Richard Ingrams: We call them news stories – others call them 'the product'

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The Independent Online

'Self-generated stuff." This was what the disgraced editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, demanded from his team of journalists, according to tape recordings played on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme.

It is a giveaway expression, an admission that the newspaper is failing to get any stories by conventional means – cultivating informants, meeting or even just phoning possible sources – and therefore has to fall back on manufacturing stories artificially. This involves, most notoriously in the case of the News of the World, entrapment of the likes of Fergie or George Galloway, with the help of a bogus sheikh or, as is now made clear, hacking the phones of prominent people on a massive scale in the hope of chancing on something scandalous.

You can see the advantage from Rupert Murdoch's point of view. Imprisoned in Fortress Wapping, News of the World journalists have no cause ever to leave the office, thus saving the proprietor a small fortune in expenses and lost man hours. Meanwhile, the dirty work can be outsourced to private detectives, and technology does the rest.

Understandably people are primarily interested in the criminal aspect of this way of doing business. But if they want papers to survive, journalists ought perhaps to be more concerned about what is nowadays referred to as "the product".

There is a case for prisoners voting

The Daily Mail's headline yesterday told us that MPs had rejected the European Court's ruling that "prisoners must get the vote".

But that isn't quite right. Prisoners have had the vote already and it has since been taken away from them. What those angry MPs are saying is that it shouldn't be given back.

But the European Court is right. The vote, for which men fought and for which women chained themselves to the railings, ought not to be thought of as something that can be taken away as if it were a driving licence when offences have been committed.

You could argue that prisoners more than any other class deserve to have the vote before a great many of the people walking the streets in freedom. Quite apart from the fact that a sizeable percentage of them may have been unjustly imprisoned, they have a great deal more time than other groups to consider the issues during election campaigns. And if the aim is to make prisoners into better citizens, then encouraging them to cast their vote responsibly could be considered a progressive step.

But I hear none of our MPs bold enough to make the case. This is odd, seeing how some of them are in the process of being sent to prison themselves.

We mustn't make a fuss over Egypt, must we?

As for events in Egypt, there have been plenty of people protesting angrily about our Government's failure to speak out. Ought we not to have given our unqualified support to the thousands of democrats massed in Cairo? Couldn't somebody, preferably the Prime Minister himself, have got up and said that President Mubarak should step down – the sooner the better?

An explanation for the general reticence – others might use less a complimentary word – came yesterday in a report from a Times correspondent who has been accompanying Foreign Secretary William Hague on his fact-finding tour around the hot spots of the Middle East. Mr Hague and other government officials, his report said, were "refraining from openly criticising Mr Mubarak 'for fear of lobbing a Molotov cocktail into Tahrir Square'".

You see their point. A word of criticism of the elderly Egyptian president from William Hague, a hugely important and influential figure on the world stage, whose name is daily on the lips of demonstrators, would have spread like wildfire through the crowds. Before you could say Jack Straw, a vast crowd chanting "Hague says go" would have been surging towards the presidential palace. The Molotov cocktail would have been thrown and in only a day or two all of the Middle East would be ablaze.

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