Hacking scandal? – twas ever thus, says media expert

Issue date: 13 February 2012


The first authoritative book on the 'Hackgate' scandal includes a revealing chapter by Mike Jempson and Wayne Powell from Mediawise based at UWE Bristol. Entitled 'Blame not the mobile phone, twas ever thus' it catalogues many previously untold stories about harm done by an intrusive press behaviour. Phone hacking, they argue, is just the latest underhand tactic used to invade privacy in order to sell newspapers.

Their chapter tells numerous stories where invasive techniques have been used and analyses how the self regulatory bodies have historically failed to take the press to task. From the scandal of payments to witnesses, from the Moors Murder trial in the 1960s to the Fred and Rose West trial in the 1990s, to publication of the 'Squidgygate' tapes and many hurtful and inaccurate stories that have damaged reputations and lives, they demonstrate how journalistic ethics have been ignored for decades.

Mike Jempson says, “The Leveson Inquiry will hopefully result in better regulation and has certainly exposed the darker side associated with phone hacking. But much of what has been said at the Inquiry is old news. We hope a more robust regulatory system will emerge promoting ethical reporting standards. We all benefit from free and independent investigative reporting, but we all lose when the media abuse their power or refuse to admit to mistakes.”

“The growth in social media and the 'blogosphere' also poses new and complex problems as 'citizen journalists' do not necessarily appreciate the legal constraints and consequences of inaccurate reporting, lack of verification and protection of sources, he says. “MediaWise advocates the use of a 'kitemark' for bloggers to indicate that they are striving to report accurately and ethically and will correct errors.”

Mike Jempson was a co-founder of MediaWise in 1993 (when it was known as PressWise) to give a voice to people harmed by unethical journalism. “People with no experience of the media can be easily cajoled or goaded into giving away information they later regret. Of course the changing face of the media, falling advertising revenues and shameful editorial practice has increased the pressure on journalists to grab any titbit that might make headlines and generate sales.”

The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial, edited by Richard Keeble and John Mair (Arima, £19.95) was published earlier this month. Other contributors include Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University and founder of the Hacked Off campaign, and Richard Peppiatt, who resigned from the Daily Star over its alleged Islamophobia.

“The book is intended as a provocative intervention in the current debate over media standards,” says Professor Keeble. “It includes the writings of 31 top academic and journalistic commentators and so incorporates a wide range of contrasting perspectives.Too often academic books lack immediacy; this 'hackademic' text focuses on a major contemporary controversy in ways which both students and the general public should find fascinating.”


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