Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The death of journalism

Last weekend, a great friend of mine was arrested. Twelve police officers carried out a dawn raid at his house, waking him and his family at 7am and searching their house, removing PCs, his mobile phone, passport and documentation. An officer accompanied him to the shower in case he tried to dispose of 'evidence.' Then he was driven to a police station where he spent a whole day being questioned before being released without charge on police bail. His arrest was the lead item on all the weekend news bulletins.

By now you are probably thinking, well, if he is a suspected drug dealer or terrorist, fair enough. My friend is neither. He is a law abiding journalist of some 30 years standing, over two decades of which has been spent writing world exclusive scoops and putting his life at risk reporting from the front line in Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones around the world. He is considered by his colleagues and fellow reporters at rival newspapers to be one of the very best in the business. His work has helped to sell millions of newspapers, making many millions in profit for a certain Mr Murdoch.

Meanwhile the cosy relationships between David Cameron and certain high level Murdoch employees have been elbowed out of the spotlight while the witch hunt at grass roots level continues. It is already part of the biggest police criminal investigation in British history.

'Journalists pay for stories' alert has now been replaced by 'journalists arrested for writing stories' so we had all better hope that there are no more scandals like thalidomide, cash for questions and MPs using taxpayers money to pay for private moats lurking in the establishment shadows because we have now created a toothless gutless press which is too fearful of prosecution to publish.

Two days later, in another part of the UK, Islamic extremist Abu Qatada, described as the spiritual head of the mujahideen in Britain, is released from prison despite warnings that he poses a dangerous and very real threat to national security.

If this was the plot of a Hollywood movie, it would be deemed too far fetched to be true. You really couldn't make it up. The next time I'm asked to mentor a young idealistic student who dreams of writing for the national press, my advice will be to steer well clear of a profession that hangs its own out to dry when the going gets rough and try banking instead.


Dean Brazier said...

Hi Karen
Great to get the other side of the story from someone in the know. Sad state of affairs.
All the best, Deano

legal eagle said...

You say
'By now you are probably thinking, well, if he is a suspected drug dealer or terrorist, fair enough.'

Yes, I do think that, but I also believe that if your friend was suspected in any way of being implicated in illegal activities during what you rightly call the biggest investigation ever in the UK. Whether it be bribery, or telephone hacking, or one of the other shameful, but apparently condoned activities of your profession, it is only correct that your friend, and any others who were implicated be arrested and questioned.
The extreme manner in which the police decided to carry this arrest out, is only equal to the extreme seriousness and importance that they determine this case to hold.

Your profession should be fearful of prosecution when you pay and accept bribes, lie, hack into telephones and e-mail accounts or break the law to obtain stories.

That law exists to protect everybody, even if they do pretend that their 'family is their world', and are having affairs or 'playing' away as you say. This is of course shameful and devastating behaviour in itself, though not illegal, but it does not negate their rights in law.

You write

'I can't defend the ghoulish revelations that have come to light in recent days detailing murder victims and grieving relatives whose phones were hacked by the paper in the endless search for stories (although I find it hard to have sympathy for any hacked expense fiddling MPs, playaway Premier League footballers and poncey 'my family are my world' actors who are secretly sleeping with prostitutes.)'

So, does that mean that a married person ( who did or did not happen to be a celebrity ) and was having a mental breakdown/crisis of some kind, and foolishly had sex with somebody other than their husband/wife during this time. If they then had their own, their partners or their childrens phones hacked into by the press, you would find it hard to have sympathy ?

We all make mistakes after all.

As you say

'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'

One can only glean by the 'I find it hard to have sympathy' statement that you therefore find it acceptable to hack into an innocent persons telephone under certain cicumstances?

Perhaps that it is exactly why it has become such a huge problem in your industry, and such an immense investigation in our country?

When there are people in your industry who do not sympathise with victims of this terrible activity, and even protect, condone or just accept such a shameful act, and draw their own divisions as to what is acceptable and what is not, and do not look to the letter of the law, then this will always be a big problem in your industry.
Until all of you learn that you must stay within the law, and until every last phone hacker and law breaker in your industry is outed in this investigation with the full collaboration of all their colleagues, none of you can hold your heads up and be proud of our nations press.
The powers that be are looking at the bigger picture here. The human rights of individuals and future of the press.
That is why all the files were finally turned over to the police by the powers that be, and your friend was subsequently arrested.