I was given a free copy of The Times on my train journey from Hereford to Birmingham City University this morning. I’d decided not to buy my usual daily copy in a rather futile protest against the continuing employment of Rebekah Brooks (I suspect she’s getting her own back by not reading this).
I am glad, though, that I did take one because it allowed me to read the rather self-serving leader piece about the role of illegal activity in journalism. “News International,” says The Times, “is paying a high price for its hacking scandal. There will now be broader questions about journalistic techniques.”
The leader writer goes on to explain that ‘some of the greatest journalistic exposes in history were achieved using methods that could now be, and sometimes at the time were, challenged by the police ot taken to court.’ The article’s examples are the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post’s Watergate investigation, Clive Ponting’s whistle blowing over the sinking of the Argentine ship the Belgrano, the Daily Telegraph’s revelations about MPs’ expenses and the Guardian’s publication of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables which led to US soldier Bradley Manning facing criminal charges.
All these did involve newsgathering techniques that might be seen on one level as questionable but in each case there is a clear public interest in the publication of the material that was gained. The same cannot be said of much of the information collected by hacking the ‘phones of the Dowler family, or the families of service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Each revelation in the scandal in which the Murdoch empire is now mired seems to plumb new depths. What possible public interest could there be in revealing details of Gordon Brown’s son’s illness?
The Times piece rightly says, “Embarking on an investigation, journalists need to ensure that the methods they use can be justified by the motivation and the outome.” It might have added that in circumstances where journalists are tempted to stray, editors must show stong leadership and be ready to take responsibility. Today’s leader doesn’t say that so it’s a shame that Rebekah is more likely to read The Times than this.