Tabloid trickery versus the right to know

July 10, 2009

Probity is Britain’s new watchword. After filleting the bankers over their salaries and bonuses and excoriating MPs for fiddling their expenses we’ve now turned our attention to the antics of journalists.

The News of the World (NOTW) has frequently embarrassed politicians, vicars, footballers and celebrities, but the Sunday red-top is currently itself the target of an expose by a broadsheet.

According to a report in The Guardian, reporters at the “News of the Screws” worked with private investigators to access “two or three thousand” private mobile phones belonging to celebrities, MPs and public figures.

Those private investigators apparently intercepted voicemail messages and gained access to personal data such as itemised phone bills and bank statements.

But  police have said they have no plans to reopen a 2005 investigation that led to the jailing of two men, News of the World reporter Clive Goodman and a private investigator, for hacking into the phones of staff working for the royal family.

That raises the question as to whether that decision should be taken by an independent body rather than a policeman choosing not to rake over the coals of a fellow copper’s report.

While the police ponder, the Press Complaints Commission has once again proved to a be a less than an effective regulator.

Rupert Murdoch has ”nothing to say at all” on the story, while former NOTW editor Andy Coulson, who is now the Conservative Party communications chief apparently knew nothing. Funny how journalists and ex-journalists get all tongue-tied when they are being asked to give answers rather than the other way round.

The Daily Telegraph has been criticised for paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for buying information that allowed it to gain access to MPs’ expenses claims, but at least the right-wing broadsheet could claim a public interest defence.

Not so the alleged NOTW fishing operation of celebrity tittle-tattle, which tells us much about the agenda of many of our national newspapers.

A committee of MPs is due to re-examine the phone-hacking scandal, but maybe Britain’s newspaper reading public could take the matter into their own hands. On Merseyside, 20 years after the Hillsborough stadium disaster, nobody buys the Sun newspaper over the way the tabloid covered the death of 96 football fans.

That’s probably an idiot’s utopian idea, so in the meantime how should Britain regulate its press? And under what circumstances is electronic surveillance permissable?

3 comments

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Surely the point is that they _are_ being led by the public?

On the one hand, there seemed to be no shortage of people who thought that Max Moseley’s hobbies were much more important than the liquidity crisis.

And on the other, what public interest can there be in the discovery that – shock horror – MPs behave like nearly everyone else in respect of expense accounts? It may be sensational, but it certainly isn’t news. Wasn’t the Telegraph’s campaign really just prurience for snobs?

I’m afraid I see precious little difference between the “good” and the “bad” here.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

I think an independent body should investigate into the phone-hacking scandal. It is shame that reporters of NOTW did such a mean job. Then the reaction from Rupert Murdoch and Andy Coulson is understandable, what else can they do?

Britain should regulate its press via a licencing system. The license to stipulate that the holder must produce at least one major expose of political chicanery, corruption or waste per annum.

Then at last the press would earn its keep and politicians might be encouraged to be honest.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive