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News of the World

Round-up of news – no, it’s not about phone hacking!

So the hacking saga goes on with resignations and revelations galore – with all other news disappearing out of sight.
It’s a shame that everything hinges around this, even though it is important. It just feels like it completely obliterates other news.
Be aware you won’t get away from it tomorrow – Five Live is covering it all day as is BBC TV to name a few.

 

I’m interested but, let’s get some perspective. This story appears to be so London-centric – there’s a whole nation out there with things to say.

Here in Swindon, a young girl was buried, a girl who went off the rails through drug addiction, left her family home and years later her remains were found. A man is awaiting trial charged with her murder and that of another Swindon girl, Sian O’Callaghan. I doubt the phone-hacking means much to these two devastated families.
There’s also some good news about you know – in Wiltshire RAF Lyneham is going to be give a new lease of life. The little town of Lyneham was poised for devastation as that magnificent air base was due to close.

 

It’s a place with many great memories for me – I was lucky enough to be one of many journalists who covered the return of hostages Jacky Mann and Terry Waite to this airbase. I also went up in a Hercules once which circled over Bath, opening the doors so we could take fantastic pictures of the city from the air.

 

But I bear in mind that other areas on the UK have not been granted this type of reprieve and will see bases near them close. Often the effect of such closures is so overlooked – local economies can literally die overnight.

 

We’ve raised more than £20m as a nation for the crisis in Africa – astonishing given the economic climate but it shows that many people really do care.

 
But as for charities, a curious thing happened to me today.

 

I had a call from a lady representing a national charity, Sue Ryder, reminding me that I’d given a bag of clothes to their shop in Swindon. It was true, several months ago.

 

Why did I choose that shop? I gave the answer. A couple of other questions – the woman then entered this long spiel about what the charity does and would I consider giving £15 a month?

 

I said no, I didn’t like cold-calling, I would make my own choices about what charities to support and not to ring again.

 

I even said I was a journalist and didn’t appreciate being misled with the suggestion this was some sort of survey – when in fact it was a pushy sales call.
But this woman was not daunted, she said if I was strapped for cash, I could put off a donation for a couple of months and could give just £8 a month. I repeated my previous comments.

 

I told her I had been polite but was now going to end the call – whereupon she spoke really fast giving the name of the private company she worked for which would earn about £72,000 for doing these cold calls but the charity would raise hopefully around £190,000 from this sales push.

 

 

Times are tough for charities – but that one call alone put me off this charity – it plays on people’s sympathy and pins them down.

Don’t make me feel obliged, don’t cold call me and never continue the sales pitch

We've raised millions for needy in Africa so far....

when I’ve clearly said I’m not interested.

I do give, I will give and I have given but in my own time, at my own pace, when I feel I want to and can afford to.

A new charity shop has opened in Swindon raising money for children whose families need respite care. Guess where my next charity bag will be going?

Television journalists have to jump through hoops to tell simple stories

Thank goodness we can reveal wrongdoing...

As I listen to the latest on the phone-hacking scandal, the select committee, the investigation by a judge and so on – I reflect on the hoops us journalists who work in television have to go through to tell the simplest of stories.

 

I’m not complaining but when working in television, every word of a script is scrutinised.

 

Only today, I’ve started script-writing for a half-hour programme about a mental health condition. Some interviewees will be talking anonymously as they don’t want everyone to know about their problems.

Many people feel that they want to speak out – but the high profile nature of television is such that they fear ridicule, they fear exposure, they fear prejudice. So sometimes we agree to conceal identity, even if legally we don’t have to (such as with victims of sexual assault). Having done that we still have to jump through legal hoops.

For example, a person criticises his local health authority for what he perceives is a lack of treatment made available to him to deal with a mental health condition This man will not be named – and his local health authority will not be named. The only thing the viewer will know is that this is a man and he comes from an area within the UK. That’s it.

 

But I still have to put his criticisms to the relevant health authority, give that health authority a right of reply, even though I will probably not name that health authority. 

If that health authority gives us a statement I’ll have to consider, with a lawyer, what I should use in the script. If that health authority insisted on a filmed interview, we’d have to seriously consider that demand. It’s possible that we’d have to do it, even though that would throw a spanner  in the schedule.

 

As we hear stories about the seemingly out-of-control practices at a national newspaper some years ago (not now) and suspicions that other publications indulged – to the detriment of individuals – we in television spend hours ensuring a right of reply for organisations which are not going to be even named.

However as I watched new Cowboy Builders tonight, I’m thrilled that we can do programmes like this. We can expose people who wreck the lives of others, quite literally. I love seeing the passion of Dominic Littlewood in hunting down those who are cowboys in construction.

 

I know that he’s got people helping him with that. But I’ve worked with him in the past and I know that his anger is quite genuine. He really does care. I also know about the kind of scrutiny that will go on behind the scenes and the amount of hoops which had to be jumped through to even get him on the road after those cowboy builders.

 

Please don’t assume that we journalists are out there, writing what we like, using illegal methods to bring things into the public arena. It’s simply not true.

 

 

 

Phone-hacking is not the only news in the world

I cannot help but write about the phone-hacking scandal which continues to rumble on – it’s there in the background for most people but for journalists it’s still the main topic of conversation.

 

As I’ve intimated previously that’s because we’re feeling that we’re all being tarred with the same brush as the few who either broke the law, or who got others to do it for them, in pursuit of a big story and the subsequent big bucks.

 

Some have raised eyebrows that an editor cannot know what his/her journalists are doing? But it’s possible, especially if you are not asking too many questions and your budget is so big that

Journalists can tell good stories without breaking the law

invoices adding up to £100k don’t register.

For most of us in the regional world of journalism that doesn’t happen. Money is so tight that such a spend would stick out like a sore thumb.
Another issue that’s worthy of consideration is the suggestion that police officers in the Met (and possibly elsewhere) may have taken money from journalists.
It’s amazing how many people think that journalists carry around a chequebook from their employer to wave around at potential interviewees.
Such a practice may be common place for national journalists but I’ve not come across it in local settings or even national television.
The only things I’ve ever paid for are as follows: travelling expenses, child care costs, loss of earnings which can be proved, payment of a telephone bill for a low income family where we needed regular contact over number of months, occasional donation to charity for use of facilities, occasional location fees for businesses.

 

When working on an antiques programme a few years ago I used to pay cash to traders/stall holders to use their space for a period of filming if it was going to disrupt business for more than ten minutes.

I’ve been asked for money many, many times by possible interviewees and have said no. As journalists we’re not allowed to pay anyone with criminal convictions, and I’d never dream of giving cash to a police officer. I may be naive, even after 20 years, but I’ve always been suspicious of anyone who’s first thought is to ask for money.

 

There are still many, many good people out there who tell their personal stories in order to spread the word, heighten public awareness alongside my need to make a good tv programme. Indeed, people will often take days off work just to take part in filming and never ask for a penny.

Tomorrow I’m filming with a family where the father suffers from severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Mum is taking a day off work to be with us (something we did not request). This is a sign of how important this family feels it is to highlight the issues around this mental disorder.
However this phone-hacking saga develops in the next days and weeks – remember this, there are good people around with relevant stories to tell and share.

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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