Tag Archives: Leveson Inquiry

Money, money, money

Listening to the news this week has been even more horrendous and soul crushing than normal.

The Syrian regime’s bombing of their own people in Homs whilst the world stands back is brutal beyond words.  Why is this different to Libya?  Why is there no concerted international pressure?  Every night on twitter there are messages of support to the French journalist Edith Bouvier, injured in Syria and hoping someone will get her out.  I listened with disgust and horror to Paul Conroy’s widow talking on the radio on Sunday about how the Foreign Office had explained to her that it was too dangerous to send someone to rescue her husband, the Sunday Times photographer who was injured in the bomb blast that killed Marie Colvin.  How she wanted someone to say to hell with the protocol, they were going to go and get him.

I thought the tragic death of  Marie Colvin  (read her final report for The Sunday Times here) might have been a game changer, but apparently not.  When the news came in of her death it made me realise that this is a true journalist, someone who believed that the independent reporting was essential and would go to any lengths regardless of her own personal safety to get the truth.  I thought back to the Leveson Inquiry into Media Ethics and J K Rowling’s testament, where she talked about there being two types of journalists, those of the calibre of Marie Colvin who are essential to ensure a fair and democratic society, and the other sort that just invaded her life (and countless other public figures) and caused untold levels of stress and upset for no true journalist purpose. If you have time to read her written witness statement, the extent of press intrusion is quite staggering.  She said they should have a different name, that you could not compare the two.  J K Rowling is absolutely right.  We distinguish between photo-journalists and the paparazzi, we should do the same for journalists and what I don’t know.  Muck-raker hacks?  Bottom-feeder fantasists?  Mmm not that catchy.  I think they need some work.

Yesterday the Leveson Inquiry heard from the Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commission, Sue Akers who said “there was a cultural of illegal payments” at The Sun.  Bribery was openly discussed.  Multiple payments were made to officials in Government, Police, Prisons, Health Service.  One journalist was given £150,000 for payments to “sources” not for stories in the public interest but for “salacious gossip”

This coming the day after the launch of The Sun on Sunday, and Rupert Murdoch crowing that he had sales of 3 million yesterday.  Do you think Murdoch knew what was coming and rushing out that launch before Sue Akers’ statement?

It is worth pointing out this is The Sun, not the News of the World.  The Sun.  The Sun that accused other papers of a witch-hunt against them last week.   The levels of corruption just make me sick.  But what worries me more is, is anything actually going to change?   We have to ensure that they do, and we can all start by not buying The Sun, ever.  I am surprised twitter haven’t started a campaign to boycott major Sun advertisers too.  We have to stand up and say we will not accept this.

If that wasn’t bad enough Barclay’s Bank, the only British High Street bank that didn’t need a handout from the Government during the financial crisis has been outed as trying to claw back £0.5 billion from the Treasury on tax it hadn’t even paid.  This being announced on the day that Occupy London protesters were removed by bailiffs.

So one of the very few voices daring to question the ethical nature of big business practices has been snuffed out on the day one of those billion pound companies are found to be “trying it on again”.

Really I am not feeling a lot of hope today for the future of this country.  How have we got into this mess?  What is the answer?  Everywhere in my own life I meet with decent, kind, honest people.  I have experienced altruism on life-affirming levels.  I think I a fairly moral and decent person.    Is it true, is it as simple as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?   I haven’t even touched on the Workfare scheme.  News out last night was that McDonalds had taken £20 millions from it and used it to enhance their existing employees, they had  not created one single job, Asda have started cutting the hours of paid workers and using the unpaid labour instead.  These again are companies making millions every year.

Is it endemic?  How can we stand up and say not in my name?  Any thoughts and views are extremely welcome.  Surely if we all  stick together and say we demand better we can make a difference?

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The Depressing Truth about the British Tabloids

As someone scandalised by the despicable phone hacking practices of our gutter press long before the story broke about the hacking of Millie Dowler’s voice mail messages, I thought the Leveson Inquiry wouldn’t be telling me anything new.

And maybe it hasn’t. But what it has done has confirmed and compounded how profoundly scurrilous the actions of the tabloid press have been.  When it came to getting the “story” no behaviour, and I mean no behaviour, was off-limits. If you haven’t been listening to the proceedings, let me bring you up to date.

From Millie Dowler’s parents and their heart-breaking testimony of private moments grieving for their daughter were splashed across the front page.  How they were given false hope when messages from Millie’s phone had been deleted.

From Hugh Grant debunking that tired tabloid myth that film publicists need the oxygen of tabloid publicity.

From Steve Coogan about the lies written about him during a friend’s very painful episode. (Owen Wilson’s alleged suicide attempt) and how it was better to say nothing so as not to give the story “legs”.

Sienna Miller as a 21 old year old girl being chased down the road at nighttime by 10 to 15 men with cameras and other cameramen spitting at her to get the reaction shot. Of having a terminally ill child photoshopped out of a picture so the tabloid could make up a story about her being drunk and abusive.

And the McCanns, still searching for their daughter, talking about the lies printed about them, sometimes opinions of one official being printed as cold fact. Cameramen swarming their car, banging on the windows, frightening their other children. (Indeed a journalist from the Daily Mail on 5live after their testimony said the McCanns let the Express  continue to print all those lies about their missing daughter so they could get a better payout for the Madeleine fund, which was broke.  Words failed me that afternoon.  It was a real insight into the culture of the tabloid journalist.  People so mean-spirited, so lacking in any kind of compassion of fellow humans, yet are the conduit for information and opinion to a large swath of society. As a force of malign influence it was genuinely frightening.)

On and on it continued, huge waves of damming testimony detailing deeply shameful actions of a section of the British press.

J K Rowling on receiving a note from a journalist, in her 5 year old’s school book bag. About how no-one gives you a manual when you become a house-hold name, so she mistakenly thought if she didn’t include her children in any publicity they would left alone. And how wrong she was.

Even today Charlotte Church about the devastating effect on her family when they too became cannon fodder for the papers, how people at Murdoch allegedly asked her to waive a £100,000 fee in lieu of good publicity at the beginning of her career, and how she was advised this was a good deal.  How it made her feel as a 15 year old girl when a paper ran a clock counting down the days until she reached the age of consent.

Anne Diamond, also today, about the death of her baby son, how reporters were at her door an hour after the tragic event.  How she wrote to every editor in Fleet Street asking them for privacy at the funeral.  How the Sun defied her wishes and printed a picture, this after a phone call from the editor requesting permission was denied by the family. The editor’s words ” we are running it, the picture is so strong”.

The same themes recurred, press complaints commission were powerless, it was often better not to react.  That if a complain was made and upheld, the subsequent apology was printed in the middle of the paper and the small fine was no real deterrent to printing lies and falsehoods to get a front page scoop.

How untrue stories were often printed with an anonymous by-line, how the ubiquitous “sources close to the” subject of the story were either obtained from hacked messages, or in many cases just made up.

And how papers saying they have cleaned up their act have done no such thing.

The most depressing element of this story is, it is all for profit. Tabloids are not in the business of information, they are in the business of making money, and lots of it, and all at the expense of truth and human suffering.

Over the course of the inquiry the extent to which tabloids themselves have covering this story is laughable, it has been so miniscule.  This is what worries me the most.  What happens if even after this tsunami of appalling practices has been evidenced, nothing changes?  I want a free press, that uncovers political and corporate scandals, that covers wars and events aboard  and works for the good of this wonderful country.   I don’t want privacy laws that will impede true investigative journalists.  But there needs to be a code of ethics drawn up and heavy penalties imposed for anyone contravening it.

And tabloid editors if I was drawing up your code my first rule would be this.  If you print lies about anyone, your retraction will be writ large on the front page.

I live in hope.

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