Having watched with utter fascination the incredibly rapidly developing events surrounding the unravelling of the edifice that is the News of the World, I have taken some time to think about what the implications for us, the public, may be.
(A very comprehensive collection of Guardian articles, charting the hacking saga, is to be found on a Guardian page, here.)
Sunday will see the last printed issue of the News of the World. Whatever the reason for Rupert and James Murdoch's apparently sudden decision to 'dump' this long-established title from their News International portfolio - and there are as many theories as there are pundits commenting ad nauseam on our screens, on the radio and in the press - will any of the events of this week make a difference to our lives or our democracy?
Will @mulberrybush, @MagNews and I be able to hang up our keyboards safe in the knowledge that all will now be well with the way the press conducts itself?
The corruption at the News of the World appears to have happened some years ago and those responsible will, with conscientious detection on the part of the Met's new Weeting Inquiry, be eventually brought to book.
There are gloomy predictions that similarly dirty practices will be found in the way other papers developed their scoops and sensational stories.
But even were every journalist, member of the police force and private investigator involved in the phone-hacking or blagging arrested, charged and appropriately punished, we would still be left, in the tabloid papers especially, with examples of the kind of journalism which harms our democracy and well-being.
The media, including the press, can be very influential. They can manipulate opinion.
The writer of the extract below argues that media has little real influence and cites a very good example of a newspaper's attempt to claim credit for swaying the public's choice of Government.
From the Independent:
Leading article: Misunderstanding media influence
Thursday, 1 October 2009
"The Sun newspaper decides to rescind its support for Labour and the political world is turned on its head – or so you would assume from the reaction in the rest of the media yesterday. Sky News spent much of the day reporting on the political reaction to the decision of its News International stable mate. One wonders whether this is a good advert for the media "independence" and "plurality" that James Murdoch spoke up for in Edinburgh in August.
But, in fairness, it was not just News International outlets that were getting excited about this development yesterday. BBC radio and television news programmes were full of coverage of the supposedly crucial development.................All this is over the top. And not just because this change in The Sun's support was heavily signposted and long expected. It is excessive because it reflects a hopeless misunderstanding about the power of the media."
Written just before the last General Election, about the Sun's dramatic announcement that it was switching its support from Labour to the Tories, this article attempts to dispel any belief we may have as to the power of the press to mould opinion.
You will have guessed by the very fact that I help to run this blog, which seeks to help in a small way to bring about a fundamental change in the behaviour of certain elements of our press, that I cannot agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous writer of that piece!
A newspaper may not be capable of manipulating the political leanings of the population by clearly declaring its own. But what it can do, and there are many examples of this behaviour, is to publish confused, partial, even mendacious facts and data.
Below are a few of available links to articles and headlines over the past few months which have been proven untrue or inaccurate:
Factcheck: Is 'Health Tourism' Costing the Taxpayer £200m? - Full Fact
(Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail)
Factcheck: Can the Disabled Claim 'Free' BMWs? - Full Fact
(Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Express)
#pressreform - What's the Truth Behind the ESA Outrage?
More fact - checking can be found on the Channel 4 Factcheck page.
For whatever reason, the careless or deliberate inclusion of skewed or inaccurate facts in articles and headlines is misinforming the reader and misrepresenting the truth. The use of incendiary, insulting, emotive language such as 'scroungers','fiddlers', 'workshy' etc.
When the public are fed the wrong facts, any decision they make, any opinion they develop is not based on truth or accuracy and the paper encouraging rage or contempt is guilty of breaking the trust of us all.
Most journalists are honourable and dedicated to bringing truth and honesty to what they write.
It is the practices of the few which need to be rooted out and exposed.
Hopefully, the promised Judicial Inquiry, announced by David Cameron yesterday, into the culture and practices of the media will ensure that freedom of the press will no longer mean freedom to peddle lies.