With every revelation that spills out of the Leveson inquiry the reputation of journalism in the UK seems to sink deeper into the black, oozing mire. Hacking, blagging, deal-fixing … the allegations mount.
Who would want to stand up for the not-so-noble trade of journalism is this context? Well, I’ll have a quick go …
Journalism in this country is mostly about … well, reporting the news. Yes, that “news agenda” is shaped by not-always-very-transparent forces (decisions taken by news editors, issue/personalities that are heavily-PR’d), but there is, it has to be said, a healthy variety of news reporting going on in Britain (not least with the advent of social media and other online newsgathering and “citizen journalism” activities).
Hmm. After all we’ve so far learnt at Leveson, am I being too rosy-eyed? No, I don’t think so, and one very good piece of evidence on my side is the healthy state of entries to Amnesty’s media awards. The shortlisted entries have just been announced, here are a few examples of what I’m talking about: the Guardian’s reporting of how the police have infiltrated UK protest movements, Marie Colvin’s reporting from Homs for the Sunday Times (and similarly excellent work by numerous other journalists working in dangerous circumstances in Syria in the past year), Jerome Taylor’s reporting on Belarus for the Independent, various powerful editions of Channel 4’s estimable Unreported World series, Radio 5’s Victoria Derbyshire show broadcasting live from Guantánamo Bay last year … the list goes on.
“We all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch”, David Cameron said in PMQs today, and the full extent of the cosying up and what it means is still to emerge. Some individual parts of the UK media are apparently stuck deep in the quagmire and a major clean-up is undoubtedly overdue. However, not only are most journalists in my experience hard-working (yes sometimes a bit pushy but normally very hard-working), dedicated and getting on with the job of producing decent copy and broadcast programmes, they are also absolutely vital in any properly-functioning democracy.
Also, it’s worth remembering that the Leveson inquiry probably wouldn’t have come about at all had it not been for a long period of high-quality investigative reporting into the scandal from journalists in the UK, not least the Guardian’s Nick Davies. In his latest write-up of Leveson (Frédéric Michel, Jeremy Hunt etc), Davies talks about “this strange affair” and how it “may yet reach deep into the heart of government and do its damage there”. That’s the point. Journalism uncovers corruption, wrongdoing, human rights abuse … all manner of things that perpetrators would prefer to keep hidden. In some countries digging into the nexus of media-governmental relations could earn you the sack or get you killed. In just the time that the Leveson inquiry has been sitting (since 14 November) at least 22 journalists around the world have been killed in the course of doing their job (according to Committee to Protect Journalist figures).
So, yes, I reckon journalism in this country is worth celebrating. And if you want me to sing it in a little ditty … I will! “Good-quality journalism matters, it’s not all Leveson mud-spattered.” Songwriters of the world, eat your hearts out …
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