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October 06 2010

14:46

‘We do want journalists to break the rules’, says former prosecutions chief

Society needs journalists who are prepared to break the law in order to serve the public interest, argued the former director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald last night.

Speaking at a debate at City University on the the News of the World phone-hacking case and the lengths to which reporters can go to get information, MacDonald said: “There are bound to be cases where journalists will want to break the law, and for good reason (…) We do want journalists to break the rules.”

Macdonald did not condone the phone-hacking at NotW, and stressed that it was only under certain public interest circumstances that journalists might be forgiven for breaking the law.

He was joined by key players in the phone hacking scandal: Nick Davies of the Guardian, ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan and defamation lawyer Mark Lewis, as well as Max Mosley, Roy Greenslade and libel barrister Caldecott QC.

Mark Lewis, who is currently suing the Metropolitan Police and the Press Complaints Commission for libel, echoed Macdonald, saying that in certain circumstances illegal activity is acceptable.

“If you know something is of public interest then you can use certain methods to corroborate it,” he said. However, he stressed that these methods should not be used to obtain a story.

Macdonald also cautioned against increasing privacy laws, warning it could create a “contagion of caution” among newspapers, and pointed out that a culture of deference has developed in France due to its strict privacy rules.

However, Macdonald conceded that it is nearly impossible to define what is and isn’t in the public interest.

As former Daily Miror editor and journalism professor Greenslade pointed out, “the public interest for the Guardian’s audience is very different to the public interest of the News of the World readers.

“There is no easy way of drafting a public interest definition that would give journalists clear guidance on what they should and shouldn’t publish.”

More from Journalism.co.uk:

Former News of the World journalist defends phone-hacking at lively debate

PCC claimes it did respond to Dispatches with phone-hacking statement

Phone-hacking on Dispatches: a good documentary but not enough new evidenceSimilar Posts:



10:45

Former News of the World features editor defends phone-hacking at lively debate

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal was once again in the spotlight last night, this time at City University where reporters, lawyers, a former tabloid editor and a victim of the NotW’s close attention gathered to debate the question: “How far should a reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”

Former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan spoke largely in defence of the newspaper and its practices, revealing that he had been contacted three times by the Metropolitan police following his recent admission of illegally obtaining information while at the newspaper.

McMullan is one of a string of former NotW staff to confess to phone-hacking, both on the record and anonymously, and allege that the practice was widespread at the newspaper. He admitted last night that he had illegally hacked voicemail accounts, bank accounts and medical records in an investigation of cocaine dealers.

Appearing alongside McMullan were: former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, who elected to speak on behalf of the NotW in the absence of a senior figure from the newspaper; former director of public prosecutions Ken MacDonald; Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who broke the story initially and has reported on it extensively; former head of the FIA Max Mosley, who won record damages of 60,000 from the newspaper in a privacy action, and defamation lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented many of those claiming damages from the NotW after the scandal.

Guardian reporter Nick Davies began by apologising to the NotW for “saying some beastly things about it” and said they were unlucky to get caught out in an industry-wide practice

I should start off by apologising to the NotW, in a way I feel sorry for them. It’s sheer fluke and bad luck that that particular newspaper is the subject of all this attention. It’s just because one journalist Clive Goodman got caught hacking the voicemail not of an ordinary punter but of the royal family. All of us with our headlights on know very well that this illegal activity was going on in most Fleet Street newsrooms.

Davies even drew attention to the naming of the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer by the Information Commissioner’s report on obtaining of phone records. But despite his apologies he was unequivocal in his distaste for the phone-hackers: “I’ve had enough. Even though I’m a reporter I want a law to protect me from these creatures. These people have no business in our phone calls, they have no business in our bedrooms.”

Davies did however speak out in support of a law which would give reporters additional powers to hack into telephones and voicemail accounts where there was a demonstrable public interest.

What we’ll discover as we go through this evening is that a lot will cluster around two simple words, ‘public interest’ (…) I would go so far as to say I would like to see a change in the law to allow journalists to intercept voicemail messages if it’s in the public interest. The huge problem is that nobody knows where the boundaries of that concept are.

Well, as Roy Greenslade pointed out in his terrifically acted (if somewhat comical) turn defending the NotW, “What is the public interest to the Guardian and the Observer is very different when you reach the celebrity agenda of the Sun and the NotW.”

Paul McMullan clearly has a very different concept of public interest to Nick Davies and especially to Max Mosley, with whom he repeatedly clashed. McMullan said, in answer to “How far should a reporter go?” that “if you want to get ahead in journalism you have to go as far as you possibly can, there is no limit”.

I think privacy is the thing we really have to fight against, privacy is the place where we do bad things. We hide our misdemeanors embarassments and things we wouldn’t want to have to tell our wives and children we were up to and then we say privacy, it’s my private life, I can break my marital contract, I can have a completely false public perception when actually, I’m a grubby little sinner.

Mosley, on the other hand, is clearly more of a fan of the French way of doing things. He claimed throughout that the private lives of public figures have no bearing on their public life, dismissing McMullan’s notion that there was a legitimate public interest in reavealing the private actions of those who presented themselves as family men, or who were said to be role models.

…there is this mad argument ‘oh we should expose Tiger Woods or Mr [John] Terry because they tell the world they are great family men and they’re not. This is the idea that people go to watch John Terry play football or Tiger Woods pay golf, and they say to themselves ‘why am I going to see him, oh because he’s a wonderful family man’. It’s so absurd.

Mosley was very firm in his belief that jounalists should not be able to get away with breaking the law because they decide it serves the public interest. Defamation lawyer Mark Lewis pointed out that if the police want to tap somebody’s phone they have to approach the home secretary first for permission, with prima facie evidence, and not just go on a “fishing expedition” if they so decide.

Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions, countered that their argument was “too simplistic”, arguing that without journalists bending, or perhaps breaking the law, a huge number of important public interest stories would not have been published. MacDonald also expressed concern about allowing public figures to live “entirely parallel lives”, which he said could lead journalists to “an attitude of deference to those in power and to cultural elites”.

His comment prompted an audience member to ask whether a hypothetical story about David Cameron being caught with call girls had legitimate public interest. Given what this information would tell us about the judgement of the country’s prime minister in opening himself up to bribery and coercion, Nick Davies was surprisingly unsure whether he thought this constituted public interest.

Repeatedly mentioned of course was Cameron’s director of communications and former NotW editor Andy Coulson. Last night’s Dispatches documentary featured a former senior NotW journalist claiming, anonymously, that the former editor had listened to hacked voicemail messages. Coulson has continually denied any knowledge of phone-hacking, despite recent accusations in the New York Times that he sanctioned the practice. Roy Greenslade, in his role as the newspaper’s defender, sounded quite convinced in his support of Coulson, inparticular Coulson’s claim that he wouldn’t neccessarily have known or even asked about the provenance of stories. According to Greenslade:

Editors don’t have to know every intimate detail on this occasion I don’t think he did (…) A lot of people here will say ‘of course he knew’, but it seems perfectly feasible to me that you don’t neccessarily know every detail about the methodology.

The panelists debated various possible ways of negotiating the difficult terrain between freedom of the press and privacy, with Max Mosley calling for the law to require prior notification on issues which the subject of the story might not want publicised. Mosley’s strict position was largely dismissed by the journalists present, who saw the extent to which it could compromise a free press. Nick Davies suggested a variation on the idea, in which editors could approach a “council of wise men” who (quite who was never clarified) could arbitrate and advise on publication, with their recommendation taken in to account if the editor was challenged post-publication.

The risk all these possible regulatory measures pose to freedom of the press was articulated of course, leaving the panel not much closer to a workable solution to the problem by the end. But it was a spirited debate which generated decent conversation about some of the issues at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal and well-demonstrated the difficulty of satisfying both the need for freedom of the press and the need for privacy.Similar Posts:



September 17 2010

11:05

Guardian staffer on paywalls: Unprofitable news businesses are ‘enfeebled and vulnerable’

Interesting response from Guardian staffer Stephen Moss to MediaGuardian blogger Roy Greenslade’s post on the News of the World’s plans for a paywall announced yesterday.

Greenslade argues that Rupert Murdoch is “indulging in information protectionism” and with the Times’ and Sunday Times’ paywalled websites has removed the titles from online conversations.

Moss responds in the comments:

Have the Times “dropped out of the national conversation”, whatever that absurdly woolly phrase means. There seems to have been huge discussion (e.g. on Twitter) about their Populus poll findings and Clegg’s incendiary piece on welfare in today’s paper, so they seem still to be absolutely in the ‘national conversation’.

And the fact remains that news orgs have to try to make some dosh. It’s not enough to say paywalls don’t work; you – and the industry – have to come up with a package that does work, which in my view will mean protecting certain print products, paywalling some (tho (sic) by no means all) online material and building networks around information-gathering interest groups which can be monetised by donation and/or through the sale of ancillary products and services. There is no one big answer; there are a range of answers which will add up to a profitable business. And a business that isn’t profitable – and this includes the Guardian – is enfeebled and vulnerable.

Full blog post and comments at this link…Similar Posts:



April 21 2010

08:43

Roy Greenslade: Brighton’s Argus and saving local newspapers

Media commentator Roy Greenslade gives a no-holds-barred review of the local news scene in his home city Brighton, in particular the problems faced by the Newsquest-owned local newspaper, the Argus.

As we all know, regional evenings have been in decline across the country, but the Argus has lost more buyers faster than many similar titles. Is this Newsquest’s fault? Well, a publisher cannot be entirely free of blame.

However, the central difficulty facing any editor of the Argus (and, arguably, all regionals and locals) has been demographic, trying to identify, and then appeal to, a target audience. In plain terms, should it be The Times or The Sun or the Daily Mail?

The paper, again like others, has tried to be all things to all people, without managing to satisfy any sector. Its front pages have tended to be red-toppish, with an accent on crime. Indeed, much of the news follows a tabloid-style agenda.

Comments from former Argus journalists, contributors and some readers make for an interesting anatomy of the difficulties faced by regional and local newspapers across the UK – a worthwhile read for all regional hacks.

Full post at this link…

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January 04 2010

12:04

BBC Radio 4: ‘Has the local rag had its day?’

If you missed BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour last night, catch up with a feature on local news here at this link. It includes comments from City University journalism professor and media commentator Roy Greenslade, and the Lichfield Blog’s Ross Hawkes [Hawkes will  be talking at Journalism.co.uk's news:rewired event on 14 January; more information at this link...] The Westminster Hour discusses council newspapers, PA’s public reporting project (as yet still seeking funding) and the Culture, Media and Sport select committee inquiry.

Traditionally, local newspapers have reported the decisions of local authorities and how justice is administered in the courts.

But the role of holding to account public bodies is threatened by the closure of many local newspapers – last year alone more than 70 papers folded.

Full post at this link…

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November 23 2009

17:19

November 06 2009

12:44

What does PCC Iain Dale ruling bode for Jan Moir case?

As noted a short while ago, the Press Complaints Commission ruled that it had found a Daily Mail diary piece about potential Conservative candidate Iain Dale not to be in breach of the PCC code. “I still think it was a clear breach of Section 12 [discrimination] of the PCC code.  I quite agree with what they say about the right to offend, but this was gratuitous and it was the second time it had happened,” Iain Dale told Journalism.co.uk.

“I have no idea if it affected my chances in Bracknell [constituency where Dale was competing for the Conservative candidacy], but it certainly wouldn’t have helped. It seems clear to me now that the PCC will reach the same judgment in the Jan Moir case.”

Meanwhile, Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade, who agrees with the PCC ruling on this occasion, ‘imagine[s] that the commission will take the same view about Jan Moir’s column, which was far more offensive than Ephraim’s remarks about Dale’.

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November 05 2009

16:13

Brighton Argus recruiting police community bloggers; PCSO Sam Justice among them

It’s nearly an entry for the Radio 4 ‘Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’  Late Arrivals game, and definitely a candidate for PopBitch’s ‘Favourite’ feature: PCSO Sam Justice is among the new police community support officer bloggers recruited by the Brighton Argus.

As reported very speedily by Sarah Hartley this morning, Newsquest’s Brighton Argus plans to use community police officers to cover local beats for its hyperlocal network.

“I’m hoping the contributions to the site will start becoming really varied, a mixture of people hoping to cut their journalistic teeth, the community figures who have always reported on their neighbourhoods in some shape or form, and those who want somewhere to get their voices and stories heard,” web editor Jo Wadsworth told Journalism.co.uk.

brightonbeachAnd if she’s looking for more contributors, Journalism.co.uk would highly recommend checking out Channel 5’s Brighton Beach Patrol, featuring some wonderful characters we’ve been looking out for ever since [show pictured left].

Wadsworth has been building up the community correspondent network for a while: around six months ago, students from Brighton Journalist Works were brought on board. Students upload weekly vox pop video interviews with members of the public and three students run a weekly fashion blog.

Earlier in the year she recruited – with a little egging-on from Journalism.co.uk – Guardian media blogger Roy Greenslade as a Kemp Town community correspondent, whose latest post can be viewed here.

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