Archive for January, 2007

A journalist is jailed. An editor resigns

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A royal journalist goes down for four months. A national newspaper editor resigns. Could this be the spark for a sea change in the culture of journalism? Goodman’s remarkable sentence (a suspended sentence was most likely – especially when the prisons are already full) sends a clear message to other journalists and editors. It’s not acceptable to break the law to get hold of personal information. It’s a message that will reverberate around newsrooms. We know that Goodman’s action was not unique – far from it. The Information Commissioner last year found evidence that 305 journalists from our biggest news organisations were regularly using private detectives to acquire personal information – much of it illegally. As the Guardian reported last month, more than 60 Daily Mail journalists bought 982 separate pieces of information from one detective. The News of the World, the prosecution lawyer told the judge in the Goodman case, paid over £100,000 a year to a private investigator to hack into mobile phones and find personal information. This practice is clearly both widespread and systemic in the press.
Up till now the newspapers’ reaction has been muted and dismissive. The Daily Mail said that the evidence from the Information Commissioner was “utterly meaningless” since it was a snapshot (although 982 pieces of information seems alot more than a snapshot). Other editors remained silent. The Press Complaints Commission has done nothing, saying that if the journalists did anything illegal it was a police matter and if they didn’t then it’s nothing to do with the PCC (a nonsensical argument worthy of Alice in Wonderland).
But this sentence, and Coulson’s resignation, will cause newspapers to reflect. Even more, it will make journalists question their editors. Goodman said he wouldn’t have done what he did without enormous editorial pressure. One must only assume other journalists are under the same pressure. But now they’ll know that if they don’t resist, then there’s a good chance they could go to jail.

Written by Martin Moore

January 26th, 2007 at 5:51 pm

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Mea Culpa?

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How self-critical is the media? Going by the last week’s record, not at all. First we have Channel 4 executives categorically refusing to make any comment about a situation they engineered. Now we have the remarkable evidence of the Mail and the Express to the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights. Peter Hill, the editor of the Express, said “I would never put any of my journalists under pressure to write something that they wouldn’t want to write. I would never do that”. While Robin Esser, the Daily Mail executive managing editor, told the committee “No journalist on the Daily Mail is ever told to write a story in a particular way.” Really?
What does an editor do if not tell a journalist to write a story in a particular way?
These astonishing statements only make sense in the context of the questions asked by the committee. Both editors have been trying to convince them they put no pressure on their journalists to write inflammatory stories about asylum seekers. This has to be an uphill struggle when faced with headlines like ‘Shop an Illegal Immigrant Now’ (Express 26-7-06), ‘Council Tax Must Rise to Pay for Migrants’ (Mail, 8-8-06), or ‘Jack the Ripper was a Polish Immigrant’ (Express, 14-7-06).
And, at the same time as these editors are exlaiming their propriety and rectitude, the Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, is lambasting the BBC’s journalism at the LCC. Accusing the broadcaster of ‘cultural Marxism’ and of being ‘patronisingly contemptuous’.
Will there ever be a time when a news organisation is big enough to criticise itself?

Written by Martin Moore

January 23rd, 2007 at 5:29 pm

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Follow my leader

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What is the role of the news media in the cash for honours controversy? Is it as the classic Fourth Estate, scrutinizing the powerful? Or is it simply as a conduit for the powerful’s machinations? I’m confused because all sides, the police in particular, seem awfully aware of media coverage and willing to use it to their advantage. So when information leaks out, or No. 10 aides are arrested by police raids at dawn, it’s difficult not to feel there is some degree calculation involved.
Not that the media aren’t willing accomplices, but what about the truth behind the allegations, and what about the corrosive impact on the public of all these leaks, counter leaks and stunts? The current effect on people seems pretty clear. The Observer reported in December that ‘the voters are convinced you can buy a peerage’.
Though the complexity of the issues involved helps to militate against understanding that’s no reason not to try. There have been some valiant attempts to explain the controversy (most notably by Simon Jenkins, writing in the Sunday Times last November – ‘Yates of the Yard vs the Gong Gang‘), but generally reports have followed the lead of either the police or the government.

Written by Martin Moore

January 22nd, 2007 at 3:11 pm

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Say Something Channel 4

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Has Channel 4 lost its voice? While one can understand why the broadcaster would defend its right to continue screening Celebrity Big Brother and argue the best way to deal with the outbursts of the contestants is by direct BB intervention, why won’t any senior figures condemn racism and stress the channel’s commitment to promoting diversity? Its chairman, Luke Johnston, refused to comment 4 times on the Today programme yesterday. And the chief executive Andy Duncan’s statement entirely failed to address either the issue or Channel 4′s policy towards racism (according to the statement, comments like “go home” and “Shilpa fuckawhiler” and “Shilpa Poppadom” should not be construed as racist but as ‘social’ and ‘cultural’). Others at C4 still refuse to comment.
This seems a far cry from C4′s original remit and to Kevin Lygo’s statement last year that; ‘at the heart of all our social documentaries is the intention to promote tolerance within society’ (Statement of Programme Policy 2006, p.6).
The channel’s silence is all the more disappointing given C4′s willingness to broadcast innovative and challenging programmes in the past.

Written by Martin Moore

January 19th, 2007 at 11:57 am

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