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Global_18

Inbox 15,000 newspapers worldwide and constituted an authoritative view from the coalface of international journalism. In its way, this synthesised the problem: a growing and seemingly unbridgeable chasm between two schools of modern journalism. In broad terms, one has its roots in social philosophy and high moral purpose; the other in producing compelling journalism that can deliver a commercially successful audience. In reality, it is far more nuanced than that, often blurring the traditional lines between the quality press and popular journalism, and between left and right. A common interest in freedom of expression allows them to agree on the principle of high standards, but they fall out over the practice, especially on issues of privacy. Britain, like much of the world, has become a celebrity culture. Its media, especially – but by no means only – the tabloid media, reflects that. It sells. Often, it sells for the celebrities, too, who live by their fame or notoriety, and spend much of their lives courting the media and profiting by it. But they don’t like the downside, when the press gets critical or questioning, which suddenly is an invasion of privacy. They want to switch the spotlight on and off, as they might in the world of theatre. That is not a game the press wants to play on their terms. So the celebrities see themselves as victims, as the Hacked Off list suggests. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. It is often a personal judgement. The public, too, is fickle, often swapping sides in the debate on a case-by-case basis. It has become a battleground, but this is often a war of false opposites. Critics of the UK press accuse it of bringing the crisis on itself: phone-hacking was invasive, shameful and illegal. Added to the litany of charges against tabloid journalism of intrusion into privacy; of trial by media; of bribery; and of subterfuge, it was just one media excess too far: end of story. But it is nowhere near as clear-cut as that. In a free society, where the press is performing its proper function, there can be a justifiable role for trial by media, bribery or even intrusion. Trial by media was essentially the method by which the Daily Mail brought to justice the murderers of Stephen Lawrence – a young black man killed by white thugs – where years of police-work had failed. “Murderer” said the page one headline over pictures of the gang members – challenging them to sue the paper, if it was wrong. They didn’t sue. A form of bribery allowed the Daily Telegraph access to the un-redacted files that revealed members of Parliament fiddling Press regulation has been hotly debated in the UK since the phone hacking scandal broke expenses on an industrial scale, outraging public opinion. Undercover investigation had been employed legitimately by the News of the World for many years, to expose corruption, especially in sport, and lead the culprits to jail. And of course it was the dogged investigation by The Guardian, rather than the police, that exposed the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World. Undercover investigation had been employed legitimately by the News of the World for many years, to expose corruption, especially in sport So these are all legitimate devices in the journalistic toolbox, if used in the right way and on the right occasion. But who decides that – and how? It is often subjective: a value judgement. The same people who condemn tabloid excesses will often be the first to defend The Guardian’s stand on leaked NSA files. And it is here the industry itself and its critics become polarised. “Who guards the guardians?” asked Lord Justice Leveson on his first day in his role as the UK’s appointed arbiter. More than a year and two million words of inquiry report later he had not found the answer. He was sure it shouldn’t be the politicians. He was sure the solution should be acceptable to the press and the public. But they can’t agree either. So where does it go from here? The majority of the UK press has rejected any form of statutory regulation, including the royal charter. It is pressing ahead with its own, radically improved system. It will be more independent, with rigorous external oversight of appointments. No serving editors will be allowed on complaints adjudication panels. It will have an investigative arm to proactively monitor press conduct. It will have power to impose fines of up to £1 million. It still won’t satisfy Hacked Off’s celebrities and professors. It will cause angst among many in the newspaper industry – and not just in the UK – who will feel the press has surrendered too much. But it will be free of government, self-imposed and will be the toughest system of its kind in the world. And, as the journalistic Thunderbirds of WAN-IFRA might reasonably ask: quite what will President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and his fellow repressers around the world make of that? Ian Beales, a former UK daily newspaper editor, is a consultant specialising in media regulation. He is author of The Editors’ Codebook and Imperfect Freedom, a study of press regulation in the Commonwealth global second quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 7


Global_18
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