Ian Burrell: All journalists are at risk of being tarnished by this affair

What we've reached is the end of the road for anything-goes, dog-eat-dog journalism

Share
Related Topics

What now for British journalism? Once again its working practices are stained in the eyes of those who consume it, and once more it will face a humiliating and public examination of how it goes about its business. It will undertake that process shorn of one of its most famous names, the News of the World (NOTW), which has breathed its last and joined Today, the Daily Sketch and countless other national titles which exist now only in the archive of the British Library.

The NOTW is set to be replaced by a Sun on Sunday. It could even see its own 168-year-old masthead re-emerge Phoenix-like from the ashes of the hacking scandal, as there is interest outside News Corp in resurrecting the brand. But despite this, it is clear that journalism has been indelibly tainted by this shameful affair.

When "Her Majesty's Press" is next required to seek the assistance of citizens in compiling dispatches from the scene of a tragedy, it may find it harder than before to secure co-operation and make the case that it is performing a quasi-public service.

Crime reporters who are required to find the inside track on a police investigation are likely to discover that officers, wary of the uproar over News International's alleged payment of more than £100,000 to Scotland Yard officials, will decline even the most innocent of encounters.

And MPs, perhaps even local councillors, will fear getting too close to the media. Already wary after being stung by journalists over their expenses claims, elected officials can see that cosy relationships with the press can be just as damaging.

Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors, asks the public to recognise that there are 20 national newspapers and 1,300 regional ones in Britain, and not judge all reporters by the standards of a few. He also says people in positions of authority should not be afraid to maintain relationships with journalists. "There's nothing wrong with the odd cup of tea or pint of beer or being invited to lunch," he says.

There must be a real risk that British journalism finds itself weakened and marginalised by the backlash, leaving it closer to the poodle of a French press that consistently fails to hold those in power to account. "The fallout from the phone-hacking affair will be felt by journalists well beyond Wapping," says Ian Reeves, a lecturer at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent. "The danger is that the public's justifiable anger over the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone ends up blinding them to the importance of a free and robust press."

Reeves also fears the damage inflicted on the entire news media by the hacking scandal will "strengthen further the invidious influence of the world of PR".

Publicists and communications specialists have already seen their status, relative to journalists, increased by the difficult commercial conditions under which most media companies operate. The muscle of the PR business in restricting press access may already have been a factor in the behaviour of those desperate NOTW workers who were prepared to break the law for a scoop.

Mark Borkowski, a prominent PR professional, says: "It's quite hysterical that a publicist or PR man can now say that journalists' reputation is worse than theirs. It's going to give grubby PR companies – those laundering reputations – more power."

Equally damaging is the potential effect that this scandal will have on younger generations. With many teenagers disengaged from the traditional news media, few will see any reason to become the readers of the future in the light of such scandalous behaviour by its professional proponents.

Bright graduates are hardly likely to be attracted to a trade that is already struggling to offer the financial rewards of traditionally comparable sectors.

Yet, despite all this, George Brock, a professor in journalism at City University, London and a former senior executive on The Times, believes that good can come out of the episode. It was, he points out, other journalists who brought the scandal to light.

"I don't think all of journalism is in crisis," he says. "What we've reached is the end of the road for anything-goes, dog-eat-dog journalism practised in some – note, some, and not all – daily newspapers.

"Either those bad practices are going to die out because of exposure or they're going to be reined in by enhanced regulation," he adds.

React Now

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

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride