ICE blogs

April 16, 2016

EU rulings ‘put press freedom at risk’

New EU rulings on whistleblowers and ‘right to be forgotten’ laws put press freedom at risk, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The passage of the European Trade Secrets Protection Act is particularly controversial. A number of MEPs and members of the press including Elise Lucet, a France2 investigative journalist whose petition against the Bill gathered half a million signatures, warned: ‘The trade secrets directive still raises doubts as to whether journalists and whistleblowers are appropriately protected.’ And Martin Pigeon, of the non-governmental organisation, Corporate Europe Observatory, told the BBC: ‘It would have potentially criminalised the release of Panama Papers.’

The Data Protection Package also raises concerns. Despite assurances from the commission, the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling, under which search engines can be ordered to de-list entries from web searches, has been carried over under a ‘right to erasure’ provision. According to George Brock, Professor of Journalism at City University London: ‘Contrary to what is often claimed, the [new] regulation does not solve the problems caused by the Google Spain case of 2014 which established the right for individuals to ask major search engines, such as Google, for internet links to be taken down if certain conditions are met. Instead of a specific remedy to an identifiable problem, the regulation is sweeping in its scope and powers and its approach to weighing free expression against privacy remains unbalanced.’

Members of the press in EU countries are already facing challenges, with Germany considering using the law against insulting a country’s leader to bring charges against a television comedian for allegedly insulting the Turkish president, and a photojournalist in Spain being fined €601 under the country’s so-called gag law after posting a photograph of a policeman making an arrest. In France, photojournalist Maya Vidon-White has been charged under a law banning the publication of photographs showing victims of terror attack, according to Associated Reporters Abroad.

• See Jean-Paul Marthoz at

August 26, 2015

Treason case against journalists in Germany collapses

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 5:13 pm

Treason case against journalists in Germany collapses

Richard Lance Keeble

Germany’s chief federal prosecutor, Harald Range, has been ordered by Justice Minister Heiko Maas to withdraw as an independent expert from the investigation of two journalists working for the news website Netzpolitik over the alleged disclosure of state secrets.

According to Jean-Paul Martoz, of the Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘This dramatic epilogue of a story that gripped Germany and mobilised the public is a major victory for press freedom, investigative journalism, and privacy rights. It stands in stark contrast to developments in other European countries, particularly France and the UK where increased surveillance powers have not been met with similar resistance.’

Markus Beckedahl and André Meister, the co-founders of the website, had been accused of high treason for quoting from classified intelligence reports in articles posted on 25 February and 15 April outlining the secret services’ proposals to expand surveillance, particularly of social media users. Opposition politicians, fellow journalists and even members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the junior partner in the governing coalition, immediately protested. People took to the streets and sent money to Netzpolitik. And on Friday 31 July, the federal prosecutor suspended the treason inquiry, pending an internal assessment on how to proceed.

The case follows revelations in May that the German foreign intelligence service, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had cooperated extensively with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in its surveillance activities.

‘The threat of being charged with treason has a clear general chilling effect on journalists engaged in investigative reporting,’ the OSCE Representative for Media Freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a letter to Germany’s foreign minister. ‘In cases of possible violations of confidentiality or state secrets regulations, authorities should refrain from trailing the media, whose job it is to investigate and report about issues of public importance,’ she wrote.

• See

August 1, 2015

Pentagon reserves right to treat journalists as spies

Filed under: News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 9:05 am

Richard Lance Keeble

Journalists may be treated as ‘unprivileged belligerents’ - a category which includes suspected spies, saboteurs, and guerrillas - according to the Pentagon’s first Law of War Manual.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘This broad and poorly defined category gives US military commanders across all services the purported right to at least detain journalists without charge, and without any apparent need to show evidence or bring a suspect to trial. The Obama administration’s Defense Department appears to have taken the ill-defined practices begun under the Bush administration during the war on terror and codified them to formally govern the way US military forces treat journalists covering conflicts.’

Prisoners of war are protected internationally with rights that include being treated humanely, having their status as prisoners reported to a neutral body such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, and being held with the expectation of release once hostilities end. ‘Unprivileged belligerents’, however, like ‘spies, saboteurs and other persons engaging in similar acts behind enemy lines’, according to the Law of War Manual, may be subject to domestic penalties which can include, for instance, the death penalty for those found guilty of spying.

The manual has received little press coverage, but Russia Today quoted Chris Chambers, a Georgetown University undergraduate communications professor, saying that the manual gave US military forces ‘licence to attack’ journalists. At 1,180 pages long and with 6,196 footnotes, the manual includes vague and contradictory language about when and how the category of ‘unprivileged belligerents’ may be applied to journalists. The Law of War manual is the Defense Department’s most ambitious endeavour of its kind to date. Yet its authority already seems in doubt.
The last paragraph in the preface written by the lead author and top Pentagon lawyer, Stephen W. Preston, states that, while the manual represents the views of the Defense Department, it does not necessarily represent the view of the government. Weeks after the document was released, Preston, who previously served as general counsel to the CIA, resigned.

The US military has taken action against journalists before. Bilal Hussein, whose photograph of insurgents firing on US soldiers in Fallujah in 2004 helped earn Associated Press photographers, including Hussein, the Pulitzer Prize, was detained by marines in 2006 and held for two years. The US military never explained the detention of Hussein, who gained the CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2008.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was detained in December 2001 by Pakistani forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border while covering a US-led assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan. US military forces accused him of being a financial courier for armed groups and assisting al-Qaeda and other ‘extremists’, but never provided evidence to support the claims. Al-Haj, now head of the human rights and public liberties department at Al-Jazeera, was held for six years at the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Before his release, US military officials tried to compel him to agree to spy on Al-Jazeera as a condition of his release, according to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also expressed serious concerns over moves by German authorities to open an investigation into the critical German news website Netzpolitik. Two of the website’s bloggers, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, as well as an unidentified third party, have been accused of treason, In February and April, Netzpolitik reported on plans to expand Germany’s domestic surveillance of online communications.

Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, commented: ‘These are grave allegations with potentially serious implications, not only for Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, but also for German media covering national security issues. CPJ is monitoring these developments with great concern.’

Treason charges in Germany carry 15 years in prison, unless a judge chooses a harsher sentence. The last time treason allegations were made against the German press was in 1962, when the editor of Der Spiegel was accused after the magazine published documents about the German military.

• See and

June 19, 2015

Syria heads survey of journalists fleeing into exile

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 8:04 am

Syria is the leading country from which reporters are forced to flee, according to a major new survey of 452 journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Eritrea and Somalia also sent dozens of journalists into exile over the last five years.

María Salazar-Ferro, coordinator of CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Programme, commented: ‘Global attention has focused on the abductions and murders of international journalists in Syria, but even as the environment has deteriorated for foreign correspondents, local media have suffered tremendous losses. Facing the same or greater risks as international correspondents, but without an easy path out of the country, Syrian journalists have been forced to leave their jobs and are driven into hiding or across borders, often without family or possessions.’

The CPJ has helped 101 Syrian journalists go into exile since the conflict escalated in spring 2011. The CPJs report, Exiled: When the most dangerous place for journalists is your country, uses interactive maps to follow the journeys of four Syrian journalists who were harassed, threatened, detained or attacked by the Assad regime or militant groups such as Islamic State – or both – before deciding to flee.

Countries with the highest number of exiled journalists fare poorly in other indicators of press freedom. Syria has been the most deadly country for journalists for three consecutive years, with at least 83 killed in direct relation to their work since 2011. More than 90 journalists have been abducted, and about 20 are still missing, many of whom are believed to be held by Islamic State. Iraq, Somalia, and Pakistan joined Syria in the ranks of deadliest places for journalists in 2014. Ethiopia, Iran and Eritrea are among the ten most censored countries worldwide.

• See

August 6, 2014

Propaganda, the BBC and Gaza

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 4:00 pm

Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, takes a critical look at the BBC’s coverage of the current Gaza conflict

All journalism is propaganda, as George Orwell argued. And, paradoxically, those who claim neutrality and objectivity are likely to be the most propagandistic. Let’s take one random sample from the BBC’s coverage of the current Gaza crisis.

On 3 August 2014, it reported: ‘Missing Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin “dead”.’ There was a photograph of the 23-year-old and the accompanying video commentary highlighted Goldin’s ‘apparent kidnapping’ by the Palestinian group Hamas who were blamed for the collapse of the ceasefire (see

‘Kidnapping’ was the term deliberately used by the Israeli officials in their hyper-slick PR operation (see Doesn’t this imply that Goldin was an innocent seized by opportunistic criminals rather than a member of one of the world’s most powerful militaries engaged in ‘the premeditated mass murder of civilians’, as described by the Asia Times journalist Pepe Escobar (see Did the BBC really need to mimic the Israeli deceit?

Moreover, the Western corporate media in general parroted the Israeli approach in blaming Hamas for breaching the ceasefire (thus leading to a stepping-up of the bombardment of Gaza and the deaths of many more children) when both sides were involved in the incident. Hamas was clearly responding to yet another attempt by Israeli troops to destroy a tunnel (see

The BBC’s fourth paragraph reported: ‘Health officials in Gaza say 30 Palestinians died early on Sunday as Israeli air strikes continued.’ This is the cold, conventional language of militaryspeak that aims to convey the illusion of warfare. But this is no war: this is nothing short of a series of completely illegitimate massacres. There are no photographs of any of those 30 dead Palestinians.

Moreover, as I write (5 August 2014), I see no photographic galleries commemorating the 1,865 Palestinians killed and 9,400 others injured – most of them civilians. In the Western corporate media they are usually not even deemed worthy of being named. In contrast, the BBC report goes on to show an image of Goldin’s understandably grieving family speaking at a press conference after his death was announced. In fact, the whole of the report is framed within a dominant Israeli perspective. Thirteen of the story’s 23 paragraphs highlight the Israeli line: just five that of Hamas. Its denial of taking Goldin captive does not appear until par 10.

And how many homes, hospitals, schools, mosques have been destroyed as Israel’s ‘scorched earth’ policy eats up 44 per cent of Gaza’s territory; how many Gazans are now homeless or jobless, how many have been appallingly traumatised by the constant bombardment and the lack of basic facilities? On these crucial points the BBC’s report is silent.

Excellent photographs by the BBC’s Jon Donnison, in an accompanying feature under the title ‘Faces from Gaza’, are given captions – but no full names of the tragically suffering Gazans are provided: So we read of a ‘young girl and her mother’ sheltering in a UN school, ‘young boys giving victory salutes’ ‘three-year-old injured Aya’, ‘Ahmed’ being treated for burns, ‘Ali’ injured while playing outside his home, ‘a young girl picking fruit juice’, ‘a man in Beit Haroun’. And so on.

Too often, the BBC and the corporate media in its Gaza coverage has ‘balanced’ reports of Israeli bombardment with accounts of the Hamas missile attacks on Israeli – reinforcing the illusion of ‘warfare’. Yet the Israeli response (in which 64 soldiers and just three civilians have died) is totally disproportionate to the threat posed.

Moreover, the mainstream media has largely failed to indicate the massive global opposition to the Israeli action and its seven-year economic siege of Gaza. Go then to sites such as,;;;; (supported by the University of Lincoln);;;; and see some searching analyses and investigative reports on the conflict and the protests. They can only inspire further protest action against Israel’s criminal military aggression.

August 17, 2013

Corporate media accused over Private Manning

Edward Wasserman, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, has criticised the corporate media for failing to call for the release of the WikiLeaks whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning.

He says: ‘Bradley Manning was a great source. His information was solid and truthful. There was no fabrication, there was no subterfuge. The world’s best news organisations believed the material was of immense public value. So now he goes to jail, perhaps for life, and the media stand in silence? No mainstream news organisation, even those that benefited directly from his leaks, has had the effrontery to demand he be freed.’

The ferocity of the Obama administration’s attack on Manning and WikiLeaks had been ‘withering’. According to Wasserman, since the government pressed ahead with charges of ‘aiding the enemy’, Manning technically faced the death penalty. This was the first time in 150 years that anybody had been charged with aiding the enemy for leaking information to the press for general publication. On 30 July, Manning was convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations – but cleared of the most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge.

Wasserman continued: ‘The world’s most powerful news media agreed, and turned Manning’s leaks into riveting stories. The WikiLeaks material was vetted and worked over, and ultimately used extensively by the Guardian of London, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais. The materials continue to reverberate and, as recently as March 2013, the Guardian and the BBC spent 15 months on developing a sensational story about sectarian death squads in Iraq. It was prompted by reports Manning provided in which shocked US soldiers described seeing Iraqi detainees who’d been tortured by their countrymen.

‘So if they did right and the world benefited, did Manning do wrong? On what grounds can they say – as former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger have – that they would help defend WikiLeaks boss Assange if the US charges him, while they won’t lift a finger to protest Manning’s incarceration?’

Yet, on 1 August 2013, after Manning was found guilty of 20 counts relating to the transmission of state secrets, the Guardian’s editorial spoke out strongly in his support. It said the conviction was not fair ‘because American law in this area is not fair’ – not allowing a public interest defence. The editorial ended condemning ‘the brutal punishment of one fragile young man’.

• See

Questions go missing on mysterious death of journalist

Richard Lance Keeble highlights the Obama administration’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers - and suggests serious questions have gone missing over the mysterious death of an investigative journalist

Michael Hastings was a brilliant American investigative journalist. It is important that you know about his life and death. He was the Rolling Stones’ reporter whose 2010 feature on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal revealed the US Commander in Afghanistan and his officials mocking President Obama. Soon after publication of the exposé, Gen. McCrystal was forced to hand in his resignation.

On 18 June 2013, Hastings died in a mysterious car accident in Los Angeles. Let us consider the facts. An eyewitness at the scene, Jose, said Hastings’ car was travelling very fast and he heard a couple of explosions shortly before it crashed. The explosion was so intense that it took the LA County assistant coroner, Ed Winter, two days to identify the burned-beyond-recognition body of Hastings.

Later it emerged that Hastings had approached WikiLeaks attorney Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before his death claiming the FBI was investigating him. In his book The operators: The wild and terrifying inside story of America’s war in Afghanistan, Hastings reported that a former McChrystal staff member had made a death threat. ‘We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write,’ the unnamed staffer said. Hastings replied: ‘Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.’

Could the electronics in Hastings’ new Mercedes have been remotely tampered with? Significantly, the former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism, Richard Clarke, told the Huffington Post that a single-vehicle crash was ‘consistent with a car cyber attack. There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers — including the United States — know how to remotely seize control of a car’.

Equally worrying is the failure of the corporate media to follow-up any of these serious questions about Hastings’ death. It comes as the Obama administration continues its unprecedented assault on whistleblowers. Seven have been charged under the Espionage Act (1917) for alleged mishandling of classified information – and that’s more than under all past presidencies combined. For instance, Thomas Drake revealed to the press that the National Security Agency spent $1.2 billion on a contract for a data collection programme called Trailblazer when work could have been done in-house for $3 million. The NSA’s response? Drake’s home was raided at gunpoint and he was forced out of his job (although all 10 charges against him were dropped).

In January 2013, former CIA officer John C. Kiriakou who, in 2007, acknowledged that US agents were involved in torture, was jailed for 30 months (see WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning was tortured while in custody and faced a lifetime in jail after being convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations on 30 July 2013 (see And former CIA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden is being hounded by the US state for revealing secrets about mass US surveillance operations.

Yet favoured prominent US journalists (such as Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame) regularly report state secrets. Their careers are, in no way, damaged – the reverse, in fact. As Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who led the coverage of the NSA spying revelations by Edward Snowden, commented: ‘Bob Woodward has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publicising classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published’ (see
Moreover Paul Joseph Watson reports: ‘More recently, Ibragim Todashev, friend of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnev, was shot in the head six times by the FBI, who initially claimed Todashev was armed but later had to admit this was a lie. Speculation has raged that Todashev was assassinated because he had knowledge about the Boston bombings which the Feds didn’t want to see the light of public scrutiny.’

So what can we learn from all of this? Let’s not be afraid to admit that conspiracies exist. There are certainly some very weird conspiracy theories out there but, at the same time, there are a lot of conspiracies that need exposing. As the secret state expands and the power and influence of the intelligence services extends into the depths of our private lives, more serious analysis of conspiracies will be needed – both by the academy and the media.

The final lessons: remember to consult the alternative media (such as those listed below) for important, critical perspectives – and crucial information missed by the mainstream. And always question the official view – as over the mysterious death of Michael Hastings.


February 11, 2012

Children’s rights: Media responsibilities

Mike Jempson reports on a conference which will call on journalists to do more to acknowledge the rights and needs of young people

As the Leveson Inquiry evidence sessions continue, a conference at Bath Spa University will delve into another of the thorny issues that divides practitioners and pundits - the impact of media representations of young people.

One of the submissions to Leveson compiled by the Youth Media Agency and MediaWise, brought together 56 youth and media organisations to urge greater recognition among journalists and the regulators of the rights and needs of young people. Childhood and the media: Images, rights and responsibilities at Bath Spa University on Friday, 20 April, will examine some of these issues in more detail.

Representatives from Facebook and Google will explain their approaches to online safety, and the Press Complaints Commission, the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel and the Anti-Bullying Alliance will debate their contrasting roles in tackling the way young people are addressed and portrayed.

Other speakers include Elisabeth Ribbans, Managing Editor of the Guardian and Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

In the afternoon an attempt will be made to devise a multi-disciplinary module for social care and journalism courses, and there will also be sessions for young people, teachers and broadcasters.

Conference organiser is David Niven, a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, who has worked as child protection officer and has a longstanding interest in the complexities of media impact on behaviour and social attitudes. He commented:

‘If we want to effect change we need to engage with the media, but I dislike the way young people are demonised, patronised or marginalised by the media. They need to be included more if we want them to be more responsible as adults.

‘Print, broadcast and online media provide our most important educational influence. They are a window onto the world for perhaps 95 per cent of us. I have witnessed the influence of the media on children and families, for good and ill.’

He warned: ‘Now we have the new challenges of social media on which young people spend huge amounts of time, consume an enormous amount of information, and put themselves at risks which are not fully appreciated. For example, the internet makes it easier for contact to be re-established between abusive parents and children who have been removed from their care.’

Niven still supported the recommendations of Elizabeth Lawson QC, then Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, following the Child Exploitation and the Media Forum he organised with PressWise (now MediaWise) in March 1997. She called for the training of social workers and journalists to include better understanding of each other’s roles and limitations.

‘Not enough has been done to bridge that gap of ignorance and distrust over the last 25 year,’ Niven stressed. ‘We are creating a space in Bath for practitioners, trainers and academics from both sides of the fence to get together. One lasting legacy would be a common module that can really make a difference for the future.’

The event is the fourth in a series of conferences organised by Bath Spa School of Education in association with DNA, most of which have focused on social care issues. They are linked to the development of a 120 credit Certificate of Education in Integrated Child Protection Studies being pioneered at the university.

- Childhood and the media: Images, rights and responsibilities, Friday, 20 April, 2011, Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University, Newton St Loe, Bath BA2 9BN. To book places visit and pay via PayPal or send the address for invoices to

January 30, 2012

Mass protests defeat internet blacklist bills

Barry Turner reports on a rare victory for people power in the US over internet censorship

On 18 January 2012, a seldom-seen phenomenon occurred in politics: the politicians listened to the people. Members of the United States Congress abandoned support from two bills on copyright that would have severely restricted the use of the internet as a news media platform.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protection of Intellectual Property Act were abandoned by many of their former supporters including one of the co-sponsors of the legislation. SOPA and PIPA, as they have become known, are bills purporting to protect intellectual property rights. It seems that few actually believe that this is their real purpose and that strict control of the content of the internet or even blatant censorship are the main motives for introducing laws which would so clearly infringe free expression.

The effect of these laws would have been to place responsibility for policing internet content on the website owners making copyright infringement a crime of guilty until proven innocent. This unconstitutional move has been defeated by those the bills were aimed at in an unusual demonstration of democracy in action.

Some sites, such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, Craigslist and others, completely shut down for the day. Millions of Americans were encouraged to contact their representatives and the effect was quite extraordinary. The day before the blackout, there were 80 on-the-record supporters and 31 opponents in all of Congress. The day after, there were 101 opponents and only 65 supporters - and that number continued to grow.

These two bills are far from dead and will be returned to Congress after amendments. This is not just an American free expression issue. Were these two bills to become law in America they will affect the whole world. Foreign violators of a SOPA-style law promulgated in the US would not be safe from its effects because they do not live there. Those with interests in America would be under threat as would anyone alleged to have breached the criminal elements of these bills, with extradition and trial a real threat.

All those who believe in free speech should resist the use of back door legislation like SOPA and PIPA; American voters, via the internet, frightened their representatives into backing away from this undemocratic legislation. Let’s hope that this becomes a worldwide tactic.

November 1, 2011

Hackgate and its implications

Tim Crook reports on the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics

The Institute of Communications Ethics held its annual conference on Friday, 28 October, in London and explored Hackgate and its implications. The papers presented at the Foreign Press Association in the Commonwealth Club reflected the consternation and divided opinions that the scandal has generated within British journalism and the academy.

The discussion coincides with the judicial and public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including its unlawful behaviour headed by the English Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson set up under the 2005 Inquiries Act. According to the Independent, there are now around 200 police detectives engaged in enquiries into alleged press illegality at News International’s News of the World and elsewhere, the work of private detectives, and alleged payments by journalists to police officers.

I was happy to attend an event that I thought more intelligently and effectively explored the key issues in a way that the Leveson enquiry may be unlikely to achieve. I gave a paper entitled ‘Infantilising the Feral Beast: The criminalisation of the bad boys and girls of popular journalism: Hackgate’s boomerang’ and was happily accompanied by three students from Goldsmiths as well as the researcher, Justin Schlosberg, a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths working within the Leverhulme Media Research Centre.

Justin presented a compelling paper indicating that British television news had marginalised the representation of the awkward questions being raised about the death of the weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly and the Hutton Enquiry ‘inquest’ verdict that he had died as a result of suicide. This level of textual, qualitative and quantitative research enables us to question shibboleths and preconceived notions about what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalism.

As I mentioned to my Goldsmiths’ colleagues, conferences of this kind take our opinions and knowledge outside our own comfort zones to be tested by other perspectives as well as being the chance to air our own research and opinions.

The scandal has shaken me over the last few months. Although I had heard the allegations and acknowledged the ‘industrial gossip’ over the years, I had naively and, I accept, stupidly assumed that the new generation of showbusiness/celebrity ‘masters and mistresses of the universe’ in the 1990s through to at least 2007 obtained their ‘intrusive’ stories by persuading friends, associates and employees of the great, the good and the ugly to confidentially whistleblow; however lowly the ‘lowest common denominator’ of subject.

I have an essentially shy and embarrassed anticipation and assumption about asking personal questions and although having been a journalist for several decades, I have never had that ability to whisper and plumb intimate secrets with such apparent panache and success.

Well now it seems some or much of that ’success’ and journalistic pizazz was no more than grubby snooping of targets’ mobile messaging, and possible phone and computer tapping. And other ‘great’ stories may have been obtained by metaphorically passing brown envelopes stuffed with cash to serving police officers. How absurdly pathetic.

It is not even ‘hard’ work’. Journalism for me has hardly been glamorous. Any significant stories I have ever unearthed, if they could ever be described as ’significant’ came about by endless grind and slogging, eyes straining through swirls of microfiche, and pages of documents in badly lit surroundings, working well into the early hours of the morning, waiting forlornly for people to meet me in cold, dreary and banal places, waiting for telephone calls and emails that were never replied to. Most of the work was boring and attended to by anxiety. The adrenaline and rush were so rare, I find it hard to recall any.

And as the mythology is stripped from the high octane, on the edge realm of Hackgate sleaze sleuthing, we are getting a sad and ridiculous picture of some stoned journalists with addiction problems and inadequate personalities, promoted and paid way beyond their talent zone, some snorting cocaine and dropping ‘E’s to keep up with the fringes of celebrocrats who probably had much less talent than they had.

And so the Wizard of Oz is a bald, little man struggling to control levers and the puffing of dry ice behind an illusory light and sound show. We have an almost allegorical myth of the Hackgate Wizard keeping a ledger of mobile phone numbers, pin codes, computer ISP numbers, and an armoury of Trojan computer viruses, and digital video and sound recording software in the warehousing of sneaking and snooping across the highs and lows of human success, failure, and tragedy. Just how typical, widespread and real this myth actually was is a matter for police and judicial enquiry. This degree of journalistic vice, although exceptional, risks being unfortunately misrepresented as the general.

Equally absurd about the Hackgate phenomenon is the vista of the sins of the past visiting and punishing the innocent of the present. Far from being properly condemned as the impulsive vandalism, cynical business move, and destructive censorship by a foreign press baron, Rupert Murdoch’s shutting down of the News of the World was fast hand clapped by Britain’s liberal intelligentsia. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said ’sad, but necessary’ in a live two way from Benghazi. And so George Orwell’s 1946 observation:

It is Sunday afternoon preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World.

is now consigned to an obscure and forgotten footnote of popular cultural history.

In reflecting on the brilliant and fascinating papers given at the conference I have been left wondering whether we might have a choice between modernism as antithetical to censorship and a celebration of the anti-social and the art of the scoundrel and the rascal…and postmodernism: the nihilistic indifference to freedom and a collage of the past to mask the present.

The morning keynote address was provided by Professor Brian Cathcart of Kingston University - also accompanied by a cheerful brood of his students - in which he explored the methodology and modus operandi of developing a professional individual responsibility for journalists through source trailing.

Professor Cathcart is part of the ‘Hacked Off’ campaign and very much an intelligent critic, along with the Media Standards Trust, of journalistic irresponsibility. ‘Hacked Off’, and in particular the Guardian journalist Nick Davies and the solicitor Mark Lewis, ably and courageously fought to challenge the denials, obfuscations and false-consciousness of the country’s media and political establishment who had hoped that the 2006-2007 enquiry, prosecution and conviction of one journalist and one private detective was all that was needed and representative in terms of discretionary policing.

In my opinion Professor Cathcart and his associates cannot be blamed for the problems of boomerang, disproportionate political and legal reaction to this scandal. They must be praised for iconoclastic campaigning, investigative journalism and outstanding legal advocacy.

We cannot forget, as he took an opportunity of reminding us in the afternoon, that Hackgate is not just about super-rich indulgent celebrities having their silly private lives tittled and tattled about. The events include the unlawful interception and manipulation of a child abduction and murder victim, Milly Dowler, the victims of modern day terrorism in London and possibly New York City, and the potential interference and obstruction of a murder enquiry into a man slaughtered in a pub car park in Sydenham whose body was left with an axe embedded in his skull.

Dr. Damien Carney, Principal Lecturer in the School of Law at Portsmouth Business School, constructively discussed methods of improving media accountability through regulation. He emphasised the importance and advantage of actively involving the National Union of Journalists and balancing regulation with media freedom and rights scrutiny and protection.

Sean Dodson, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Leeds Metropolitan University, presented an impressive analysis of the need to develop a relevant and effective self-regulatory code for journalists on the internet. He made some compelling references to codes agreed by US media institutions that seem to be much more progressive and alert to the new world of contemporary multimedia journalistic practice.

He also reminded us that there are many aspects of US journalistic and online culture with much higher and stringent standards of integrity. UK journalists should read the code of ethics for The New York Times and National Public Radio to discover how the US tradition of establishing and maintaining trust between journalists and audience has a longer and more effective trail.

John Mair, chair of ICE, passionately articulated a compelling charge against those responsible for ‘Hackgate’ and a tribute to the warriors shaking News International to its foundations. Rupert Murdoch’s operation as a media magnate between the 20th and 21st centuries, like that of his predecessor press barons, leaves a nasty and ambiguous legacy. Business success and profits have sustained ailing national titles and expanded broadcasting satellite employment and provision.

But the very brakes that a strong trade union presence in mentoring and ethical regulation could have provided were long destroyed and dismantled when he divided and ruled the NUJ chapels of his Fleet Street assets in the middle 1980s to skedaddle to his notorious industrial theme park in Wapping.

Professor John Tulloch, of Lincoln University, was a veritable high and cream tea mid-morning. Lovingly pressing his fingers against anthologies of Charles Dickens’ journalism, John revealed that hacks and coppers have been ‘at it’ from the very beginnings of mass media newspaper publication and modern policing that the creator of Chuzzlewit, Little Nell, Uriah Heap, and Oliver Twist actually campaigned for in the early 19th century.

Professor Tulloch was a cultural and intellectual treat, academic and scholarly nectar, and gave us a little flavour of the riches that undergraduate and postgraduate students at Lincoln must have on a more regular basis.

As he self-effacingly referred to his research as ‘work in progress’ and extemporised with precise and entertaining academic prose Dickens’ role as journalist, magazine editor, and his apparent happy financial investment in Metropolitan Police story provision, he left us with a compassionate entreaty for the tolerance of the journalistic rascal and scoundrel through the ages.

Healthy sandwiches, mineral water, orange juice, coffee and biscuits for lunch were followed by Richard Peppiatt, former reporter for the Daily Star. Richard could have been type-cast as the repentant tabloid hack, but in fact he contributed strongly to the debate with intelligent analysis in the Baudrillard frame of simulacra and his realisation that those working within a tabloid newsroom need greater insight and awareness of the difference between ‘journalism’ and ’story telling’. Both are creative enterprises, but the former needs ethics and responsibility.

Richard is no stranger to Goldsmiths. On his last visit there, he ‘confessed’ to infiltrating the first days of teaching in the history department of the Princess Beatrice as part of his reporting duties for a national ‘newspaper’ covering the country and the world with two or three foot sloggers.

His presentation indicated considerable potential as an academic lecturer. If it is within his personal ambition, I certainly think he deserves a fair run of intelligent journalism at the BBC or a Guardian style media institution.

Jackie Newton, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, and Dr. Sallyanne Duncan, Lecturer in Journalism and Media Ethics at the University of Strathclyde, revealed brilliant research into journalistic use of social media and the relationship between journalists and the bereaved. This is just the kind of information needed at the Leveson inquiry.

They have quietly and professionally explored and researched the practices of regional journalists, who of course, make up the majority of British journalistic publication, and who do not appear to be properly represented at Leveson. What they discovered, and I apologise for simplifying or not comprehensively reflecting the complexity of their study, is that:

1) the bereaved need journalists and appreciate their interest; particularly when most of their suffering is caused by the criminal justice system and not the media;

2) overblown construction and expectation of ‘privacy’ for the bereaved should not result in any self-censorial journalistic avoidance of the bereaved;

3) there is an active contestation and debate about the ethics of using material from social media sites without the permission of bereaved families even though they appear to be public spaces, when in fact they are perceived by many relatives of ‘victims’ to belong to Habermasian ‘intimate space’.

Dr Eamonn O’Neill, Programme Director of the MSc in Investigative Journalism at the University of Strathclyde, explored the complexities of challenging the rule of law when pursuing a public interest that can be supported and confirmed as ‘a greater good’.

It requires professional discipline, strong and supportive editorial and legal supervision, and something I have been advising colleagues and students for many years: the need to protect sources and confidential information through digital safeguarding, counter-surveillance techniques and putting controversial material in a protective shield beyond the British legal jurisdiction.

Dr. O’Neill spoke with authority and referenced some of his own case histories working ‘undercover’ (though in one case he used his own name: it seems nobody bothered to Google him!) exposing a miscarriage of justice and meeting a renegade MI5 agent abroad for the purposes of journalism.

Digital finger-printing can, of course, work both ways. It seems his blog is regularly visited by somebody at the Home Office and he is tempted to increase the boredom level of his postings in anticipation of the apparent surveillance.

David Baines and Joel Stein, of Newcastle University, presented more detailed qualitative and quantitative research into the potential problematical relationship between a regional business daily and the Northern Rock, then a major employer, investor and political and social institution.

As I found when presenting a broadcast business programme many years ago, there was not a lot of scope for ideological questioning of the fruits of capitalism, high profit and short-term banking practices. David and Joel’s exploration of ‘myth-making on the business pages’ reminded everyone that the world’s financial crisis has powerful and compelling dimensions in the local and regional frame of journalism.

The final, and I think, most powerful presentation of the day came from Professor Tim Luckhurst of the University of Kent. He warned convincingly that Leveson and the wider crisis of journalism standards, ethics and illegality risked missing the target and ignoring the prize.

Expensive and invaluable public interest journalism needs a new business model. The present one is failing. What does a nihilistic endgame attack on News International achieve? The Times is kept alive by the Sun. The success of the News of the World and others like it cross-pollinate across the media industry that is dying from new media, the fiduciary drainage of media legal and compliance settlements and many other climate change dimensions in economies of scale and social and media consumption.

‘Don’t imagine,’ said Professor Luckhurst, ‘that the readers of the Daily Star are not perfectly aware of what they are buying and reading. I speak as somebody who went from comprehensive school to Cambridge University and would not for one minute wish to patronise the kind of people who know what is real news and entertaining story telling.’

The debate acknowledged the risk of moral entrepreneurs giving ‘Hackgate’ an importance that was disproportionate to the problems it revealed. A reference was made to the weapons of mass destruction scandal and the Chilcot enquiry. Surely more important? Points and arguments were robustly and respectfully made and then the delightful, award-winning Professor Richard Keeble, continually grabbing my copy of the last edition of the News of the World to highlight the quotation from his beloved George Orwell, got everyone in a circle, distinguished professors included, to reflect on why did Hackgate happen and what is the solution?

Never being one to avoid getting in a last word or two, I piped up: ‘Ego, fear and ambition’ and left it to the other half circle to suggest some reforms and amelioration.
Solutions that do not cut journalism below the knees, as one of my colleagues once graphically described it, are difficult to find. But if there was a consensus emerging, I thought it was the empowerment of the individual journalist’s ‘conscience clause’ in regulation and employment contracts, long campaigned for by the NUJ. It is a low cost and non-punitive popularist option. It has the advantage of confronting the oppression of aggressive and unethical media managements demanding ‘rat-like cunning’ with the ends justifying a doubtful means culture. The battle zone would be employment tribunals.

- The conference was superbly organised by Fiona Thompson and twittered as #ICE2011

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