The Dark Side of Journalism

Posted on July 10, 2009

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It comes as a shock to nobody that the News of the World is in hot water over an alleged phone hacking operation. Such activities on behalf of the paper were exposed more than two years ago when editor Andy Coulson was forced to resign after the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman was sent to prison for four months for illegal phone tapping. The paper is also so obsessed by celebrity scandals (obsessions with the private lives of the likes of David Beckham, David Blunkett and Sven Goran Eriksson have been par for the course over the past few years) that it does not come as a surprise that the paper would go to extreme lengths to dig dirt on prominent public figures.

But the scandal leaves a bad taste in my mouth for two reasons. First is the great disservice that the News of the World has done to journalism. Often journalists are unpopular, yet I feel this unpopularity is unfair given the great service that most journalists provide to the public. A free and active media is an essential part of any democracy. Yet when journalists entirely lacking in morals employ the likes of Glen Mulcaire to illegally dig up dirt, trust in the profession diminishes and every other journalist, however honest or fair they may be, is tarred by the same brush. Honesty and integrity within the world of journalism are essential if the reputation of the profession is to be upheld and journalists are to be able to do their job properly, and the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Piers Morgan and Andy Coulson (not that they’ll care) besmirch the reputations of journalists everywhere.

The second reason why this story is important is that it has exposed the hypocrisy of the Tory party. For all the party’s complaints about the role of Alistair Campbell within New Labour, David Cameron was remarkably keen to hire Andy Coulson, damaged reputation and all, in the first place, and even more keen to stand beside him as more allegations regarding his crooked past emerge. What what Cameron be saying if it was Campbell who was facing such allegations? Would he be arguing that “everyone deserves a second chance”? Of course not. This issue has emerged not long after Damian McBride, an advisor to the Prime Minister, was forced to resign after a failed smear campaign. McBride’s actions were despicable, and Cameron correctly demanded that he be removed from his job and questioned the morals of a government that allowed such people to operate within it. What, then, does his continued dalliance with Coulson say about his own party? With backbenchers expressing discomfort over Coulson’s role, the next few days are sure to be interesting.

The phone hacking scandal has damaged the reputation of journalists and also, though perhaps to a lesser extent, the reputation of the Conservative Party and its leader. To my mind, it would be a great shame if excellent and honest journalists, of whom there are many, had their reputations damaged by poor standards at an appalling paper, as not all journalists are as bad as each other. Cameron’s hypocrisy, however, shows that the same cannot be said for the politicians.

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Posted in: Issues, Media