Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website
Any journalist who in the past might have experienced a buzz on receiving a leaked document sent through the post in a plain envelope can only marvel at the prospect of having access to the vast treasure trove of confidential information made available by the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks.  A leaker of yesteryear could hardly have assembled, let alone handed over, the great mass of documents which can now be compressed into a single compact disc and then disseminated online. 

Access by journalists to the Facebook profiles of people who have died and the republication of Tweets which were exchanged between friends are two of the issues currently being considered by the Press Complaints Commission.Facebook allows subscribers to delete content pages and even remove their whole account but the company has yet to decide what policy should be adopted over access to profiles on the death of a subscriber.

Having been a journalist for fifty years, I am in no doubt about my own position. I support and applaud principled individuals who are prepared to leak information which they believe should be in the public domain.  They invariably put their own jobs on the line and often face the threat of a criminal prosecution.  Yes, many in public life might think such principled leakers are misguided; that they are deliberately breaching their conditions of work; and letting their down their own colleagues, their employers and perhaps the state.  But although leakers have my support, I think journalists do have responsibilities when deciding whether to print or broadcast information and data which has obviously been gained by illicit means.  I have spent my career working within codes of practice and guidelines which were designed to ensure that I was accountable for what I wrote and said.  And that is my worry about WikiLeaks. Thanks to the revolution in information technology, it has become a publishing house for leaking on an industrial scale.  But it lacks the checks and balances under which most journalists have always had to operate.  

Unlike the USA, where the press is in dire straits, British national newspapers are hoping to reinvent themselves on line and derive a new income stream from their websites. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the press proprietors are determined to try to get readers into the habit of paying to view online. But this can only be achieved by forcing the BBC to curb the expansion of its online output.  Downsizing the BBC would create the space in which to develop potentially profitable pay-for-view sites – an option almost certain to be favoured by an incoming Conservative government. By buying up exclusive and often sensational videos the newspapers are already showing that they can beat the established broadcasters at their own game. Digital convergence will give the press to ability to join up the dots…to command the agenda not just in print and online but in radio and television as well.  

Journalists were given little encouragement during a debate on the Priorities for Digital Britain -- a forum held in the wake of the recent report by the outgoing communications minister Lord Carter. Google – which earns 15 per cent of its global income in the UK – insisted it was sharing some of its massive online advertising revenue with UK newspapers and television channels but this was of little reassurance to news providers attending an event organised by the Westminster Media Forum (9.7.2009).

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