Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

Some feelings on phone hacking and journalism

News of the World

Classic front page, featuring F1 boss Max Mosely

I’ve followed the unfolding phone hacking saga with interest over the last couple of years, since The Guardian first broke the story, and with amazement as the crisis escalated to claim The News of the World, which has been culled today.

It’s an amazing story, which everyone has commented on but no-one connected with it – including those of us who buy tabloids without complaint – comes away completely untarnished.

It’s a struggle to think of anything original to say about what’s happened this week; but, hey, here’s a couple of thoughts, based on my own experience and feelings.

Hypocrisy has hit new heights. If News International followed the tabloid formula to reporting this story, the person ‘at the top’ would be hounded remorselessly until they were sacked or resigned. Google the words ‘tabloid witch hunt’ and most early entries feature Sharon Shoesmith, who (whilst culpable) was vilified and in the end unfairly sacked from Haringey Council in the wake of the Baby P tragedy. Think of the mess the BBC got into over the death of David Kelly and Andrew Gilligan’s ‘sexed up document’ report: Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies both resigned after that.  In such cases, the tabloid argument runs: these are the heads; they either knew about the failings (and did nothing) or didn’t know (which makes them incompetent). Either way, heads must roll in the in the eyes of the tabloids. In the face of massive pressure, such a blame game is not being played out within News International against Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time Milly Dowler’s phone was allegedly hacked in 2002.

Today’s move appears to be a swift attempt to draw a line under the scandal; but there is still a lot of life in it yet, judging by the reaction tonight.

Journalism can still be a force for good. What’s happened is wrong and drags journalism into new depths. The media has not helped by being slow to react to this scandal, by and large. But I hope we don’t lose sight of the importance of journalism in a mass rush to judgment. The fact that the story is everywhere now owes everything to the persistence of The Guardian and its journalist Nick Davies, who has been accused of misleading the public and being obsessed with the News of the World since 2009. Even on the NoTW, there are talented and dedicated journalists, who have uncovered some great stories and championed worthy causes (think of their support for the armed forces, or Sarah’s Law, for example). That work is now sullied, as James Murdoch said in his statement to staff today. But, I’m sure many of those reporters will move onto better things after the paper closes on Sunday.

I hope some good comes of this – as we have an opportunity to change the media in this country for the better. It’s up to us all to take it.

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