It’s a momentous day not only for British journalism, but for global media. The News of the World closure has ignited public debate and political upheaval. There’s a renewed distrust of reporting as the 168-year-old paper bids a grandiose goodbye to over seven million readers. A foray of witty headlines erupted including; City A.M.’s ‘End of the World’, The Daily Mail’s ‘Hacked to death’ and The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Goodbye, cruel World’. An abundance of news broadcasters, including Sky, have been preoccupied with the NOTW’s phone-hacking outrage for the last week. But aside to the scandal itself, a number of worrying issues have been brought to light. They are issues to do with public morality, political corruption and journalistic dishonesty.
In a smirch that’s been unravelling since 2007, it wasn’t until revelations that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked that public outcry really surfaced. Well that, and the phone-hacking of a number of other innocents including the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and the bereaved families of soldiers in the Iraqi war. In the case of Milly Dowler, it is alleged that the paper deleted her voicemails in an effort to receive more. This fuelled her parents’ hope that their daughter was still alive somewhere. There was no question over the immorality of those actions. They were truly shocking.
Still, the celebrity revelations were overlooked. That the phone calls of such public figures as Sir Alex Ferguson, Sienna Miller and the Royal family were intercepted seemed to be less of a moral dilemma. Almost as though the public were entitled to knowledge of celebrities’ private lives. Are we? Where does the public figure end and the private person begin? We’ve all had a laugh at the super-injunction fiasco that has unearthed more not-so-startling football affairs, such as those of John Terry and Ryan Giggs. But while we sit back forlorn that non-celebs are victimised in the media, no one seems to figure in the point that although Terry and Giggs are firmly in the public eye, their children, parents, and even cousins, are not.
More than ever, the scandal has also highlighted the tight grip the media has over political matters. Without its support, politicians stand no chance of getting into office, as was so proved by the Coulson/Cameron partnership. Furthermore is Cameron’s decision over whether to please media-giant Rupert Murdoch or the public in the BSkyB bid. Newspapers, broadcasters and online news play the largest directive in political happenings. It raises the issue of how this relationship will fare in the ever-increasing influence of web journalism, in a space where, perhaps, the governmental grip of control is compromised. China’s internet regulations are frighteningly exemplar of how web clamp-downs can so effectively oppress a nation.
And finally, the whole journalistic world has been brought into disrepute since the phone-hacking story began dominating news headlines. It was a story that wavered between the front page and any number of leafs towards the sports section. This week it was internationally ground-breaking news. But sadly, it has brought about deep criticism of the media world. Because although the media is undoubtedly manipulated by advertising and marketing, it still serves the public. It sheds light on issues we’d never otherwise hear of; on everything from local thefts to transport news, from the banking crisis to the human-trafficking pandemic: whether local, national or international, journalism is a public necessity.
The Evening Standard said Tony Blair called for a major public debate about the media’s role in society. But what does Mr Blair hope such a debate would achieve? Like politicians, doctors, teachers and every other profession: journalists are largely a group of well-meaning workers plagued by a handful of regrettably ill-serving individuals. Nothing about the way the world operates is truly fair and just. If it was, there wouldn’t be such corruption and poverty. But overall, journalism is an industry that keeps the privileged in touch with the poor, the public in touch with the private, and all of us in tune with one another. And for that, it’s an industry we need.