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code of conduct

Phone hacking – a journalist’s view.

when is it right to conduct secret recording?

Phone hacking – it’s inevitable that I need to talk about this, being a journalist.

 

Have I ever hacked anyone’s phone? No.

 

Have I ever been aware of any other journalist doing so? No.

 

Would I do it? No, it’s illegal.

 

Would I even know how to do it? No.

 

Could I get someone to do it on my behalf ? Probably.

 

The whole News of the World mess is gradually revealing the lengths some will go to to get that so-called big story and earn the big bucks. This kind of journalism has never interested me. I can’t be bothered with the ‘who’s sleeping with you’ stories.

 

I should say that I have worked, and still do, work on local newspapers and publications.

 

No, I’ve never worked on a national newspaper. Is it a different animal to a local newspaper? In some respects, yes. Those who work on those newspapers certainly believe so.

 

Did the editor at the time know all of this was happening? Maybe.

 

Should she/he take the rap? Yes.

 

That’s the responsibility one takes when one takes that job on, enjoying the rather large salary at the same time.

 

Editors fall into two categories – one who is remote and who’s office may be floors away from the newsroom and one who is hands-on and who lives in the newsroom. Both behaviours have merits – being distant doesn’t necessarily mean they are not savvy about what’s going on.

 

Having worked in a newsroom, this is how it usually goes. At least once a day, there’ll be a news conference where the day’s or week’s stories will be discussed. Not all reporters will attend this meeting.

 

Usually the editor, news editor, deputy news editor and maybe a chief reporter. So if an editor says to his/her news editor ‘what’s on today/tomorrow?” that person will answer. An editor might then say ‘where did that story come from?’ and a news editor might answer ‘oh, from reliable sources’. What do you say then as an editor?

 

Do you trust your senior team? Or do you question them further? Where does trust begin and end in the workplace?

 

 

What I’m saying is that it’s possible that an editor didn’t know what was going on and didn’t spot the signs that something was fishy. However that’s not the point. The point is that this is where the buck stops. Blame who you like, as the editor you should take the hit.

If you’re wondering what rules newspaper journalists adhere to – well, look at our ‘We Love’ section and you’ll find out.

 

However in broadcast journalism it’s different – not only do these journalists have to obey the law, they also have to follow the Ofcom Code of Conduct and that absolutely prohibits phone hacking, or even any kind of secret recording which is known as ‘fishing’ – recording stuff just on the off-chance that you’ll come across a good story.

I’ve secretly recorded material, both sound and pictures, and I’ve never regretted doing it.

As a journalist who’s been involved in many investigative projects, it’s sometimes necessary.

 

However, in television, if you want to secretly record, say, a telephone conversation, you have to fulfil strict criteria to get permission to do so.

 

That process involves outlining a case which must be put before a lawyer and the most senior executive in the building at the time.

 

You should not randomly record any telephone conversation you want with the intention of putting it on air.

 

You need to persuade the lawyer and executive that there is a high chance that by doing so you’ll get information that you couldn’t get in any other way.

If you’ve got that permission and you go ahead with the secret recording, you then have to go through a further process to use that material. You have to show that the material obtained ‘adds’ something to the film/broadcast that you wouldn’t have got by being upfront.

I have got permission for the former and then not been able to use the material on air – it’s never seen the light of day. So the case was made to record, but what was recorded on the day, didn’t fulfil expectation and therefore couldn’t be used.

But I accept the checks and balances that restrict those of us who work in radio and television.

I know how damaging these things can be if you get it wrong, so you must do all that you can to get it right, tell the truth and expose wrongdoing – when in the public interest.

Sometimes that kind of journalism exposes real problems which need to be revealed – think Panorama and the home for vulnerable adults in South Gloucestershire. Think of the whole pthalidamide story years ago.

Good and important things can be exposed by excellent journalism.

It bears no relation to anything that’s being revealed at the moment about the practices by certain individuals associated with News of the World.

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