Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The People Who Give Journalists A Bad Name

The last fortnight hasn’t been a good one for journalism; first there was the Daily Mail sinking to a new low, then the controversy surrounding Johann Hari’s lies and now there’s more revelations about the News of the World and the utter lack of moral standards that exists within that institution.

I wrote about the Daily Mail story last week here.

As for Johann Hari, he’s a writer for The Independent, one of their lead feature writers, famous for both his interviews and his passionate arguments; he’s a journalist I previously held in high regard because though I may not always have agreed with him 100%, I enjoyed reading his articles for the passionate coverage he offers. However in the past two weeks it has been discovered that he has not always actually upheld the standards expected of him, especially considering that he is a recipient of the Orwell prize for political journalism. It has been revealed that he has substituted quotes in a number of his interviews, choosing to use words previously written by the interviewee for actual quotes collected in the interviews, where the written words are clearer. Now this isn’t exactly plagiarism but it’s also not honest journalism, it’s deceitful and actually a little baffling. It shows an element of ego because if there was a quote from a previous work by the interviewee he could just have included it with a simple, “In his previous work....” rather than trying to claim that they had said the perfect quote during the interview. Hari published an apology of sorts in The Independent last week but it has seriously damaged my respect for him as a journalist because he has proven that the implicit trust that any interviews included have been represented faithfully can’t be there in any of his articles. I don’t think it’s a case of him deliberately aiming to mislead readers for any malicious reason, but a lack of malice doesn’t excuse a display of very poor journalistic standards.

Then there’s The News of the World, the worst of the three in my opinion. Most people, whether or not you’re particularly interested in the news I’m sure will have heard bits and pieces about the phone hacking scandal. An almost painfully simplistic take on it is that the paper, over a period of years, hired private investigators to access celebrities and news figures answer phones so as to get hold of gossip and news that they otherwise wouldn't have. This is highly illegal and extremely duplicitous, there’ve been arrests and there’s been heaps of coverage, but an already worrying story became sickening this week due to two new discoveries about the extent of their illegal action.

First the news came out, thanks to an investigation by The Guardian and The New York Times, as well as a number of other organisations, that when in 2002 teenager Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered, The NOTW hired an investigator to hack her voicemail, who then proceeded to delete some messages in order to allow more to arrive, giving the family reason to believe that Milly might still be alive. It also meant that potentially valuable evidence in the case was denied to the police.

This is such a heinous act, to intrude on and exploit the grief and trauma of a family attempting to cope with such a tragic event, that you really would have believed that we had discovered the worst details about the scandal.

Then it emerges that the police were at the very least suspicious that Milly and her family’s phones were being targeted by the paper, yet didn’t investigate or follow up the suspicions. The new phone hacking investigations have also led to the families of a number of other teens who have been tragically murdered being contacted to let them know that their phones have been targeted by the paper.

But even that isn't the worst thing about the practices of The News of the World, because in the past few days it has also emerged that the paper hacked the voicemails of the families of victims of the 7/7 bombings. To exploit the grieving families after one of the worst terrorist attacks on our nation is just abhorrent, but it appears to be symptomatic of the way The News of the World behaved on a regular basis. Rebecca Brooks, editor of the paper at that point, is under pressure to resign, but like Andy Coulson during the earlier hacking investigation she is claiming she was completely unaware of the hacking, but even with my limited knowledge of how newspapers work, I refuse to believe that the editor wasn’t aware of how these scoops were being made.

Interestingly a number of advertisers are pulling their adverts from The News of the World, but unless they pull them from all News International products then it is unlikely to really hit Murdoch’s pockets all that hard.

I hope there is a full and effective investigation into these latest allegations and the government really consider whether the full takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation, the corporation which includes News International (publishers of the NOTW, the Sun and the Times) can go ahead, when there have to be serious questions asked about whether the people on the News Corporation board qualify as “fit and proper”.

As an aspiring journalist all three of these issues have been particularly depressing for me because at a time when sales are already far too low and the age of the newspaper seems to be moving ever closer to its end, practices like these only serve to discredit papers further, causing people to lose what little trust and interest they had in them in the first place.

I'd not listened to today's song in a while, but it came on while my iPod was on shuffle and i was reminded of just how good an album "The XX's" debut effort was.

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