- Published on Tuesday, 19 April 2011 02:00
Everyone loves the investigative reporter. They fight red-tape, faint clues and reluctant editors to pick up the major “scoop”. Everyone hates ethics. They are cumbersome, boring and frustrating, but we deem them necessary to preserve a thin semblance of order in society. But above and beyond everyone loves a good ol’ scandal.
Nothing whets our appetites more than the fall of a giant, and finding out the sordid details behind that collapse (sorry Tiger). The recent revelation of the phone hacking scandal, that has gripped British society and caught Sky News hitting the “loop” button on their news bulletin, is an example of the perilous mix of investigative reporting, ethics and scandal.
The “recent” revelation of the phone hacking together with police bribe scandal perpetuated by the tabloid, the News of the World, could fool someone into thinking that this is at all recent. The allegations that have been made against the News of the World have been levelled at them for the last ten years. They have single-handedly raised the children of various lawyers by the amount of legal fees they have settled over the period. They have even been arrests; their former Royal Editor was imprisoned for hacking into Prince William’s phone back in 2007.
So why has this all blown up almost suddenly? Perhaps the fact is as the public we place a lesser ethical burden on what newspapers do to celebrities. Everyone loves to hear of a politician caught up in an S&M orgy with Nazi overtones or a drunken celebrity spewing their hatred for Jews, black people and homosexuals or a “love-rat” footballer caught on tape with one of their mistresses.
But when it emerged that they may have hacked into the phone of a missing schoolgirl, who in fact had been murdered by a vicious paedophile and then proceeded to delete the messages on her phone to free up the mailbox, the tone changed dramatically. The ethical standard is suddenly raised and the hope of a scandal takes a violent U-turn and ironically engulfed the scandal-hunting tabloid. Further accusations of the hacking of London bombing victims and returning soldiers, has further fuelled the fires around the Media Empire. But everyone knows that the scandal goes beyond the Murdoch media empire but to journalists around the world.
In the 24/7 world of our 21st Century internet-driven society the need for news to come thick and fast is plain to see. We want our news quick but more importantly it must grab our interest. Journalists must go to the ends of the Earth to find a story and cross various supposedly ethical lines (alas, I got as far as my computer). With that attitude undoubtedly a story would be found but the costs are that people can’t live in a world where they worry what they say over the phone or whether they can’t trust the police because they are being paid by some journalist.
In both the UK and South Africa different measures are being taken to rein in the media. What is needed is not lengthy Parliament Acts but the media to take a long hard look at itself and evaluate what it believes it can and cannot do. Only then could there be a balance between the investigative reporting, ethics and our love of scandal.