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Ofcom

Should our press be free – or not? Review my thoughts…

No more restrictions on our Press thanks....

This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.

It’s part of a study by a university which is questioning journalists across Europe about their views on the issue of regulation of the Press.

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….

 

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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