As journalists and other citizens in the UK await the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry, journalism lecturer Tony Harcup argues that a crucial freedom for journalists is the freedom to say ‘No’ to an unethical instruction. In this edited extract of a chapter in the book The Phone Hacking Scandal*, he explains why.
On the BBC website, Paul Mason, the regularly insightful Newsnight reporter, has attempted to understand the recent phone hacking scandal, and the broader political crises surrounding it, through a critique of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s famous Propaganda Model and their ideas concerning the manufacture of consent in the mainstream media. Mason’s summary of manufacturing consent and the media is as follows:
…the theory states that essentially the mass media is a propaganda machine; that the advertising model makes large corporate advertisers into “unofficial regulators”; that the media live in fear of politicians; that truly objective journalism is impossible because it is unprofitable (and plagued by “flak” generated within the legal system by resistant corporate power).
THE phrase, “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” has been used several times lately about the proposed reform of press regulation. There seems to be a general belief, certainly among MPs, that the phone-hacking scandal resulted from the failure of current press regulation and that newspapers must therefore have new rules imposed on Read more about Questions that Lord Leveson must address[…]
In more recent years, I’ve had the persona of a respectable company director (MD of my own communications company, no less). I’ve given media advice to major institutions and key political figures. I served for quarter of a century in the middle ranks of the BBC and throughout my career I have stoutly defended the Read more about Thoughts from ‘an old hack’[…]
In the last few years we have seen corruption in Parliament, in the police and in the Press, often involving the collusion of members of all three. Business is rife with corrupt practices, from misrepresentation to tax-dodging. The eagerness with which each of the major institutions turns upon the others when given the opportunity is Read more about Regulation, Privacy and Censorship[…]
Shock horror, the popular tabloids have offended public taste and contravened what passes as journalistic integrity. So far, so unremarkable. Events at the News of the World may be the grossest in recent times, prying as irreverently as irrelevantly into the lives of grieving families but they are far from unique in the back pages Read more about Things Might Only Get Better: But It Used To Be Much Worse[…]
The extraordinary events surrounding the closure of the News of the World and the withdrawal by News Corporation of its bid to take full control of BSkyB have cast a light on how journalistic standards, if not democratic government itself, can be corrupted by the ruthless drive for corporate profit and personal influence. At a Read more about Is The UK ‘Media Plurality Test’ Fit For Purpose?[…]
TODAY’S Parliamentary debate about Rupert Murdoch – “hanging the Great Satan out to dry” was the way one writer put it – was the day of come-uppance that MPs have been eagerly awaiting ever since the newspapers shamed them over their expenses. It was pay-back time with a vengeance. The phone-hacking scandal has been a Read more about Donald Trelford comments on phone-hacking[…]
When James Murdoch made his MacTaggart speech entitled ‘The Absence of Trust’ in August 2009 he criticized regulatory constraints in the broadcasting sector for creating unaccountable institutions such as the BBC Trust, Channel 4 and Ofcom. In his view ‘the provision of independent news, investment in professional journalism and the growth of the creative industries’ would be far better served by ‘embracing private enterprise and profit as a driver of investment, innovation and independence’. How hollow those words now sound after the events surrounding the closure of the News of the World and further allegations about the practices employed by different parts of the News International group in pursuit of readers.
The events surrounding the demise of the News of the World has focused our minds, once more, on what should be considered legitimate and permissible practice in journalism and, indeed, in the pursuit of ‘the story’. That the NotW may have used practices that are not only of dubious morality but also downright illegal should force us to ponder on where we – as commentators and journalists – should draw the line. Or, to put the matter slightly differently, who should draw the line.