Journalists are suddenly as vilified as politicians. This is not an entirely surprising position for us to be in (yes, I do consider myself a journalist, it’s what I write in the ‘occupation’ bit of forms so it must be true) because traditionally, journalists have not topped the list of most-trusted professions.
But this is different. Since the News Of The World (NOTW) hacking scandal has intensified and recieved global coverage these past few weeks, journalists in Australia are being accused – explicitly and implicitly- of some heinous things. Crimes, in fact.
I do not work for News Ltd. In fact I currently work for one of his competitors – Fairfax publish my newspaper column and I used to work for another of his competitors, ACP Magazines.
So I am not writing this post to apologise for Rupert or News Corp and certainly not for the actions of anyone at NOTW. Hacking into the phones of any person – famous, civilian, dead or alive – is appalling and inexcusable. That’s why Britain is having all manner of police and parliamentary enquiries into this scandal. And so they bloody well should.
However. There are a couple of important points that are being lost as some opportunists seek to draw a line between journalism in the UK and Australia as if we were talking about the same climate, the same media culture. We’re not.
When it was announced that News International were closing NOTW a couple of weeks ago and British media and politicians exploded with references to the “disgust of the British people”, someone on Twitter remarked sarcastically that they thought the British people would express their disgust by buying every single copy of the last edition of NOTW.
How right they were. That is exactly what happened.
So what’s my point? The British newspaper industry (not just those owned by News Corp) is different to the Australian newspaper industry because British readers are different. Very. For so many tabloid publications (over 50 newspapers and tabloid mags) to thrive the way they do, you need a lot of readers who want that kind of tawdry, gossipy, exploitative, low-rent “news”.
In Australia, I don’t think there is the appetite for it. In fact, there isn’t. Or else we would have the same kind of tabloid culture here. Supply and demand.
Consider this: many of the tabloids including The Sun, STILL have a topless or semi-naked page 3 girl. Imagine an Australian newspaper trying that. That’s just one indication that the UK newspaper audience is very very different to the Australian one, with different demands and expectations. My point is this: if there is no demand for a product, it doesn’t exist. If public attitudes and mores don’t embrace a certain type of content, it won’t be produced.
So along with the tabloids and media proprietors, the ‘disgusted’ British public, should ask itself some questions. Could their voracious appetite for scandal, sleaze and intimate private details about the lives of public figures have contributed to the disgusting behaviour of certain journalists? Not excused it – there is no excuse for hacking someone’s phone – but contributed to it.
I have never worked on staff at a newspaper but I have many friends who are current and former editors, section editors, writers, cadets…..I am close to people who have worked at every levels of newspapers – tabloids and broadsheets in several different cities over decades. Never have I ever heard even a whisper about hacking phones.
Perhaps it has gone on. It’s impossible to generalise or vouch for the ethics of every journalist in Australia, it would be like making a generalisation about ‘waiters’ or ‘electricians’. There are unscrupulous operators in every profession. But the implication being made by some that illegal practices such as phone hacking is some kind of widespread, enshrined journalistic practice at News Ltd or any other media organisation?
So. Condemn the practices of those journalists and executives who commissioned, sanctioned or stayed silent about phone hacking and other alleged corruption. Every journalist I know – including those at News Ltd – will condemn them right along with you.
But don’t tar all journalists with the same brush.