Donald Trelford: Murdoch's enemies are winning this battle

Media Studies: One sometimes feels that The Guardian won't stop campaigning until Coulson is behind bars

Share
Related Topics

Even though phone-hacking at the News of the World has been the dominant media story of the past few years, it cut little ice at last week's Press Awards. It was short-listed for scoop of the year, but lost (ironically) to the News of the World for its cricket corruption story. Even though The Guardian, the leader of the campaign, was named newspaper of the year, the citation (deliberately, one suspects) mentioned only its WikiLeaks revelations.

Is it that the newspaper world is collectively embarrassed, or even in denial, or that it thinks final judgement should be suspended until the Metropolitan Police have completed their second inquiry? It was certainly an awkward coincidence for the organisers that two senior News of the World executives were arrested on the day of the awards ceremony. Even so, the paper won several individual awards and the editor, Colin Myler, looked defiantly unembarrassed when he went on stage to collect one.

News International's defences seemed to be collapsing, however, as the week wore on. Apologies were made to eight celebrities for raiding their voicemails. A legal offer was made to bring all 24 complainants under the umbrella of a collective class action. Millions of pounds have been paid out in compensation and many more seem likely to follow. The assumption being made from these concessions is that the phone-tapping was "rife."

Meanwhile, Andy Coulson, who has had to give up two top jobs over the affair – as editor of the paper and as communications director to David Cameron – is walking his dog and planning a climbing expedition while he awaits the outcome of the police inquiry. One sometimes feels that The Guardian won't stop campaigning until Coulson is behind bars.

Where does that leave those, including this writer, who have argued that the affair has been overblown? Obsessive and hysterical were two of the words I used in these pages to describe the campaign – "a case of dog eats dog gone barking mad."

The points I have been making are that the phone-tapping happened a long time ago, that it wasn't confined to one paper, that lessons have been learnt, that the editors' ethical code has since been strengthened, that raking it all over so persistently was damaging the press's ability to fight for better legal safeguards for freedom of expression, and that we should wait for the results of the police inquiry. I would now add that the arrested editors have not been charged, let alone convicted, and that I still believe in Coulson's personal integrity.

I felt that The Guardian's campaign was not just motivated by a concern for media ethics, but to undermine for commercial reasons Murdoch's bid to get full control of BSkyB and – while Coulson was in Downing Street – to weaken Cameron and the coalition government.

I also found something dishonest in The Guardian's presentation of Leslie Ash's picture on the front page last week. This is a paper that affects to despise the celebrity culture, yet chooses to parade one – and one that Guardian readers would hardly know – simply because she provided evidence to support their case.

The police have yet to report and until they do the game isn't over. I have to admit, however, that The Guardian and the other papers that support it, including this one, seem to be winning – and if they succeed, maybe it will show that you need to be a bit obsessive to win such marathons.





How better to judge the Press Awards



There was a muted response among guests at the Savoy awards ceremony to The Guardian's nomination as newspaper of the year, and one could just imagine the swearing and smashing of crockery among infuriated rivals from Kensington to Canary Wharf. The Society of Editors, who have commendably taken over this event, point out that it was decided by an "academy" of over a hundred distinguished journalists, including the editors who were so upset by the verdict.

Having been involved in press awards myself for about 35 years – I have judged four different awards in the past few weeks and even won the odd one as an editor in the distant past – I can sympathise with both sides. How do you decide between the serious papers and the Mails, the Mirrors and unashamed red-tops like The Sun and the News of the World – for which second group the public itself may be said to vote by buying many more copies? They use very different skills to address wholly different audiences. How do you compare a 5,000-word interview in The Sunday Times magazine with one of 600 words (if the writer's lucky) in a red-top tabloid?

The answer is that you have to try, and to do that fairly you need judges who understand all kinds of papers. An "academy" sounds utterly respectable and independent, but it lacks a crucial element in the judging process – the clash of argument. The judges sit in isolation in front of their keyboards, not knowing what the others are thinking.

When I was chairman of the awards, I set up what I hoped was an independent group of experienced journalists to judge the newspaper of the year, none of whom had any current association with any of the titles under review. Looking back, I can see that we didn't get it quite right.

The panel was too old and too masculine, too heavily weighted in favour of former editorial executives rather than writers, and it didn't take enough note of circulation success in reaching its decisions. But I still think that the best way to proceed would be for a carefully chosen group of neutral and experienced hacks to sit round a table behind closed doors and hammer it out together.



Donald Trelford was Editor of The Observer, 1975-93, and is Emeritus Professor of Journalism Studies at Sheffield University.



Stephen Glover is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

Amanda Hess
Armed RCMP officers approach Centre Block on Parliament Hilll  

Ottawa shooting: A shock attack in a peaceful nation

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink