- Category: Leveson Inquiry
When the News of the World phone hacking trial opens at the Old Bailey in early September, it will highlight one of the great taboos of British journalism. How much freedom – if any – should reporters have to pay for the information which they think they might need for their stories? And perhaps more importantly, should they be able to finance others to potentially break the law on their behalf?
Within the news media there is possibly no starker ethical split than the divide between those journalists who are – or certainly have been – happy to hand over cash for information, even perhaps purchasing data gained by illicit means, and on the other hand, those reporters who under no circumstances would agree to fund such transactions.
Most journalists rarely speak openly about their sources of information; their relationship with their informants is usually a closed book even to colleagues and friends.
But as the evidence presented to the Leveson Inquiry demonstrated so clearly Rupert Murdoch’s journalists did have access to what Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers described as a cash payment process which allowed for the delivery of “regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money” to their sources of information. She told the Leveson Inquiry such payments were authorised at “a very senior level” in News International.
Sue Akers’ public confirmation of what appeared to have become custom and practice at the Sun and the News of the World touched on one of the great unmentionables of Fleet Street journalism.
- Category: General
What Do We Mean By Local? The Rise, Fall and Possible Rise Again of Local Journalism, due to be published in September, reflects on the golden age of the provincial press and examines the future prospects for local newspapers and other local news outlets.
My father Clem Jones was editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star throughout the 1960s and he helped a provincial pace setter gain national prominence. Strong local news coverage and innovative localism in sales and distribution drove circulation ever upwards.
In a chapter for What Do We Mean By Local? I explore – from the perspective of a schoolboy and then trainee reporter – the highs and lows, and also stresses and strains, of what it must have been like editing one of the most successful local evening newspapers in the country.
My father, who joined the Express and Star as district reporter at Bilston in 1943, had over the years become a close friend of Enoch Powell since his election as Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West in 1950.
The two men would talk animatedly for hours; my father admired Powell’s diligence as a constituency MP and Powell, who was fascinated by the processes involved in news management, was eager for tips on how to use the media to promote his political career.
But their friendship was shattered by the racist tone of Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in April 1968. My father, who had gained an unconditional exemption from war service as a conscientious objector – and who had been sacked in 1940 for refusing to report stories in support of the war effort – was about to find that once again his own editorial principles would be tested almost to destruction.
- Category: Trade Union Reporting
Journalists who reported the bitter year-long confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill will find they were well and truly duped if they care to examine newly-published cabinet records for 1983 which finally reveal the true extent of secret preparations for a possible miners’ strike.
Worse still the correspondents will realise that for much of the time during the 1984-5 pit dispute they were doing the government’s bidding by speculating about the impact of falling coal stocks and the threat of power cuts.
What the news media did not know at the time was that as early as March 1983 Mrs Thatcher had been assured that so much progress had been made in secretly converting coal fired power stations to oil that the Central Electricity Generating Board was almost on the point of guaranteeing “indefinite endurance”.
Those two words – “indefinite endurance” – meant that however long the pit strike lasted the lights would not go out. Tactically it gave Mrs Thatcher immeasurable strength and helped to explain why her government was only too happy to allow the news media to carry on highlighting Scargill’s dire warnings of disruption to electricity supplies.
Striking miners were not only defeated on the picket line – as a result of unprecedented policing – but also in a highly-effective propaganda war. Journalists never like to find that their reports were based on a misconception but that was certainly the case in the pit dispute when we reported on falling coal stocks and the potential for power cuts.
- Category: The Role of Spin Doctors
Two swiftly-executed policy retreats seem to have succeeded in elevating David Cameron’s general election strategist Lynton Crosby to a status comparable to that of Peter Mandelson, arch manipulator for Tony Blair, whose dark arts were credited with helping to steer New Labour to victory in 1997.
Coalition government U turns on plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum pricing for alcohol are both said to reflect the hidden hand of the so called “Wizard of Oz” who is reported to have told the Prime Minister that it is time to start “scraping the barnacles off the hull” in order to prepare the Conservative Party for the long haul to the 2015 general election.
Judging by the ruthless way the decks are being cleared in readiness for the 2015 campaign he is doing what Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, says the Australian strategist does best of all: “winning out the stuff” that politicians might think is important but which does not meet the Crosby mantra that “message matters most”.
And, if the robust stances being adopted by Conservative ministers on issues such as illegal immigration and social security fraud are any guide, the ground is already being prepared for a bruising confrontation with Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
But it is the speed with which Crosby has succeeded – at least for the present – in closing down stories about the links between himself, his partner Mark Textor and the tobacco company Philip Morris Ltd – a connection first revealed by Spinwatch as long ago as 2005 – which is the clearest illustration of his likely effectiveness as “Dave’s Rottweiler”
- Category: Leveson Inquiry
Hacked Off and other pressure groups campaigning for the introduction of a Leveson-style press regulator are confident there will be fresh opportunities to “crank up the pressure” against the delaying tactics of press proprietors and Conservative politicians.
Supporters of the victims of press intrusion and harassment believe the Secretary of State for Culture Maria Miller has become the captive of Pressbof, which has yet again defied a cross-party agreement and is now establishing its own independent organisation to monitor press standards.
Having already outwitted the government by getting ahead of Parliament with a rival royal charter on press regulation, Pressbof is now able to take advantage of a delay until October at the earliest before the Privy Council considers the royal charter which the party leaders agreed in March and which has the support of both the Commons and the Lords.
Brian Cathcart, a founder member of Hacked Off, told the annual meeting of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (13.7.2013) that it was now a question of “who governed the country”. Pressbof and its allies in the Conservative Party should not imagine that the will of Parliament could be ignored by a “tiny group of powerful vested interests who have wreaked havoc in the lives of ordinary people”.