ICE blogs

February 17, 2017

Media Against Hate

A campaign to counter hate speech and discrimination in the media has been launched by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). Together with a range of partners, including Article 19, the Croatian Journalists’ Association, the Community Media Institute, Community Media Forum Europe and the Media Diversity Institute, the EFJ is planning a series of training workshops for media professionals and representatives of civil society organisations and media regulators across Europe ‘to exchange best practice and promote mutual learning’.

A website, www.mediaagainsthate.org, aims to gather relevant news items relating to ethical standards, freedom of expression issues and media diversity. The Media Diversity Institute commented: ‘The media and journalists play a crucial role in influencing both policy-making and societal opinion on migration and refugees. As hate speech and stereotypes targeting migrants and refugees proliferate across Europe, balanced and fair media reporting is needed more than ever.’

• See http://www.media-diversity.org/

September 2, 2015

Beyond Clickbait and Commerce: The Ethics, Possibilities and Challenges of Not-for-Profit Media

Filed under: Blogroll, News, Headlines, journalism, professional ethics, media education — news_editor @ 4:20 pm

A special issue of Ethical Space, an international peer-reviewed journal for academics and practitioners, is seeking papers on not-for-profit journalism and alternatively funded media.

Deadline for Abstracts: 28 SEPTEMBER 2015

The media pluralism debate is dominated by concerns about overly powerful corporate media and the effect this has on democracy and diversity of media content. Increasingly, scholars have extended their critical analysis to fast-growing commercial digital intermediaries and content providers. The counterbalance to this corporate content is public service broadcasting and publicly owned media organisations, but what other forms might not-for-profit media take?

With media ethics as the underlying theme, this special issue will examine examples of alternatively funded media from around the world; critically assessing what they actually - and could - contribute to local, national and global society; addressing the main theoretical and pragmatic challenges and obstacles for such initiatives, and reflecting on the ethical dilemmas and strengths of not-for-profit media and journalism.

Submissions on community radio and television, newspapers, magazines, websites, social networks, mobile applications, open data projects, and any other form of not-for-profit media are welcome. Authors are also encouraged to think beyond traditional mass media and journalism, to other forms of communication, such as civic data sharing, NGO activities, political campaigning and community discussion. These media might be publicly owned, charitable, co-operative, community interest or any other alternative to commercial and profit-making models. Funding sources might include advertising, subscriptions, crowd-sourcing, philanthropy and public grants, for example. And they may occur on any kind of platform.

Authors may wish to offer a thematic paper, rather than basing their discussion on a particular model or example. Applicants are encouraged to critically interrogate the notion of not-for-profit and charitably funded media, and consider the particular ethical challenges posed by whatever aspect of not-for-profit media the author is engaged with. What benefit might there be to a profit-driven model, in terms of serving public needs and desires? Conversely, what do not-for-profit models offer? What impact might such models have on the PR and advertising industries? And for public participants and audiences? What are, or might be, the power relationships between not-for-profit media, other democratic institutions, and the community?

Perspectives from different disciplines are welcome. These might include, but are not limited to, legal and socio-legal studies, media, journalism and PR studies, media sociology and anthropology, media history, and political science.

We are looking for full papers of 5,000 words to 6,000 words including notes and references; and short articles of 2,000-3,000 words.

Please submit abstracts of 150 words and five keywords to the guest editors of this special issue by 28th September 2015 via judith.townend@sas.ac.uk. Please indicate if you envisage it as a full paper or short article.

Decisions will be made in early October. The deadline for full papers and articles is 20 December 2015. The journal will be published in the second half of 2016.

Guest editors:

• Denis Muller, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

• Judith Townend, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

About Ethical Space

Ethical Space is an international peer-reviewed journal that provides a space for both academics and practitioners to reflect on and critique the ethics of communication. It contains news, views, interviews and peer-reviewed papers on ethical matters in journalism, public relations, marketing, health communication, information science, organisational and management communication and related fields. Its editors are Richard Keeble, Donald Matheson and Shannon Bowen. http://www.communicationethics.net/

May 6, 2013

After Leveson: What role for citizen journalism?

‘After Leveson: Is citizen journalism the answer?’ is the title of a major conference on Saturday, 8 June, at the London College of Communication, Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6SB.

Hosted by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.Com, the event aims to build on the success of their ‘Media and the riots’ conference that brought young people and journalists face to face. The Leveson Inquiry accepted the conference report as evidence.

Top bloggers, campaigners for greater press regulation, including Hacked Off, those opposed to it, citizen journalists, scholars, students and members of the public will be at the one-day conference.

Marc Wadsworth, editor of the citizen journalism website, The-Latest.com, commented: ‘In the wake of the outcry from Fleet Street’s finest about them not wanting to be regulated by law, the debate has turned to online news and comment. Will bloggers, and sites like ours, face draconian fines if lawyers are set loose on them? Or, should they be excluded from new regulation?

‘After the 2011 summer riots, some police and politicians, aware that young people share a lot of news using social media, urged the closing down of internet services including Twitter and Blackberry Messenger, during times of civil unrest. Yet the post-Leveson Inquiry debate seems to have by-passed discussion that the way forward may not be with “big media”, whose circulations are tumbling, but with alternative reporting by the people for the people in the shape of citizen journalism.’

- For more details about the conference see http://after-leveson-cj.eventbrite.co.uk.

March 24, 2013

Citizen media focus for colloquium

A two-day colloquium on citizen media is to be held 13-14 June 2013 in the Manchester Conference Centre. It is being organised by the Division of Languages and Intercultural Studies, at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester.

The rapid shift from a mass media to a digital media culture in the past couple of decades has been the subject of considerable research. One important facet of this shift has been the process of media convergence and the concomitant blurring of boundaries between production and consumption practices in a wide range of contexts, including citizen journalism (news reporting, community radio and television, documentary filmmaking), individual or participatory co-creational work (self-broadcasting, crowdsourcing, fansubbing, scanlation, gaming), networked platforms of public deliberation (blogging, wikis) and other performative expressions of publicness (graffiti and citizen photography). Focusing on the involvement of citizens in this emergent digital culture, this two-day colloquium aims to bring together researchers and citizen media practitioners from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds with a view to sharing experiences and debating a number of recurrent themes in the field. These include:

• interrogating the ‘citizen’ in ‘citizen media’: what senses of ‘citizenship’ are activated in citizen media practices, and with what implications;
• the dialectic between citizen media and new technologies: empowering synergy or regulative tension;
• strategic vs therapeutic forms of self-mediation: activism, hacktivism, alter-globalism, altruistic humanitarianism and narcisstic exhibitionism;
• citizen media and protest movements;
• the ethics of witnessing and solidarity;
• playful forms of self-mediation (parody, satire);
• the threat of co-optation: containing the subversive within existing structures of political and corporate power;
• citizen media and the discursive constitution of public selves;
• citizen media and the construction of communities;
• citizen media and ‘the democratic deficit’;
• citizen media practices and piracy.

The programme is designed to ensure maximum participation by all attendees, and to allow sufficient time for discussion and exchange of views. There will be no parallel panels, and presentation slots are, therefore, limited. Plenary speakers are:

• Stuart Allan, Professor of Journalism and Director of the Centre for Journalism and Communication Research at Bournemouth University, UK. He has published widely on the emergence and development of news on the Internet, the online reporting of war, conflict and crisis, science journalism, and citizen journalism. His most recent book, Citizen Witnessing: Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis, was published by Polity in January 2013.

• Bolette Blaagaard, Assistant Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark and former Research Fellow at City University, London, where she was involved in setting up an international network to debate issues of citizenship and journalism, as well as carrying out research on citizen journalism and its implications for journalistic practices and education. She is co-editor of After Cosmopolitanism (Routlege 2012) and Deconstructing Europe (Routledge 2011).

• Simon Lindgren, Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. He researches digital culture with a focus on social connections, social organization and social movements. He is actively taking part in developing theoretical as well as methodological tools for analysing discursive and social network aspects of the evolving new media landscape. His publications cover themes like hacktivism, digital piracy, citizen journalism, subcultural creativity and learning, popular culture and visual politics. Simon is the author of New Noise: A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption (2013).

• Ivan Sigal, Executive Director and co-founder of Global Voices, a community of more than 700 authors and 600 translators around the world who collect and make available reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. He is author of White Road (Steidl Verlag 2012) and has extensive experience in supporting and training journalists and working on media co-productions in the Soviet Union and Asia.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send an abstract of 300 words by 15 April 2013 to Mona Baker (mona.baker@manchester.ac.uk) or Luis Pérez-González (Luis.Perez-Gonzalez@manchester.ac.uk). Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 25 April 2013.

Registration fees (to include lunch and refreshments on 13 and 14 June): Full registration: £50. Student registration: £30.

• See http://citizenmediacolloquium.wordpress.com

March 20, 2013

Let’s move on from brutish journalism

Mike Jempson, honorary director of the ethics campaigning body, MediaWise, responds to the recently announced plans to regulate the mainstream press through the introduction of a Royal Charter

If the press think they have been dealt a bad hand by the Royal Charter, they have only their own to blame. Those who broke the law, or trampled on the rights of others with little regard for the consequences, have ruined it for everyone else.

Editors and proprietors who rushed to the defence of the Press Complaints Commission whenever it was criticised are as culpable as the politicians who preferred to bury their heads in the sand or court the media moguls as evidence mounted over the years that some sections of the press were up to no good.

But the solution to the alleged woes of Britain’s newspapers is also – as ever – in their own hands. It is the publishing industry that has been left with the task setting up its own system of self-regulation. In so far as the Royal Charter and the amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill are concerned, it is easy for the press to avoid huge fines for bad behaviour.

First of all they need to set up their own self-regulatory bodies – and they have been stressing they are happy to do that from the first day that Lord Justice Leveson opened for business. There is nothing to stop them having one for national papers, another for locals and one for magazines, or even one per publishing company. It is entirely up to them.

Leading representatives of the press, including Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, have also agreed that the new system should be manifestly ‘independent’ in a way that the PCC manifestly was not. That, and a system of appointment that it is open and transparent, is all that the Royal Charter seeks to ensure. The Recognition Body that will be set up under the Charter cannot tell the editors and proprietors what to do. It merely checks that the regulatory bodies they set up it follow their own rules. What is unfair about that, when the public has had to put up with a series of failed efforts at self-regulation since 1953?

And providing publishers do not show ‘deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature’ for someone’s rights, exemplary damages cannot be awarded against them. What is unfair or disproportionate about that? After all, who has the untrammeled right to cry ‘Fire!’ in a crowded room? The contrition mouthed at the Leveson Inquiry by the Charter’s critics has been replaced by vindictive indignation that anyone, especially their readers’ elected representatives, should have the temerity to set a limit on their arrogance.

MediaWise has been at this ‘game’ for 20 years, and revelations of the last two have come as little surprise. When we were starting out few, celebrities and business people would risk being associated with advocate for victims of media abuse, for fear that the press would turn on them. ‘We cannot afford to upset them, because we may need them’ was a common excuse for not donating. ‘Here is a donation, but please don’t make it public,’ was another. So it has been encouraging to see ‘celebrities‘ such as Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and J. K. Rowling stand and be counted.

And it has been great to see and hear ‘survivors’ speak out. Too often in the past, anyone daring the put their head above the parapet would risk another trouncing by the press. That is why we ‘refused to supply victims’ as a matter of policy. Few people would wish to be subjected to the abuse High Grant and Professor Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off have had to endure of late.

Even editors and senior executives have been scared to voice their criticism of colleagues in public. Over the years several have admitted to me, off camera and off the record, that our criticisms of the PCC were valid – but dared not break ranks. They too seemed afraid of the very industry in which they operated. And it was not just members do the public who were scandalised by the promotion of people such as Piers Morgan and Wendy Henry whose breaches of the Editor’s Code sickened even hard-nosed hacks.

I have been accused of damaging the reputation of British journalism internationally by showing up its brutish behaviour – but it is the brutes exposed by Hackgate who have done that to themselves. Now should be the moment of change. We could be in for a new era in British journalism, harnessing the latest information and communications technology to improve the scope and depth of our journalism. All it takes is for editors and proprietors to invest in proper journalism, not PR rewrites and gossip.

If they did, they might be surprised at how quickly the public would repay their investment. Just as no jury would ever have convicted the Daily Telegraph over illicit procurement of the details of MPs expenses, no judge or jury would punish editors and journalists who made it their business to defend people’s right instead of trampling on them, and to hold the powerful to account instead of cosying up to them.

The time for whining is over. Let’s get on with developing journalisms we can trust.

Little confidence new system of regulation will work: CPBF

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has issued the following statement following the recent announcement of a new system for regulating the press

The legal basis for a new system of press regulation gives the national press a chance to commit themselves to a means of properly policing their own behaviour. The CPBF does not have great confidence that they will take this opportunity seriously.

The way it was introduced, by a series of surprise moves in parliament, appears to have thrown the editors into disarray. They are now trying to decide whether to co-operate or to revert to type and refuse.

The new regulator itself is being set up by the office of the Press Complaints Commission. If the bigger, right-wing papers decide to boycott it there will be utter chaos. The editors should remember that it is the conduct of the press, and the press alone, that has brought down this crisis upon their heads. And it is by their conduct and theirs alone that any new system will be judged, not by parliamentary legalities.

The CPBF is pleased that the political parties have taken the issue seriously and persuaded the government to set up the structure. But we will believe there has been a real improvement in self-regulation when we see the first front-page apology or the first million-pound fine, as trumpeted by David Cameron.

It would be even better if there were never any more false, deceitful or cruel stories that might lead to such penalties, but the CPBF has even less confidence in the likelihood of that.

December 4, 2012

News media ’should be handed back to the people’

Marc Wadsworth, of the citizen journalism website The-Latest.com, in responding to the Leveson report into press ethics, advocates public funding for alternative news media to ensure ‘plurality’

Let’s be clear what’s at play with the Leveson report into British press standards just published and the row over whether or not a new truly independent media watchdog should have legal powers to deal with bad journalism.

It would be reassuring to believe that Prime Minister David Cameron’s rejection of this in favour of tougher self-regulation by newspapers is about him defending a free press. But, in the wake of the appalling phone hacking of murdered school girl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World that prompted the inquiry, what Cameron and his right-wing Conservative cheerleaders are about is protecting the commercial interests of billionaire press barons, like Murdoch, whose organisations back him and his Tory party.

So, tackling the stranglehold of the corporate ownership of the British press should be central to the debate. Ex-national newspapers journalist Marc Wadsworth, who is also a broadcaster, set up The-Latest as a citizen journalism website in 2006 precisely to help give voice to the unheard. Wadsworth passionately believes the news media should be handed back to the people whose interest they are supposed to serve and said so publicly when he spoke at Lincoln University in November.

But the ownership issue merits just eight short paragraphs in the 2,000-page Leveson Inquiry report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. The-Latest would like to see public funding for alternative news media to ensure ‘plurality’. Celebrity and scandal-obsessed big media need genuine competition. But The-Latest are opposed to any new law that smacks of government regulation of the press because this could be used to gag social media online and investigative journalism.

At the moment, the Conservatives are supported by nine national newspapers: The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Express, Daily Star, Sunday Express, Sun, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Financial Times (most of the time). The opposition Labour Party and Lib-Dems are backed by six: The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Guardian, Observer, Mirror and Daily Mirror. The low-circulation Morning Star is the only genuinely socialist national newspaper.

Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson says current watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), has failed and must be replaced. Newspapers should not be allowed ‘to mark their own homework’. The PCC has a terrible record for upholding complaints and putting right press inaccuracies. Journalists themselves, like the Guardian’s Nick Davies whose brave and often lonely campaign to expose phone hacking, and the law courts has had to do the watchdog’s job for it. But legal action is for the rich.

The-Latest agrees the PCC is both discredited and useless and has set out our recommendation for a better press in the Media and Riots report accepted as evidence by Leveson, who has recommended:

- a new self-regulation body, independent of serving editors, government and business.

He found:
- no widespread corruption of police by the press found;
- politicians and press have been too close;
- press behaviour, at times, has been ‘outrageous’;
- on the controversial issue of regulation, Leveson says an independent watchdog for the press should be established. It should take an active role in promoting high standards, including having the power to investigate serious breaches and sanction newspapers.

The new body should be backed by legislation designed to assess whether it is doing its job properly. The new law would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.

An arbitration system should be created through which people who say they have been victims of the press can seek redress without having to go through the courts. Newspapers that refuse to join the new body could face direct regulation by broadcast media watchdog, Ofcom.

The body should be independent of current journalists, the government and commercial concerns, and not include any serving editors, government members or MPs. It should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to sources for its stories, if the information is in the public domain.

A whistle-blowing hotline should be established for journalists who feel under pressure to do unethical things. This falls short of the National Union of Journalists’ demand that a ‘conscience clause’ should be written into the contracts of journalists allowing them to refuse to use unethical methods or practices.

On the crucial question of plurality and media ownership, Leveson says: ‘The particular public policy goals of ensuring that citizens are informed and preventing too much influence in any one pair of hands over the political process are most directly served by concentrating on plurality in news and current affairs. This focus should be kept under review.’

It continues: ‘Online publication should be included in any market assessment for consideration of plurality. Ofcom and the government should work, with the industry, on the measurement framework, in order to achieve as great a measure of consensus as is possible on the theory of how media plurality should be measured before the measuring system is deployed, with all the likely commercial tensions that will emerge.

‘The levels of influence that would give rise to concerns in relation to plurality must be lower, and probably considerably lower, than the levels of concentration that would give rise to competition concerns.’

Diversity among journalists, so that newsrooms properly reflect black people, women and the working class, is a vital part of making the news media more representative. The BBC has not changed much since its Director General Greg Dyke described it as ‘hideously white’. The-Latest will be watching and commenting all of the issues raised by Leveson and others we have mentioned.

September 18, 2012

Privacy and profit

Financial gain not ethics or law determine the extent to which privacy is respected in the press, writes Barry Turner, Senior Lecturer in Media Law, Lincoln School of Journalism

The latest royal scandal serves to demonstrate the failings of the law to protect the privacy of individuals from a voracious and prurient press. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a private holiday in a remote chateau have been embarrassed by a series of photographs showing the Duchess semi-naked and in intimate contact with her husband.

This intrusion took place in France, a country with a strongly defined privacy law and it is inevitable that the royal couple will succeed in the legal action they have taken against the magazine involved. Since this is not an ethical issue and the law is so well defined what then is the problem?

The law of 17 July 1970 and Civ. 10 June 1987 give a person a right to legal action where an unauthorised photograph has been taken on private property and even in a public place if the photograph shows them in a ridiculous or embarrassing situation. Under Articles 1382 and 1383 of the Code Civil a person’s private life is protected and the law on press freedom of 29 July 1881 prevents information about the private life of an individual being published even where that information is true.

All in all this looks like a comprehensive set of privacy laws, codified into statute that gives a thorough protection to the individual’s privacy, a set of laws admired by many lawyers in the UK who represent celebrities and canvass for similar legal restraints here. So what went wrong?

It has long been recognised by the press that whether or not the law is broken is a commercial decision rather than a moral one. And it is not the fear of sanction that decides whether or not a photograph is published but calculation as to profit. In Cassell and Co. Ltd v. Broome [1972] 1 All ER 801 the court awarded £15,000 in compensation and £25,000 in exemplary damages against the defendant who had defamed the claimant by making false statements about his war record. The court took the view that this defamation was not only deliberate but had been calculated to increase sales of the book in which the defamation had appeared.

In English civil law damages are meant to compensate an injured party and are not normally to be equated with financial penalties such as fines. Where, however, a defendant had calculated the profit to be made from his law breaking and had directed his mind to material advantages it was justifiable to increase the threshold of the damages to include damages intended to punish the behaviour.

The French courts also recognise the concept of exemplary damages and in Les époux X v. La société Fountaine Pajot; La société AGF-IART, devenue la société Allianz IART; No 1090 du 1 décembre 2010 (09-13.303) the Cour de cassation reaffirmed that punitive damages were not contrary to public policy if they were proportionate to the damage caused. Clearly this intrusion into the private lives of the royal couple, like all of the prurient interest in the royal family, was driven by profit and there is hardly any doubt that topless photographs of a future Queen are worth a fortune both now and in the future when eventually Prince William becomes monarch.

There is little doubt that press intrusion of this kind is distasteful and arguments about public interest are ridiculous. With the French law so tightly defined there is also little doubt that this intrusion will result in the magazine Closer being successfully sued. But will that act as a deterrent to further intrusions? Almost certainly not.

The decision to publish this type of photograph is a commercial one and the possible, even inevitable penalties determine publication. French courts determine the penalty on the severity of the intrusion and in spite of the disgust shown by the Duke and Duchess, the Palace and many of the public this is not an intrusion of the worst kind, such as the paparazzi photographs of Princess Diana dying in a car in Paris. As sordid as this type of prying might be, the financial penalty will be proportionate to that.

In Paris 24 March, 1965 JIP 1965. II 14305 a couple who posed scantily dressed in front of a famous monument were held to have contributed to their misadventure of being displayed in France Dimanche in such an embarrassing situation and as a result the damages, which had been low anyway, were reduced by 75 per cent. It is likely that the editor of Closer had this in mind when making the decision to publish. Should the Duchess have a right to go topless on a private holiday ? Of course. Should she give consideration to the presence of photographers ? Well, it goes with the job.

One possible remedy that the French lawyers should probably seek is to hand the intellectual property in the photographs to the royal couple. Under the law of 17 July 1970 they have a right to the ownership of them. This will prevent any further profiteering by the celebrity press and ironically the protection that copyright law will convey far outweighs any privacy protection that even the French codified system could offer.

The timing of this legal action could not be more awkward. The findings of the Leveson Inquiry are now imminent and most commentators believe that the press will face stringent regulation as a result. Advocates of privacy legislation in Britain will point enthusiastically to French law as an example to follow. Even if Leveson’s report does not specifically ask for the adoption of such a law the pressure from this case and the recommendations of the report will go a long way to precipitating one.

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

May 15, 2010

Journalists’ right to confidentiality ‘not absolute’

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, professional ethics — news_editor @ 10:45 am

Canada’s highest court has quashed an attempt to establish journalists’ absolute right to protect confidential sources. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the National Post to hand over to police documents obtained in 2001 alleging the involvement of former prime minister Jean Chretien in a loan scandal.

Barry Turner, senior lecturer in law at the University of Lincoln, UK, commented: ‘I am increasingly alarmed at the civil liberties situation in Canada. They have some draconian laws in a number of areas that even Tony Blair would have blanched at.’

The court recognised the public’s interest ‘in being informed about matters of public importance that may only see the light of day through the cooperation of sources who will not speak except on condition of confidentiality’.
But the court added that the right to confidentiality had to be balanced against other important public interests, including the investigation of crime. ‘The bottom line is that no journalist can give a source a total assurance of confidentiality. All such arrangements necessarily carry an element of risk that the source’s identity will eventually be revealed.’

The Supreme Court said the constitutional protection of freedom of expression was not limited to ‘traditional media’ but was enjoyed by ‘everyone’: bloggers, tweeters and even those who stood on street corners and shouted news at passing pedestrians.

Granting immunity to sources deemed worthy to quote on condition of anonymity by ’such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers…would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognised values such as privacy’.

- See also http://www.themarknews.com/articles/1498-there-s-nothing-special-about-journalists

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