Post by Claire Thompson, Freelance PR Consultant, Waves PR
I was wishing, hard, that Google would let me in on Google +. It has, and now suddenly I’m thinking it will take me years to organise my contacts and am somewhat concerned that if I don’t some measurement company will dive in with a measurement tool for ‘influence’ – at the moment my followed is far more than my followers because half of my ‘followed’ don’t have Facebook accounts leave alone Google +, (my gmail account’s always been for private stuff rather than work related). Although I do have a Google profile for my Claire at Waves PR email address which is used to access analytics. I can’t link the two accounts. This will need resolving. My to do list just got longer. It feels like a huge invasion of privacy, but I’m simultaneously compelled to dive in. I may follow Mr Zuckerberg and the Google execs into privacy mode! ((Oops reverse that – they just went back into public again.)
So whilst I’m wishing that perhaps I’d not wished so hard for a Google + account, the big story that’s been raging, of course, is the News of the World telephone tapping debacle. UK print media needed this like a hole in the head! I, like most people, am absolutely appalled that someone can not only tap into a dead girls phone but delete messages that could have helped bring someone to justice sooner. The person concerned lacked any kind of morality and was quite rightly put behind bars.
But before we get hot under the collar about tapping, we should probably get hot under the collar about ethics.
Starting with why the tapping was a bigger story noise wise than the fact that police were bribed for information?
When I was trained in journalism, we were told about how to record. The implication was that if you were about to expose misdoings, shortcomings and corruption that wouldn’t be dealt with by the police, the end justified the means. Segments of media proved themselves unworthy of this trust, and the laws changed (although the cynical might suggest that law changes were less about invasion of privacy and more about politicians wanting protection).
So what did the News of the World stand for? Celebrity gossip and ‘exposes’. The celebrity gossip was becoming less tenable. We can hear from the horses mouth about our celebrities, with much more integrity than the constant rumou-mongering – David Beckham was the first to tell the world this week about the arrival of Harper Seven and share a beautiful picture of his heavily pregnant wife. Whilst there’s a demographic that won’t go online for information, the middle man’s value was diminishing on a daily basis.
And whilst the superinjunction story still has a long way to run, I’m sure I’m not alone in not being the least bit interested in where celebrity reporter Andrew Marr’s putting his private bits (although the irony of coming clean only after no damage could be done hasn’t escaped me).
No, celebrity isn’t losing it’s it’s currency, but the papers as a source of celebrity information are losing credibility rapidly.
But the other end of the journalism spectrum, the one where *good* journalism - or should I say journalism for good – searches out and exposes wrongdoing, there is all to play for. It’s the bit where small bloggers don’t have the resources or protection to investigate. Good investigative journalism is something I’d still be prepared to pay for from a trusted source. Or at very least regularly visit online (= advertising revenues).
Yes, there are big blogs out there. The Huffington Post is a good read, but mainly because it’s covering stuff that’s relevant to me professionally. I’m not sure it’s roster of social media and PR superstars really comment and report rather than breaking stories of national interest. Important, yes, but not in the same league.
If we try and control people’s behaviour using the law, we limit their ability to do those things for ‘good’ as well as for ‘evil’.
So whilst illegal phone tapping in the Millie Dowler case was very wrong, and very rightly dealt with within the bounds of the law, I’m not sure I’d want to hang any journalist out to dry if they’ve uncovered police wrongs and government misdoings, which they are unlikely to get ‘permission’ to do legally. If the tapping has uncovered the whereabouts of a missing child or paedophile ring, does the end justify the means?
Do we run the risk of playing into the hands of corrupt politicians and bad apple police officers if we throw the baby out with the bathwater and condemn ALL tappers?
Before we start baying for the blood of people who have tapped phones (and, incidentally, just to be clear, I never have), we should perhaps define what we *do* want. Is it to stop illegal tapping or is it to encourage greater levels of justice and truth?
Are people aware that their phones can be tapped at any time by Government bodies, without too much ado? Which is fine if they’re trying to stop me defrauding the treasury or running drugs, but if they want to find out where I’m planning a (legal) demonstration/protest? Or stop me fighting for some kind of equality?
The big debate shouldn’t be about what people are/are not allowed to do. We *should* be discussing where the line we shouldn’t cross really falls. What we *do* want from our media.
It’s a harder debate than hanging journalists out to dry. But before we throw the baby out with the bath water, perhaps we should consider the old maxim: Be careful what you wish for – you may just get it!!