The Lord of the Flies hysteria against one of the world’s great media companies and the greatest patron of journalism in the English-speaking world, and possibly the whole world, is peaking and about to recede in its self-created steaming vat of bullsh*t.
We linked to an important blog-post from a big-deal UK blogger Guido Fawkes but his tale is worth telling here in full.
It’s worth noting that blagging is the UK term currently used to describe those involved in the roguish behaviour now much condemned in Britain, including voicemail hacking, obtaining information improperly, however that may be defined. Usually blagging activity was outsourced to non-journalists, often private investigators etc.
Guido Fawkes is probably the most notable of British political insider bloggers:
Back in September 2010 Guido produced, with the help of the Information Commissioner’s Office, this “blagging” chart. The idea that this crisis is only about News International is fanciful. Look who had the most recorded offences:
From the Information Commissioner’s report one can infer that at least 140 Mirror Group journalists could be looking at criminal charges. The Operation Motorman investigation was based on a group of blaggers used frequently by Mirror and Mail journalists to obtain information. Missing from this chart is The Telegraph, who according to a Guido source paid a private detective to hold a seminar at their Canary Wharf offices on how to hack phones back in 2000. The bribing of staff at HMRC, the DVLA, BT, the Land Registry, banks and in the police has been endemic for decades. That is where the news you read is sourced.
In short every major newsroom in the land has used illegal techniques to obtain information. We are on the verge of criminalising hundreds of journalists.
We mocked George Monbiot this week for saying “this is our Berlin Wall moment“. On reflection there is a similarity, the Stasi HQ spied on the ordinary citizenry with all the paraphernalia of a police state. In Britain newspaper HQs spied on celebrities and the famous to entertain ordinary citizens. As readers we rewarded them by buying their papers.
Most of the hacking hacks will get suspended sentences and conditional discharges. Will they still be fit and proper journalists? Without the infotainment aspect of newspapers how will popular investigative journalism be financed? We are in danger of either killing off popular journalism or heading towards a French style subsidised newspaper sector, emasculated and servile to the rich and powerful…
There are some very, very important points there that have gone largely undiscussed in the frenzied attacks on News Corp which at their most shrill have had company foes demanding the break-up of an entirely successful and lawful enterprise.
1) The problem of using unlawful means to obtain information is a London newspaper problem, not a News Corporation problem. It is a serious one because laws have been broken but it is utterly false to say that News Corp was the only one at fault, indeed, the chart above demonstrates it might be dwarfed in their use of this kinds of means by one of its biggest rivals and currently loud critics: the Mirror Group.
2) Those politicians who call for more media regulation about what gets published ought think very carefully about what it all means. In France, as Guido, reminds us, there is almost a conspiracy of silence where journalists will never report on matters that are considered politicians too intrusive or too delicate. Is that really where we want to go? Or, in fact, to return? It was not that long ago where the personally dubious and blatantly corrupt actions of some of our most powerful people were considered off-limits for reporting. The Greens party in Australia, the graduation house for the nation’s ex-communists and inner-urban weirdos, have very good reason for wanting bureaucrats or Police or judges restrict what the media say about them. The end result of it for all of us as a community is that we’ll know less, we’ll be less informed about those who govern us and make decisions about our collective futures.
We have no easy answer about to do with law-breakers in the media. Ironically, it is News Corp’s loudest Australian critic, The Age newspaper, who is implicated in the ugliest of hacking scandals.
As an ailing broadsheet, reportedly on the verge of loss-making, it might not be unreasonable to describe The Age as exemplifying ‘unpopular journalism’.
Fortunately, it is not common-place in Australia for journalists to do what The Age Five (Paul Ramadge, Mark Baker, Nick McKenze, Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders) appear to have done: used corrupt means to obtain a password to a confidential constituent information database and then brazenly boast about their illegal access to that database which occurred – as we have seen – without the authority of the database owner.
We say that while the hacking of individual’s voicemail is an ugly intrusion of privacy that is rightly against the law that The Age’s hacking – apparently authorised by the very highest editorial authority at The Age – is much worse. Potentially the confidential enrolment records – and countless other pieces of confidential information shared with MPs – of every Victorian could have been exposed to The Age newspaper. Millions of people potentially exposed. And consider that not only are the Age Five accused of searching the confidential database with many dozens of search queries, they stand accused of attempting to illegally download the entire database for their own permanent use. It might not matter much whether what The Age Five did was worse than what the UK tabloids did but – in our view – it most certainly is worse, with much bigger implications.
Because of everything that’s happened in England about the hacking scandal, there is a slightly improved chance The Age Five will be brought to justice. The crime occurred in November last year. It was reported in the Sunday Herald Sun – partly due to our efforts – earlier this year and in full in June. Time has passed and the wrongdoers have not yet been held to account. We are hopeful though that they are not will treated as if they are above the law, merely because they work for a once-powerful, once-profitable, once-prestigious newspaper that is really in all respects on its last legs.
We reiterate our call to VEXNEWS readers who feel their privacy may have been intruded on to dob in The Age Five. It is our duty as citizens to do so. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.
And if The Age Five are brought to justice, and prosecuted for unauthorised access to the ALP’s consituent database, we hope their rivals at News Corp can report the events in proportion, recognising just because there are a few (five to be precise) rotten apples in The Age barrel, that not all of Fairfax’s staff are tainted by association.
Journalism faces huge challenges. The economics of news reporting and content consuming are changing before our very eyes. Those doing the wrong thing ought be punished, but even those who’ve committed crimes, as it appears many in UK journalism have, and The Age Five appear to have too, should not be allowed to destroy the journalism that is a vital pillar sustaining the freedom we usually totally take for granted.