Murky journalism

Phone hacking

Phone hacking

The fascination many people have with the minutiae of other peoples lives has led some journalists to use a variety of strategies to obtain more and more salacious details.

The story of News of the World journalists hacking into phones is just one of many means used by these people to satisfy the insatiable desire by customers to read about the lives of other people.

It is certainly possible to argue, that the use of illegal and questionable tactics by journalists are unacceptable, but it is equally possible for a portion of the blame to lie squarely on the shoulders of the readership. This is not about absolving journalists from obnoxious tactics, which are a choice made by individual journalists to creep in to the  illegal and questionable. It is however about individuals taking responsibility.

The UK has become riven with an unhealthy desire on the part of many people to obsess over other peoples lives. Magazines exist which offer nothing more than photographs of other peoples weddings, hairstyles, clothes, make-up etc. The television schedules are awash with the generic term ‘reality’ TV. Newspapers are purchased because of some gossip story about someone or other.

The fact is that mainstream media is driven by ratings, which in the case of print media can and do affect pricing as well as advertising rate cards. Broadcast media is driven by ratings which dictate rate card advertising costs. These are businesses which are seeking to make a profit. If people want salacious gossip, which journalists would argue is the case, which is evidenced by sales or viewership, then they will stoop to whatever level they personally feel necessary to meet that demand.

The moment people decide, enough is enough and stop purchasing print media or watching programmes which expose ever more personal and intimate information, will be the moment journalists stop snooping.

Many of those who appear in the press and subsequently moan about the coverage, need to take a look at their own responsibility in the chase for coverage. Courting media attention about personal information when it suits a PR campaign inevitably leads to journalists pursuing that person once they have used the media for their own end. If they don’t wish to be pursued in this way, they shouldn’t seek to manipulate journalists in the first place.

The consumers of this minutiae need to take a look at their own responsibility and recognize it is their choice whether to purchase or watch what is being broadcast and published.

Journalists should recognize that just because something sells, doesn’t mean it should be published, nor should personal moral lines be crossed in the chase for the dollar.

There are times, many times, when the role of a journalist does mean working within the grey area of the law and on occasion crossing in to illegal territory. The breaking of the MPs expenses allowances, the BBC continuing to reports from inside Zimbabwe, being just two recent examples. But hacking phones to obtain information about where someone may or may not be going out to dinner, doesn’t sit on any moral compass I know of.

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