This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.
Those of us who work in television a lot, often try to talk about the Press as though somehow we are a separate entity. I’ve never believed this. Coming into the industry through newspapers and still writing today – I believe we are all one industry and we should defend, support and, when necessary, chastise each other when things go wrong.
This phone-hacking issue, the Levenson inquiry, centres largely around the national newspapers. Our national newspapers are more powerful than most people realise. Not because us ordinary Joes care about it – but because our law-makers do.
Having worked alongside politicians for many years, I can promise you that those who are ambitious, want to climb the political ladder, really, really care about what the newspapers say. I have even heard politicians make judgements based upon ‘what the Daily Mail would say about it’.
As a regional journalist for most of my career, I’ve always been astonished by this.
And many celebrities care too. The amount of times I’ve heard people turn down interviews with the local media, because ‘it’s not national’, ‘it’s a waste of time’ – an argument that has never had much validity and even less now with the internet. When a parish magazine advertising local jumble sales can be found on the internet, the notion of local press almost becomes obsolete…
However, I will absolutely defend the rights of the Press as a whole – it’s a mark of our democracy that our Press is free.
I could not support any further legislation restricting Press freedom. This does not mean I condone phone-hacking – I don’t. I’ve never done it, never been asked to do it, never asked anybody else to do it for me. It’s illegal and the law is already in place to deal with it. That law should be used.
There’s another reason I defend the Press. The written media has to obey the law of the land but the broadcast media also has to obey the Ofcom code which is very strict. Television has to obey much tighter guidelines than newspapers. I well remember coming into television and being amazed about the hoops that had to be jumped through.
One example is secretly recording a telephone call – note, not phone-hacking. In television, you have to seek legal permission to actually record a call. And it can’t be because you ‘think’ something will be revealed. Oh no, you have to be very,very sure you will get something out of it. If you get permission, then you have to then get further permission to use that material. A lawyer has to be satisfied that the material ‘adds further value or something new’ to a programme which could not have been obtained in any other way. So recording a telephone conversation is no guarantee that it will be used at all.
It also is worth remembering that most journalists are not into underhand means to get information. We’re not interested in people’s private lives unless they are hypocrites or it somehow impacts on a public role. We don’t offer sums of money to people for information (although people often ask for money) and we don’t hack into people’s phones. Yet we still find things out, reveal things, hold things up for scrutiny, regardless of whether or not that makes us popular.
Let’s keep our free Press, we’ll regret it if we don’t….