With everything that’s going on at the moment, whether in the Courts, at the Leveson Inquiry, or over at Wapping, it’s easy to forget that there are some 1,200 newspapers in the UK, employing thousands of journalists who ply their trade honestly and lawfully.
A number of regional editors gave evidence to Leveson in mid-January. The comparison between the way they go about the task of informing and entertaining the public and some of the activities about which we have all heard so much, was striking.
One of those witnesses was Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph. He made his position crystal clear, so it was interesting to see that he has written an editorial for his readers on the same subject.
The editorial is entitled “Why this bonfire of the journalists is bad for society“. Mike Gilson puts a trenchant case for the public important of a good and close relationship between journalists and the police
Far from journalists and detectives having too cosy a relationship (no one has yet explained why this is wrong by the way) the truth is in the vast majority of cases there is none at all. This is a bad thing.
For the police, a half-witted theory has developed in recent decades that to allow people to know what crimes are happening in their neighbourhood is to encourage the “fear of crime”. I know, I know but what can you do.
Add on top an explosion of press officers to control the message and you actually have a situation that is unhealthy for local democracy. In the circumstances, it’s a wonder that there’s actually been so little expense cash being handed over by newspapers who still have that sort of thing, so hard to come by are the scraps of information on which a journalist must feed.
He goes on to argue that the Leveson Inquiry is being presented with a “distorted picture … of a nation crawling with rapacious hacks who will stop at nothing for a scoop”. The truth is, he argues, that for a variety of reasons, journalism is in crisis.
He then makes an important plea
“All I ask is that we introduce some sanity into the debate about journalism. If the public does not want to fund professional fact gatherers who fearlessly challenge authority then I believe we have a problem in the future. It’s not that we are that important, certainly not as doctors and dare I say it police officers, but I’m also not sure we deserve 10 fraud squad officers bashing down our doors at 5am in the morning”.
The editorial is worth reading in full for a different perspective.
Tony Jaffa is a partner at Foot Anstey where he leads the firm’s editorial, regulatory, and contentious media team and represents a wide range of local and regional newspapers.