Is there a crisis in British Journalism? Consider this – Brian Cathcart

13 11 2019

A shameful catalogue of events has been unfolding, but most journalists refuse to face it – or report it.  All of these are current or recent:

  • The Sun published a front-page article needlessly and cruelly drawing attention to traumatic events involving the family of Ben Stokes that took place before the cricketer was even born.
  • That story was written by a reporter with a criminal conviction for handling the stolen mobile phone of a woman MP. His name also frequently crops up in civil litigation about phone hacking.
  • A Spectator columnist who regularly flaunts his loathing for Muslims wrote that all Muslims should be prevented from voting in the general election. When the editor was told this was racist and an incitement to race hatred, he declared it was a joke.
  • The same article, written by a man who has in the past admitted assaulting his pregnant wife and who accepted a police caution for it (though he subsequently denied it happened), also mocked a woman MP who had spoken publicly about surviving domestic abuse.
  • Many of our most prominent political reporters stand accused – by one of their own – of routinely allowing themselves to be used as public mouthpieces for unnamed government sources with a proven record of dishonesty, with the result that they have passed on untruths to their readers and viewers.
  • A retired sports star has accused an unnamed national newspaper of attempting to blackmail him about his HIV-positive health status and also of committing a gross and cruel intrusion into his and his family’s privacy.
  • A senior reporter at the Times has been found in two separate investigations (here and here) to have published a fundamentally false article under the headline ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’, and although almost every detail has been authoritatively disproved the Times has not corrected a word.
  • A 66-page report showed that the same reporter had published other front-page articles which were also fundamentally wrong and which also unjustifiably portrayed Muslims as threatening.
  • Several national newspapers, led by the Times, stand accused of running cruel campaigns of vilification and discrimination directed at transgender people, without regard for accuracy, balance or fairness.
  • Three times this year the Telegraph has had to correct articles by the same columnist (Boris Johnson), demonstrating not only serial negligence by both writer and newspaper but also that being made to print small corrections on inside pages has no effect on the level of care that is taken.
  • The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have complained of a long-running campaign against them by a number of newspapers, involving fabrication, overt bullying and repeated breaches of privacy. The press reaction appears to have been to step up the bullying.
  • The couple have taken the extremely rare step, for royalty, of suing newspapers. The Duchess is suing the Mail on Sunday for unlawfully publishing a private letter and deliberately editing it to distort its meaning. (The paper denies this.) Prince Harry is suing the owners of the Sun and Mirror over phone hacking.
  • Week in, week out in London the Sun is fighting a rearguard action in the courts to avoid admitting that its journalists, like those of the News of the World and the Mirror, illegally hacked phones. People who sue are paid off with large sums, apparently to prevent the evidence being tested at trial.
  • No fewer than five executives currently occupying senior positions at Murdoch papers have been named in phone hacking litigation this month alone – dispelling any notion that the hacking scandal is mere history.
  • Meanwhile the so-called regulator IPSO, which we were told would employ tough sanctions to make the press more accurate and ethical, marked its fifth birthday without having conducted a single investigation in those five years, without having imposed a single fine and without having required a single national paper to publish a front-page correction.
  • And in an open display of contempt for the idea that press regulation should be free of political influence, IPSO has appointed as its new chair a former Conservative government minister who until the day of his appointment was a working Conservative peer.

There is more, but surely that is enough. This state of affairs cannot be defended – and the list doesn’t even begin to address dishonest election coverage.

The promises made by the press industry to clean up its act have clearly proved  false. IPSO’s failure to uphold standards is abject – it may actually be less effective than its disgraced predecessor the Press Complaints Commission.  And the Conservative case that ‘much has changed’ in the press since the Leveson inquiry has fallen apart.

But though there is obviously a crisis, and though many people are suffering harm as a result, British journalism shows no inclination to do anything about it, indeed journalists prefer to pretend it is not happening. With very rare exceptions, no one writing in the press or discussing the press on radio or television is prepared to join the dots.

It is as if the crew of the Titanic agreed among themselves not to mention that the ship had struck an iceberg and was holed below the waterline.

Peter Oborne, who investigated the propagation of lies from 10 Downing Street, wrote: ‘I’ve found it hard to get this article in print.’ (He published at OpenDemocracy.) The extraordinary revelations emerging from the phone hacking litigation are rarely reported by anyone save Byline Investigates. No one in the press has written a word about the very detailed Unmasked report on the scandal surrounding Times journalist Andrew Norfolk.

And this code of silence is accepted in places you might not expect. You will look in vain to the Guardian, the Financial Times, BBC news, Channel 4 News, Private Eye or Press Gazette for halfway serious scrutiny of IPSO’s failure. Nor, since the retirement of the Guardian’s Nick Davies, does anyone at any significant national news organisation – even the ones that employ ‘media editors’ – actually investigate misconduct by journalists.

British journalism will never clean up its own mess, no matter how bad it gets. We need Leveson part two now.

This post was originally published on Byline.com and is reproduced with permission and thanks.


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2 responses

13 11 2019
zrpradyer

I think we may need more than Leveson.
Vitally important investigative reports cannot be published whilst bullying, propagandized P.R. stories are trumpeted as factual.
Money speaks – very little else matters.

13 11 2019
gyges

The fourth estate is the failed estate. I don’t know why we try to breathe life into the not only dead but rotting corpse.

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