Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hugh Grant takes moral high ground

NOW that the BBC and The Guardian have forced the rest of the media to wake up to the hacking scandal, it is time to return to this subject.
I have written before that an Editor ought to know the strength of the source of a story that is being considered for publication.
That is why Andy Coulson had to resign from the News of the World. Either an Editor knows that a story is based on hacking mobile phones, in which he or she is complicit in breaking the law, or not, in which case the Editor is not doing the job properly.
At first sight, Rebecca Brooks, or Ward as she was when she edited The News of the World before Coulson, and later The Sun, seems to be in an untenable position.
As chief executive of News International, the publishing overlords of the two Murdock red-tops, she has now sent an e-mail to all staff saying how appalled she is that murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was hacked by a private detective working for The News of The World. She pledged that every effort would be made to get to the bottom of this allegation.
Her move comes the same day that it was revealed that the families of the Soham murders may also have had their mobiles hacked, when Ms Wade was editor.
Roy Greenslade, a leading media commentator, and himself a former red-top Editor, has called this e-mail disingenuous.
It is difficult to disagree with his analysis. Whether she knew of such activities or not, she was culpable.
The British Press is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Dirty tricks have become endemic in its fierce culture. A former Sun journalist once told me the only editorial policy worth telling journalists to remember was: Get it first, but first get it right. He might have added the adverb: Legally.
The absence of this qualifying word from the culture of national newspapers has led to subterfuge, bullying and bribery becoming common practice to lesser or greater degrees, depending on which newspaper journalists work for.
Actor Hugh Grant was on 24-hour television last night arguing for a public inquiry not just into the actions of journalists, but also the police for failed previous investigations and politicians for being too buddy with newspapers, particularly Rupert Murdoch’s. He called it a cosy cabal.
He has long led a campaign for protection of privacy, which until recently has been largely restricted to celebrities like entertainers, footballers and politicians.
It is interesting to see where this shift in public opinion may go, with England footballer Rio Ferdinand’s legal action against the Sunday Mirror for reporting his alleged affairs being a good yardstick. It comes to something when Hugh Grant comes to represent the moral compass of the nation. But now that ordinary people are seen to be victims of the phone-hacking scandal, I suspect he represented the views of most of the public. We live in interesting times.