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Journalists have always had their critics. Back in the days of typewriters and carbon paper complaints would arrive in the post, often scraw...

10 November 2011

Rehashing Hacking; Enough

OK, let's get the obvious out of the way first.

Phone hacking is wrong. It's in the same league as spying on neighbours through uncurtained windows. Anyone who could even consider deleting the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl is a bad person.

We know now that regrettable things happened in the noughties involving a number of hard-bitten, amoral reporters and a loophole in mobile phone security; a trick which, until it was fixed, was ludicrously easy to exploit. We know because The Guardian exposed it, and that's entirely legitimate.

The story behind the story, of course, is that The Guardian hates Murdoch. It's tribal.

The paper tried repeatedly to put phone hacking on the agenda before the story gained any traction in broadcast media or the body politic. Having tasted blood, they thirst for more. The scandal closed the News of the World; James Murdoch looks vulnerable as I write this. Even Rupert is wounded.

Their lust for righteous gratification comes at a time when local and regional media are under strain. 

Alan Rusbridger's metropolitan sophisticates probably don't realise it, but every new twist they attempt in the phone-hack tale makes life more difficult for hard-working, low paid journos in every local newsroom in every corner of the UK.

I do media training for public and private organisations.

It's startling, in these sessions, to learn how professionals as diverse as police officers, business leaders, elected councillors and charity workers assume, as a given, that snooping and phone hacking are widespread practices in local radio and print newsrooms across West Yorkshire. They're not.

Trainee journalists are taught that every repetition of a false claim is a new libel.

They also learn that 'journalists' is too vague a group for any false statements about them to be actionable. But local journalists are repeatedly defamed, in the moral if not the legal definition, by endlessly recycled, self-serving phone-hack allegations.

My message to the Murdoch-haters is simple. You've had your moment .. if not in the sun, then at least sticking it to The Sun. Fight other, more worthwhile battles to preserve parliamentary privilege, or to protect journalists' sources, by all means.

But out here in the real world, the dreary, grey and provincial world we report and which the Guardianisas so detest, ordinary decent journalists are hacked off dealing with the consequences of their obsession.

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