I want very much to reconcile my feelings about the various revelations and scandals that have become the basis of the news over the last couple of weeks. I attempted to do so in a post that may yet see the light of day but is, for now, shelved. It is not fit for Publish because while composing it I have had to accept that we are at the beginning of a process that may unravel news media and print journalism in this country to a point that it will be unrecognisable as a relative of its former self.
This will not be because of public outrage at the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail and it will not be because of the apocalyptic scope of the reach of Rupert Murdoch. It will certainly not be because the public are uncomfortable with how the politicians cosy up to the press and it will not be because policemen have taken bribes.
It will be because all of these things, deplorable, petrifying, inevitable and unacceptable as they are, exist as part of the fabric of journalism in this country and across the world whether we like it or not. These current incidents are not outliers in the behavior of journalists and editors they are, as far as I can tell, the very norm. This is how they operate. But, to be honest, how without these methods can we really expect them to do the job to the standard that is required of them?
So far the accusations are directed very specifically in one direction, but I bet that it will not be long before details of similar occurrences across the other media outlets are made public. With the shit flinging that it likely to happen when all of these newspapers get backed into their corners I cannot imagine a single paper not looking like bogroll.
Does anyone think that the Independent has never paid a police officer for information? Has the Guardian never been courted by politicians for support? I could say that the price of freedom of the press is the odd hacked phone here and there but that would be crass and disrespectful to Milly Dowler’s family and to some of those others that have been victimised in this affair. What I would say is that a great deal of the product of this system, those broken stories by every paper that have upturned ignorance and unseated injustice, may not have been achieved without these methods, illegal or otherwise, and it has been the judgement of reporters and editors that such action is taken in the public interest that has made that possible.
And it is this issue of public interest that leaves me unable to reach a balance on the subject, because it is an incredible act of faith to leave this decision in the hands of those who stand to profit (in whatever fashion) from the story’s publication and it is clear that this judgement can often go askew. Journalists the world over have broken the law and done so with the highest moral standard and at great risk to their own lives. They have done so knowing that their actions are against the law. We have honoured them for it. In this case as we so far see it the law has been broken with no moral standard and with the sole goal of selling newspapers. People should be punished. But if we demonise the press and make it impossible for them to undertake, at risk and with courage, the pursuit of truth for the common good by forcing all papers to turn on each other in defense of their own skins we will have lost. And if the press is about to eat itself we should probably be worried that the media we are left with afterwards is fit for purpose.
Beyond these questions I am still mulling over, are the issues of corporate responsibilities and conflicts of interest and the screeching, hyperbolic, self-righteous mob that Twitter can become at times like these and how it can sometimes feel like the only sensible medium. I am myself guilty of it. On top of all of that there sits my own personal politics and opinions on the players involved to temper. Lots and lots of grey area. Like this page.
I continue to watch all of this unfold and hope to learn from it. Comments please, to speed the process.