Phone hacking, journalism, and the media

Saturday 16th July 2011

Watching the phone hacking thing play out recently has been fairly interesting. Obviously, what was done was fairly bad (although I would suggest that phone hacking – or other illegal activity – isn’t necessarily always unethical for journalists), and so it’s probably pretty shrewd of News International to have closed the News of the World. What will also be interesting now is to see what other papers are guilty of this; there are suggestions that it may have occurred elsewhere, at non-NI papers.

I remain baffled at the anti-Murdoch bent to the whole thing. I don’t understand why dodgy activity at the News of the World has derailed the BSkyB bid (if indeed it has for more than the short term), aside from the politics of the situation. Because the issue there was about media plurality, about competition in the sector, and not building up businesses with too high a share of the market (although if we really were concerned about such a thing, a good place to start would be the BBC). The argument has been about News Corp and the Murdochs having too much control over the media; yet the bid has actually been derailed because the Murdochs didn’t have control over the News of the World (I think it’s fairly accepted that the management of News Corp didn’t know about the extent of the hacking until relatively recently). Which is an interesting little contradiction.

What’s I find really interesting though is to compare this with another recent media scandal, this time concerning the scribblings of Johann Hari. He was caught out for plagiarism; he took things that people wrote in books, or in interviews to other journalists, and pretended that they’d said that in interview with him. Hari wrote/writes for The¬†Independent (amongst others), which is generally held in pretty high regard. Whereas I think it’s fair to say that the News of the World was generally not held in the same esteem. Yet it’s the “good” journalist in the “quality” paper who got caught out for plagiarism, whereas the journalists from the trashy NOTW were caught out for basically trying to find out the truth. All other factors aside, surely the former is the greater crime against journalism? Plagiarism has to be worse than going to extreme lengths to investigate a story?

Fundamentally none of this changes my opinion of the papers, or the media generally. I’ve long thought that they’re all as bad as each other; that the Grauniad is as bad as the Mail is as bad as the Telegraph. They all have their biases, and all employ journalists (such as Hari) who are willing to misrepresent facts to make an argument. Which is a massive problem, because it leads to a public which is horrendously misinformed about fundamental issues. Such as this staggering¬†finding that 70% of people think that the government is currently reducing the national debt, or the general ignorance towards technical subjects such as nuclear power or climate change (although there are certain parts of academia that are confused about the latter, so I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on the general public). That is the real scandal of the UK media, and the blame lies at the feet at more than just the Murdochs.

Posted at 1:21 am | Posted In: Politics Tagged:



Sunday 17th July 2011, 3:05 am

It certainly isn’t always bad for journalists to break the law when it’s in the public interest. I think we can all agree that NotW overstepped the line on what constituted public interest by a mile.

I think the issue with the BSkyB takeover is that News International are either a) corrupt or b) negligent, (either they knew the illegality was occurring and condoned it, or they were totally unaware what was going on in organisations they were legally responsible for) and I don’t think that is the sort of organisation which should be controlling a massive slice of the media in this country.

We already have a problem with Murdoch; certainly the Americans wouldn’t allow anybody to control such a large slice of their media, let alone a non-citizen. The extent to which both Labour and the Conservatives have been in bed with Mr Murdoch for the last couple of decades is alarming enough, if you ask me. The media has a special role; you can see that in the nickname “the fourth estate”, and we should be much more careful with the media than many other sectors. And as you point out, they’re failing rather spectacularly at their function of informing the public.

As regards Johann Hari, it’s sort of annoying to me that his misdeeds are labelled as “plagiarism”. Plagiarism is misrepresenting somebody else’s work as your own. Hari misrepresented somebody else’s work as their own, which isn’t really the same thing. It’s certainly not plagiarism; a misjudged misrepresentation, yeh, absolutely. I haven’t followed it closely, but I’d probably only save really mortal offence to it if his interviewees stood up to complain about having their views misrepresented by Hari.


Wednesday 20th July 2011, 6:11 pm

“I think the issue with the BSkyB takeover is that News International are either a) corrupt or b) negligent, (either they knew the illegality was occurring and condoned it, or they were totally unaware what was going on in organisations they were legally responsible for)”

Corrupt, maybe. We’ll (hopefully) find out. Negligent, I’m not so sure. Surely we shouldn’t expect the owners of the NOTW to know the sources for the stories it ran? It’s not their job to run the thing on a day-to-day basis; thats what editors are there for. So I don’t see why the Murdochs (or anyone outside of the papers) should’ve known about phone-hacking when it was going on.

Re Hari, he took things that his interviewees said to other people in other interviews. Those quotes are essentially someone else’s work, even though it’s the same person talking. So yeah, that is plagiarism, and some of his interviewees have said they’re not happy about it. Oh, and apparently he made stuff up too.

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