9 Jul 2009

Time for whistle-blowing in the tabloids

“I’ve always assumed my phone was tapped”, John Prescott told me last night on Channel 4 News. I guess I hadn’t. But now that I read the Guardian revelations about the goings on inside News International, I suppose I should.

Any rational assessment recognises that email is unsafe. It is clearly hackable by anyone from friends, relatives and work colleagues to more malign forces – from the corporate to the criminal and even the state.

But somehow when it comes to the little thing that burps and rings at inopportune moments in my pocket, I don’t give a thought to the idea that someone somewhere is listening to my doings.

A couple of years ago my privacy was violated by a tabloid that decided to have me in a six-year relationship with a woman I had never heard of or met in a city I had not visited in nearly quarter of a century. Then as now, despite these revelations about the Murdoch papers’ activities’ I do not believe my phone was tapped, merely that I was a victim of sensationalist fabrication.

But the serious point from both my experience and that of the vast number of people whose privacy seems to have been violated in the present matter, is the complete absence of accountable regulation in the newspaper end of the media. The broadcasting industry is regulated by Ofcom and the BBC Trust. Whatever the shortcomings of these regulators (and in the BBC Trust look no further than their handling of complaints against the BBC’s middle east correspondent Jeremy Bowen), doing what the Murdoch group is accused of doing would quite simply bring the regulatory fist down on all concerned.

When the News of the World scandal first broke, and their royal correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for tapping into the phones of the royal household, the self regulating press complaints commission (PCC) talked but its actions resulted in all but no action. Indeed editors of these papers actually sit on the PCC – including the editor of the very organ that published the stuff in which my own identity was traduced.

Fear of media regulation centres on a natural fear of censorship. In 30 years of broadcasting I have never been seriously compromised in my work by censorship in the UK other than at the hand of D-notices issued by government on the pretext that material might prejudice national security.

The time may have dawned when the whistle is blown on practices revealed inside one of the biggest media groups in the world. I believe the whistle must now be blown on the PCC too.

It is a fig leaf behind which all sorts of pernicious and unacceptable practice is tolerated in the media that it supposedly regulates. There needs to be a wholly independent regulator through whom the aggrieved, the wronged and the offended can win redress.

The tabloid press have done much to run down our sense ourselves and our society and the worth of others in a manner unsurpassed anywhere else in western Europe. If anyone is to blame for the urgent necessity for their better regulation, they are.



Tweets by @jonsnowC4