Phone Hacking Scandal Threatens Journalist’s Freedom in the Digital Age

This summer it was uncovered that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation allegedly hacked into 13-yeariold Amanda “Milly” Dowler’s phone; who was abducted and murdered in 2002. Not only did News Corp. allegedly hack into her phone, but they deleted messages that lead police to thinking she was still alive.  This was not an isolated incident.   The company had apparently been partaking in illegal practices of hacking and bribery at least since 2004 when Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman (of Murdoch’s News of the World) plead guilty to phone hacking charges.  At the time it was believed that the practices where limited to celebrities and politicians.  Such repeat offenses give journalists everywhere a bad name and government control the media seems imminent.

Murdoch had previously been criticized for building a media empire on the basis of sensationalism and gossip, lacking an ethical base preaching that his journalists should do everything in their power to get the story.  He had also been accused of changing the culture of new media outlets as well as abusing his power by promoting his own political and financial interests.  Even the New York Post, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have fallen under similar scrutiny.

Since the discovery of the latest scandal, News of the World has closed, Dow Jones’s CEO Les Hilton, News International legal manager Tom Crone and chief executive Rebekah Brooks have all resigned from their positions.  In addition, the commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned and there have been multiple arrests.  News Corp. is now facing lawsuits not only in Great Britain, but also in America, where the company is headquartered.  One of the serious charges they are facing us violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Our friends at News Corp. are not the only one who are facing consequences for these actions. (TheWallStreetJournal) (SkyNews)

Issues such as privacy, freedom of speech, confidentiality and the role of journalism are being debated center stage.  It brings attention to the new online culture of twenty-four/seven fast paced journalism.  This has caused a competitive high-pressure environment in the media where ethical issues and errors are often overlooked in the interest of saving time.  There has been talk in Great Britain that an investigation by Parliament on media ethics and standards will be carried out; this has led to obvious anxieties by newspaper editors about the impact of state media regulation on the free press. Jeff Jarvis brings asks important questions that are on everyone’s mind.

What activities are to be regulated? …What should a regulator do in the case of violations? Fine the offender into submission? Close the publication? Does that not give your government the same weapon used by dictators elsewhere against journalists? Doesn’t this return the UK to a regime of licensing the press? Remember that he who grants licenses may also not grant them or revoke them. …Who is the proper regulator? …Is government the proper body to supervise the press, to set and oversee its standards? How could it be? The watched become the watchers’ watchers. Certainly government has shown itself to be incompetent and mightily conflicted in this case, as alleged overseers of the crimes at hand end up in high places and the police themselves are reported to be beneficiaries of corruption. …Finally, who is to be regulated? In other words, who is the press? …Is Huffington Post the press? Guido Fawkes? By extension, is any blogging citizen? Any YouTube commentator or Twitter witness-cum-reporter? (BuzzMachine)

There is also unease that new regulations will be enacted as a means of controlling the press, rather than promoting more effective self regulation.  A further major concern is that more stringent regulation will not assist the ordinary people who were the subject of investigative journalism; powerful corporations will still have the money, power, and resources to get out of any tough situation they might encounter.  Jarvis again comments;

The goal must not be to further solidify the hegemony of the media-government complex but instead to bust it open. We have the tools at hand to do that: journalists, the public they serve, and their new tool of publicness, the internet. …Rather than closing down journalism to some legislative definition of who may practice the craft, we must open its functions to all. Rather than enabling government and media to become even more entwined, we must explode their bonds and open up the business of both for all to see. (BuzzMachine)

Investigative journalism cannot be condemned as a whole, nor can it be controlled by by what it is meant to watch, for it was such journalism that finally caught Murdoch’s questionable ethics in the end.

Sources Consulted/Further Reading: NewsosaurTheGaurdianSkyNewsReutersBuzzMachine

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