Something that’s bound to come up in conversation among your friends or work colleagues this week is the Leveson Inquiry. As a journalist, it’s been a matter of great interest for me – investigating unethical media practice, which appears to have soared way beyond the (former) News of the World. So, I decided to put “ethics” under the spotlight.
In a strange way I kind of understand the interest in celeb life. Public figures seem to be personalities a lot of us look up to so when something “normal” happens in their life, it’s almost uplifting to think that we’re not alone to experience the same thing. But when there’s scandal involved…well, as I mentioned in my earlier rant; it seems to be human nature to love gossip. However, watching the Leveson Inquiry unfold this week, it was a horrible shock to see how the pursuit of gossip could have such detrimental impact on regular people. Namely, Elle Macpherson’s former adviser claims she was sacked because her boss thought she was leaking out to the press, when in fact it appeared Macpherson’s phone had been hacked into. So, not only did her adviser suffer unfair treatment for an act she didn’t commit but imagine being unemployed, the repercussions on her family, and her flawed job record after being fired. That would be enough to drive any sane person over the edge. Worse still, ex-footballer, Garry Flitcroft, believes journalists snooping into his private life led to his father committing suicide. As for the McCanns…the less I say the better because I find lengthy coverage of one family’s missing child intolerable when hundreds of British children from all backgrounds go missing yearly yet we hear nothing about them – anyway! I digress.
It makes you question how could some (and I must stress this because believe you me, not all journalists are the same!) reporters act so immoral and erode at people’s private lives. No matter whether they’re a celebrity or not, innocent people are always affected. But why the need to search for scandal or controversy? Sales. Sexed up stories sell. It’s as simple as that. The juiciest gossip or exclusive exposures are like feasts for gossip-hungry audiences. This would explain why tabloids sell much more than broadsheets. News is a business where profits are central. Integrity, sensitivity, ethics and facts seem to be secondary in some news corporations. I’m not justifying unethical journalism but trying to understand the root of the problem. Many readers are gossip hungry and journalists need to lure them in. But where do you draw the line?
News has become such a competitive market. There are hundreds of magazines, newspapers, radio stations and channels in this country alone. With globalisation, telecommunication and social media, news travels faster than ever before. To stand unique, there is always the push for exclusivity. That’s what draws audiences and makes profits, which in turn pays salaries, and so the vicious circle goes on. Thus, the line is very unclear. Despite media law and regulations in Britain, lack of independent media watchdogs has allowed certain news corporations to groom their journalists to practice unethical reporting.
From a young age I decided I wanted to become a journalist because I relished the idea of meeting new people, learning new things, informing the world on interesting facts and no single day being the same. I doubt there’s a single journalist who grew up thinking they want to hack into people’s phones or make assumptions on their lives to create sexy stories. But it seems that the system has groomed some journalists to practice in just that way. People need to realise the imperative role journalists play in our lives. Without news coverage, we wouldn’t be able to uncover scandals such as corruption in global corporations or MP’s expenses, or hear about landmark sociopolitical movements such as the Arab uprising. Ethical journalism is not only rewarding for the news corporation involved but the nation. It’s disappointing to see how the actions of some have influenced lack of public trust in journalism. I’ve worked in newsrooms where journalists have fit their stereotype of generalising communities and approaching stories with biased angles. But, we’re not all the same. Once we start to generalise about one section of the community, we end up being no better than those few journalists who act immorally. I welcome the Leveson Inquiry and the president it will set in the media world. I just hope it doesn’t completely tarnish all those working in the business, without which we would be an ill-informed, narrow-minded and closed society.