THE WICKED

– Police now believe that News of the World phone hacking extended to some 5,800 people

– London police have said that 40 people have been arrested through three police investigations in relation to illegal news gathering practices (including five recent arrests at the Sun newspaper)

– NOTW, a 168-year old tabloid, was dramatically closed in 2011

– The Murdochs, arguably the world’s most influential media family, were hauled in front of an inquiry and uncomfortably faced an interrogation into the tabloid’s misdeeds

This is the continuing fall-out of one of the world’s most astonishing journalism scandals.

When the Fourth Estate is denigrated by the exceedingly unethical (if one can scale unethical behaviour) or by criminal behaviour, the world takes notice.

Over time there have been incidents of plagiarism, of people creating fiction and selling it as truth, and of magnates and governments influencing what content becomes published.

However, the News of the World scandal casts a long shadow over these due to its apparent systemic occurrence at what was once the highest selling English language newspaper in the world.

The victims of the phone hacking range from the seriously famous – Princes William and Harry, Sienna Miller, Gordon Ramsay, Elle McPherson, to name just a few – to the seriously afflicted, like relatives of the victims of the 2005 London bombings and British soldiers killed in action.

Take Milly Dowler’s story as another case in point. In 2002, 13-year-old English teenager Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered. A private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, purportedly engaged by News of The World, hacked into the young girl’s voicemail. The Guardian published these allegations in July 2011, following which the NOTW tabloid was permanently closed.

Through the Leveson Inquiry the startling practices of the paper have been cast open and News Corporation has faced a barrage of questions and accusations about who knew what and when.

There seems to be no end in sight for NOTW owners the Murdochs, with son James resigning his position as Chairman of News International. A step out of the London spotlight, but not out of the News Corporation fold.

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THE BAD

So how does this compare to previous journalism scandals? Below are some scandal examples that have each caused a wave of outrage.

– Jayson Blair was a journalist at The New York Times until 2003 when it was discovered that he had plagarised or used fabricated information in many of his articles

– In 1980, Washington Post reporter Janet Cook was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and only days later was discovered to have made up the story titled “Jimmy’s World” about an 8-year old heroin addict

– In 2005 it was revealed that the Bush Administration had paid handsome sums of money to three columnists to promote its policies

– Last year British journalist Johann Hari for The Independent was found to have plagarised, which saw the young journalist suspended from The Independent and relinquish his 2008 Orwell Prize.

In comparison, the NOTW scandal sets itself apart through its apparent devious breach of trust and the widespread criminality.

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The GOOD

Amongst all of the Wicked and the Bad there is the brilliant.

– Chris Masters’ ‘The Moonlight State’ led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry, uncovering widespread corruption in the Police Force that implicated then Joh-Government Ministers and came dangerously close to pinning the Premier himself. Sir Joh always denied any knowledge of the corruption

– Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate expose which led to the downfall of then President Richard Nixon

– John Pilger’s Year Zero harrowing story of the rise of the Khmer Rouge brought the devastation experienced in Cambodia into the world’s consciousness

– ‘Hiroshima’ writer John Hersey, a journalist for The New Yorker who reported his one-year later story on the devastated city, with perspectives of individuals who survived.

But these are the obvious. There are the journalists who pursue social injustices, those who dare to cover war first hand and those who simply present balanced facts or well-reasoned arguments, without being deliberately provocative or toeing the ethical line.

Unfortunately it has become increasingly more difficult to find the gold amongst the ore, as the clutter of tabloid and celebrity-news dominates all media.

This week’s announcement that the Australian Government is proposing a new media authority, funded by the Government, again stirs the debate on the rights of the public and of the Fourth Estate. And rightfully. There is historical evidence of Government’s influence over media for its own gain, just as there is evidence of the media’s abuse of its position. In both cases it is the public who loses.

References 

Reuters story on recent Sun newspaper arrests: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/11/us-britain-newscorp-arrests-idUSTRE81A07T20120211

Milly Dowler (story in The Guardian): http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/news-of-the-world-got-milly-dowlers-185302

The Moonlight State: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/08/08/3288495.htm

Year Zero: http://johnpilger.com/videos/year-zero-the-silent-death-of-cambodia

Watergate: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/

Hiroshima: http://www.archive.org/stream/hiroshima035082mbp/hiroshima035082mbp_djvu.txt

Story on Jimmy’s World author Janet Cooke: http://academics.smcvt.edu/dmindich/Jimmy’s%20World.htm

Third columnist on Bush payroll: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/26/politics/main669432.shtml

NY Times story on Jayson Blair: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

Story on Johann Hari: http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/09/unethical-journalism


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