Landmark recommendations will be given this Thursday upon the release of the Leveson Inquiry’s findings, causing much anxiety within the British press. Will justice be served or will press freedom be stifled for years to come? And what does this mean for student media?
The Inquiry, set up in July 2011 by Prime Minister David Cameron, marked the government’s efforts to address media ethics following the phone hacking scandal that shocked the world and saw the dissolving of the ‘News of the World’.
The words of those hacking victims who spoke out give some insight into just how harmful the press can be, however only those who have been in such a situation could know how it feels to have your privacy violated and become the subject of worldwide humiliation.
This serves as what would seem a very justifiable cause – with privacy such an important human right, it might seem necessary to get those journos back for the trouble they’ve caused and put a clamp on their actions when reporting the news.
David Cameron says the current self-regulatory system with the press “is not an option,” where over 4,000 people have fallen victim to phone hacking abuse and media malpractice.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, once a journalist himself, however has urged MPs to challenge the idea of statute regulation in a ploy to safeguard a ‘free British press’.
“MPs, don’t you for a minute think about regulating the press, which has been free in this country for centuries,”
he told guests at an awards ceremony recently.
Last week Andrew Gilligan, London Editor for the Sunday Telegraph, gave a talk at Leeds Metropolitan University on the threats that journalism may face as the Leveson Inquiry brings in its judgement to tackle the ‘corrosive culture’ of the press.
He argued the journalists involved in phone hacking and other malpractice are partly at fault for the new restrictions the press may face, however noted that
“no journalist in the world would even think to hack a phone ever again after what has happened.”
This indeed served as food for thought for aspiring journalists who gathered to hear the esteemed journalist speak, though the issue of fairness was brought into question. Is it fair for journalists and writers to have their free speech impinged because of the mistakes a small minority made, despite the irreparable harm such mistakes made to many members of the public?
One might think this is an easier question for those writers who work for student newspapers; do we face as many ethical dilemmas as the working journalist on a major publication? Perhaps not. We are, however, regularly forced to make a decision whether or not to publish something. Often, it will be published on the grounds that it’s in the genuine interest of the public, and it would most certainly be a negative thing for restrictions to be unnecessarily imposed on journalists of any kind who are publishing something in the public’s interest.
Gilligan’s words resonated within the audience last week; journalists are trained to be impartial, exhaustive in their means to get to the very truth and to act as ‘fourth estate.’ With this in mind, it would seem fair that journalists enjoy just as much, if not more, freedom of speech than ordinary citizens. Under the Lord Leveson’s recommendations, Gilligan noted, journalists will actually have less freedom of speech than ordinary citizens, which is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouths of writers the world over.
So what does this mean for student media in particular? Where is the line when it comes to regulating the workings of the press? Will bloggers and citizen journalists, too, face a clampdown in what news-gathering means can be taken? It is indeed uncertain to what extent the Inquiry’s findings will stifle free speech within student press, however any step toward doing so is certainly not a positive one for student writers. In a world where a free and independent press forms an integral part of our democratic society, the looming recommendations could cast a dark cloud on the effective practice of journalism. It may not be the most trusted profession, but its importance cannot be understated enough.
What’s your view?