Journalists Be Ashamed - I Am

2012-07-25 16:59

By Martin McGhee

For 40-years now, man and beast, it's been my lot to have been a member of a proud, or once proud profession, journalism. Now in light of the hacking revelations at The News of the World and allegations of similar incidents at The Sun and, God help us, The Sunday Times, I feel tainted.

Twenty of my 40-years has been in newspapers, to the level of managing-editor and I can honestly say I have never, never ever, countenanced or considered so-called chequebook journalism or the paying of any money to anyone in pursuit of a story.  I have banned it and forbidden it on pain of dismissal. Now it has become the norm and formerly ethical publications all over the world have succumbed to this odious practice.

Hacking into the voice messages or e-mails belonging to victims of crime or people who are in the limelight because they are celebrities is morally reprehensible and naturally, criminal. However, the hacking comes as a direct consequence of chequebook flashing by media barons in pursuit of profit, profit, profit.

The biggest single danger encountered in paying for stories is that the subjects sometimes flush with thousands of pounds, are liable to exaggerate, lie or enhance their experiences in pursuit of their filthy lucre and 15-minutes of fame. None more so than the celebrity "love rats" so beloved by the red top tabloids. And this is where absolute and sickening hypocrisy comes into play - an hypocrisy that is so astounding it can barely be digested by discerning readers.

Take for instance the recent exposure by The Sun of Manchester United's Ryan Giggs's extra marital dalliances. First of all I take issue with The Sun (something I regularly do) with their breathtaking assertions that the footballer's affairs were in the "public interest". How so? Would Giggs and his affair bring down the government, cause riots to erupt in the streets or put someone's life in danger? Well, hardly. It was something to be kept private betwen a married couple who should have been left alone to sort out their own problems.

Sadly however, as a brief  aside, I have to recognise that these stories are big sellers and the Great British Public lap them up while pouring millions' more into the Murdoch coffers. But that's something beyond my ambit at this stage.

What I find arrogant and indefensible is The Sun's pseudo moral stance whereby it refers to someone like Giggs as the "love rat" and the woman as a victim. Oh, please! We weren't born yesterday and neither was the woman involved. To be frank, it turned out later that she had "been around a bit" - and how. The "victim" was paid a lot of money for her story and although The Sun won't admit that, it is nowadays a given. They'll certainly never reveal how much they paid.

The "victim" then goes on to make piles of money, appearing in "celebrity" reality TV shows, chat shows, somehow finding time to come up with further "revelations" as follow-up stories - "exclusives" just revealed, which were in fact written in sequence days in advance. But let the "victim" once, just once step out of line or if she is featured in an opposition publication, then she becomes a "tart". The circular saw of the hypocritical oath.

A journalist's task is to seek out the truth using experience gained at the coalface over the years and not to take the easy route of offering money for information. Frankly, it disgusts me as do undercover reporters posing as Arab Sheikhs or carrying concealed video cameras.

That's not reporting the news. That's creating it and, sin-of-sins in the world of journalism, becoming a part of it.

Damn these people - I can hardly hold my head up these days.

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