Vicky Wong wrote Will the News of the World Damage Democracy? in November 2010. This week has proved how right she was. Here is her take on the dramas of the past week and where the future lies with the nation’s media.
The demise of the News of the World sees a different kind of revolution, with the public and politicians rallying together against the media. The developments of the ever-changing phone-hacking scandal has not only changed the tone of the scandal, but has also changed the level of trust that politicians and the public now hold for the British press.
Long regarded as an institution to be feared by the higher echelons of power, the News of the World scandal has raised questions over public trust in our newspapers.
The tables have now turned as the politicians, who once feared incurring the wrath of the British press, have been calling for a review over ethics in the British media, and regulation over the practices of reporters. Ed Miliband made his mark the other day on the floor of the Commons as he confidently rallied the battle call for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation and questioned the Prime Minister’s judgement in appointing Andy Coulson as a member of the “Downing Street Machine”
The quality of tabloid journalism has been subject to dispute given its reputation for fuelling public interest in the scandalous events of the lives of celebrities and sports stars, based on the sole reason that (according to the words of Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail) it is within the public interest to know if important figures are acting untoward or inappropriately. That was clearly justified, but when the victims are the families of murder and terrorist victims, what has become within the public interest to know has turned into a question of morality.
The announcement that the News of the World will be discontinued does not mean that the scandal will be completely put to rest. The paper expected to replace the News of the World will not be a mere reborn from the ashes affair, but a constant reminder that its conception was given the ill practices of its predecessors.
Getting rid of one newspaper does not remove the problem entirely; this is bearing in mind that not just the News of the World, but a number of other tabloids and reputable broadsheets also employed the services of the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire.
Not only is the British Press subject to a public autopsy, but the integrity of the police, who accepted bribes from News of the World journalists, is subject to scrutiny.
A free press is one of the crucial pillars of a stable democracy, and such actions undertaken by the News of the World show a reckless abandoning of that trust that the public put into our journalists. The press is an incredibly powerful tool, it is the medium that frames our understanding of events, influences public opinion and informs us all on what is happening in the world.
It is important that anyone who wishes to pursue a career in journalism, realise that it is a powerful position; it is the barometer of public opinion, and facilitates means for in which the ordinary citizen can air his or her opinions, and it is a tool that those in power were once fearful of. That has now changed.
It is important that aspiring journalists do not take the responsibility lightly, and be wary that the mantle of public trust is a responsibility that should not.