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'Journalists pay for stories' alert has now been replaced by 'journalists arrested for writing stories' so we had all better hope that there are no more scandals like thalidomide, cash for questions and MPs using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.