Phone-hacking: 'News of the World' was not alone to do it
In the cut and thrust of British tabloid journalism, the fact that 'News of the World' illegally accessed mobile phones to ferret out information to be used in sensational stories is not exactly breaking news.Updated: Jul 10, 2011 17:14 IST
In the cut and thrust of British tabloid journalism, the fact that 'News of the World' illegally accessed mobile phones to ferret out information to be used in sensational stories is not exactly breaking news.
What really 'changed the world last week' – as Labour leader Ed Miliband put it on Sunday – was the fact that the targets of phone hacking were no longer only celebrities, but also victims of crime, and terrorism (July 7 London bombing) and kin of soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As long as the targets were celebrities, the cosy but unhealthy relationship between press, politics and the police in British public life was undisturbed.
So was the practice of 'chequebook journalism' - the practice of paying for information, interviews or exclusive access – in an intensely competitive and profit-driven environment.
This practice involved hiring private investigators for information. But public revulsion welled up and everything hit the ceiling when it was revealed that the targets included Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager whose case was widely covered, and family members of dead soldiers.
Until then, many tabloids and their journalists indulged in the same news-gathering practices that brought down the 'News of the World' and seriously dented the influence and shares of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Mike Jempson, director of media ethics organisation MediaWise, said: "Hacking into people's mobile phones is only the latest in a long line of illicit activities by journalists seeking salacious headlines and prurient stories.
The behaviour of journalists and executives at the News of the World is not the whole story".
He added: "As long ago as 2006 the then Information Commissioner revealed that over 300 journalists from 32 publications had obtained over 3,000 items of personal information by illegal means from just one private investigator.
It's time newspaper editors came clean about any underhand methods they have used in the past."
Staurt Allan, professor of journalism at Bournemouth University, said: "This is a sad day for British journalism.
As we sift through the smouldering ruins of a once-proud newspaper, however, we should seize the opportunity to think anew about how to improve the quality of our press".