempering of the intimidation of people by the media is much needed. I hope we look hard at other papers too and I hear Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail may have some questions to answer.

One thing is clear - if there are dodgy dossiers, corrupt politicians, and bent coppers in the future, we won't be reading about them in the News of the World.

1 comment:

  1. Doubtless, you'll recall that Adam Price who was on the Select Committee investigation into the News International involvement in hacking said he was warned off pursuing the matter because of what they (News International) would do to him. This alone needs to be investigated fully because if MPs are to be intimidated by a newspaper group, our democracy does not actually exist. Baldwin's description of press barons still holds good todaye.